How Benazir played into Musharraf’s hands By Hamid Mir:
The News, October 7, 2007
ISLAMABAD: Even before the Supreme Court ruled that the presidential election should go ahead as planned, President Pervez Musharraf had emerged a political winner.
Musharraf had successfully taken revenge on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by destroying the traditional political role of the Pakistan People’s Party, founded in 1967 against a military dictator, General Ayub Khan.
Now, the PPP will become another Pakistan Muslim League-Q and act according to the instructions of Army generals in the future.
Three decades ago, when Musharraf’s father Syed Musharrafuddin was posted in a senior position at the embassy in Jakarta, the then prime minister late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had suspended him on charges of irregularities.
General Pervez Musharraf always hated the senior Bhutto for humiliating his father without solid evidence and declared him a fascist in his book “In the Line of Fire.” Bhutto was later hanged by the handpicked judges of General Ziaul Haq in 1979 with the support of the then United States administration. His death was declared a “judicial murder” by many top international jurists. But Bhutto’s name became a symbol of resistance in Pakistani politics.
Thousands of PPP workers were arrested, dozens were lashed by military courts and many were hanged, but the anti-establishment role of the PPP could not be changed. Like former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi and former Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina, Bhutto’s daughter Benazir too used the political legacy of her father to become prime minister of Pakistan twice.
She was not allowed to complete her terms on both occasions, and each time her government was dismissed on corruption charges with the active support of army generals. Musharraf also declared Benazir a thief for six years and never allowed her to come back.
During her decade-long exile, Benazir accused Musharraf of nuclear proliferation and supporting terrorism many times. She even joined hands with her old political rival Nawaz Sharif against Musharraf. It was Major General Nadeem Taj who initiated talks with the PPP three years ago to break the anti-establishment alliance of Benazir and Nawaz Sharif. These talks were followed by Lt Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kyani who was director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence. Now Taj is DG ISI and Kyani is the new vice chief of army staff.
Their efforts materialised and after three years, the anti-establishment credentials of the PPP were buried by the Pakistan Army on October 5, 2007, by an ordinance through which Musharraf pardoned Benazir Bhutto from all the corruption charges levelled against her by then President Farooq Leghari in the 90s — who was also appointed by Benazir.
Musharraf trapped Benazir Bhutto by some people around her who were constantly in touch with the establishment. They protected the interest of Musharraf more than Benazir and forced her to accept the conditions of establishment without any political gain. Now she may escape an arrest on her arrival in Karachi on October 18, but not escape the criticism from her workers and sympathisers.
Benazir struck a deal with Musharraf on the conditions of the establishment. Not a single political demand of Benazir was accepted by Musharraf. She only got some personal relief for herself and for her husband. She said it again and again in the past that she will not accept Musharraf in uniform, but she accepted an ordinance in her favour from a president in uniform. She claimed that she will not accept a president with powers to dissolve the National Assembly but the establishment never listened to her. She wanted a provision to be included making way for her to become prime minister for a third time, but she was not entertained.
Now the chances of her becoming prime minister are very bleak. She cannot become prime minister of Pakistan for a third time by just getting a simple majority of 171 votes in the National Assembly. She needs a two-thirds majority from the next National Assembly to enable her enjoy the slot for a third term. She will need at least 256 votes in a house of 342 for changing the law that denies a third term to a prime minister.
A top legal expert of her party, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, is of the view that Musharraf is actually trying to destroy the credibility of Benazir Bhutto through an ordinance, which is against the constitution and Supreme Court can go against pardoning corruption any time. If the Supreme Court dismisses the so-called National Reconciliation Ordinance, Benazir will lose more credibility. Senator Latif Khosa of PPP has a different view. He is sure that this new ordinance is not Benazir-specific and it will bring national reconciliation but there is nothing in the ordinance for those who are fighting with Pakistan Army in Balochistan and Waziristan.
Highly placed government sources revealed that she is tipped only for the chairperson of the Senate (upper house). According to the Constitution, she will become acting president as chairperson of the Senate only in the absence of the president. Her party may also get the chief minister’s post in the Sindh province and some ministries in the centre, but these details will be finalised after the general elections.
The biggest province of Punjab will remain with Chaudhry Pervaiz Ellahi of the PML-Q, Balochistan may go to a new coalition of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) and pro-Musharraf group of Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP).
The North West Frontier Province may go to JUI-F, PML-Q and Sherpao group. The establishment is trying to cultivate ANP but not successful yet. The head of JUI-F, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, is a very serious contender for the prime minister’s post but like Benazir Bhutto he has also lost a lot of credibility among his own supporters. He is very critical of US policies in the region but his party leaders have now a very positive engagement with US diplomats. Maulana Fazlur Rehman played his cards better than Benazir.
A senior leader of the PPP commented: “Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged on April 4, 1979, by General Zia but his party was hanged on October 5, 2007, by General Musharraf.”
(This leader wanted to be quoted by name but this scribe reminded him that he was a ticket holder of the National Assembly and Benazir Bhutto may cancel his ticket. The PPP veteran answered that he was no more interested in politics after 30 years of association with the PPP.)
It is also learnt that some close aides of Musharraf have advised him to remain in uniform till November 16, which means that he will hold the general elections in uniform. Now, Musharraf is not facing any major political threat from the opposition. He successfully divided all the major opposition alliances like a clever politician. He broke the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy by engaging the PPP in talks. He broke the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal by secretly engaging Maulana Fazlur Rehman who played a game with Qazi Hussain Ahmad by not dissolving the NWFP Assembly before the presidential election. Now the PPP, JUI-F, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and PML-Q will become allies of Musharraf in the future set-up.
Nawaz Sharif is coming back before October 18, and he will join hands with Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Imran Khan and Asfandyar Wali Khan of the Awami National Party and Mehmood Khan Achakzai of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party to oppose Musharraf. Lawyers and the media will remain critical of Musharraf. He will continuously face resistance from some honest Supreme Court judges.
The real threat for Musharraf and for his new political allies, though, will be al-Qaeda and the pro-Taliban elements in the tribal areas.
Recently, security agencies found two surface-to-air missiles around Islamabad. These SAMs were smuggled into the capital to target Musharraf. He is all set to continue the war against terror but with some changed tactics. He may announce some relaxations for Dr A Q Khan to cool down the anti-American rhetoric in Pakistan.
He may take the old tough stance on Kashmir for satisfying people who think he has surrendered Kashmir to India without a fight.
All these changing tactics can create new problems for him. He might survive for a while but it would be a big challenge for him to remain in power for full five years.
For a Different Perspective, See Celebration Time by Farrukh Saleem, DT, Oct 7, 2007