Musharraf's New Plan: Will it work?

New Twist on Musharraf Plan Emerges
By SALMAN MASOOD: New York times, September 19, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sept. 18 — The Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, plans to run for another term while still serving as army chief, but will resign his military post if he is re-elected, his top legal aide told a Supreme Court panel on Tuesday.

The announcement, the clearest indication from General Musharraf’s camp of his political plans, came in a statement introduced in hearings on a set of petitions challenging his eligibility to run and his dual role as civilian and military leader.

Filed by General Musharraf’s legal counsel, Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, the statement read, “If elected for the second term as president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf shall relinquish charge of the office of the chief of the army staff soon after the election, but before taking oath of the office of the President of Pakistan for the next term.”

General Musharraf’s current term runs out on Nov. 15, and by law presidential elections must be held by Oct. 15. The constitutional amendment allowing him to hold the top civilian and military posts expires Dec. 31. The information minister, Muhammad Ali Durrani, said that if re-elected, General Musharraf would resign from his army post prior to Nov. 15, before taking the presidential oath.

Government officials called the announcement momentous, and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz issued a news release saying it was “a clear reflection of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s firm belief in democracy.”

But the statement was immediately met both with criticism and skepticism by opposition lawyers and political parties, who questioned whether the general would hold to such promises and what he would do if not re-elected.

Outside the court, Dr. Tariq Hassan, an opposition lawyer and the former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, said the statement was “steeped in mala fides” and “political blackmailing.”

“The uniform will have a bearing on the elections, on the political process,” he told reporters. “So, the timing of taking off the uniform is itself suspect.”

Dr. Hassan asked: “What is he going to do if he is not re-elected? Is he going to declare martial law? Is he going to declare emergency then? We don’t know.”

The fall election has become the focus of the deepest political crisis the general has faced, as two exiled prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, have mounted popular campaigns to return and restore civilian rule. Mr. Sharif returned briefly to Islamabad last week, but was deported within hours to Saudi Arabia, where he had been exiled after General Musharraf ousted him in a coup in 1999. Ms. Bhutto has announced her return for Oct. 18.

The judicial panel was led by Justice Rana Bhagwandas. The chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, chose not to serve on the panel. He was reinstated by the Supreme Court in July after fending off an attempt by General Musharraf to dismiss him.

Political analysts said that it was understandable that the opposition parties were critical of the announcement, but that it could be seen as General Musharraf’s willingness — no matter how reluctant — to give up some of his power.

“From the point of view of the president, this is a huge concession,” Najam Sethi, editor of Daily Times, a leading newspaper from Lahore, said in a telephone interview, but he added that it was more of a concession to the Supreme Court.

“President Musharraf knows that the Supreme Court is looking at his re-election plans with disfavor,” he said. “If the Supreme Court says he can go ahead with the elections, then he is through. He can then appoint a new army chief and announce general elections under a caretaker setup.”

The opposition holds that the general, who appointed himself president in 2001 and was then elected in a referendum in 2002, has already served a second term, the maximum allowed.

Muhammad Akram Sheikh, who represents Qazi Hussain Ahmed of opposition party Jamaat-e-Islami, told the panel that the statement had no credibility because General Musharraf had reneged on two earlier promises made to the nation — first by breaching a military officer’s oath of not taking part in politics and second, by not taking off his military uniform by Dec. 31, 2004, as he had pledged to do.

One of the nine judges, Muhammad Nawaz Abbasi, remarked that a statement made before a court was different from commitments made outside.

A senator from Ms. Bhutto’s party, the Pakistan People’s Party, echoed Mr. Sheikh’s argument.

“It is difficult to trust the gentleman as he has backtracked on his promises in the past several times,” said the senator, Enver Baig, noting that a contempt-of-court case had been filed against General Musharraf for having Mr. Sharif deported despite a Supreme Court ruling that he should be allowed to return. “How can the nation trust him?”

Opposition parties have repeatedly said they will oppose General Musharraf’s running for president while still in uniform. When asked whether the Peoples’ Party would resign from Parliament or simply abstain in the presidential elections, Mr. Baig said that would be decided when General Musharraf filed his nomination papers.

Soldiers’ Bodies Are Retrieved

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Sept. 18 — The bodies of 15 Pakistani soldiers who had been reported missing during recent clashes with militants in an area bordering Afghanistan were found Tuesday, a security official said.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the soldiers had been shot and that some had been decapitated.

The bodies were retrieved from the remote area around Shawal in North Waziristan, along with one wounded soldier. Another soldier was still missing, officials said.

The Pakistani Army is still negotiating for the release of 270 soldiers captured by militants in the neighboring region of South Waziristan.

For PPP Perspective, click here
For MMA response, click here
For Jurists position on the issue, click here
For ANP position, click here
For more details about Musharraf announcement, click here


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