Pervez Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto

Another Pakistani political surprise

By Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury—— Bio and Archives--October 16, 2007

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The recent U-turn of Pakistan’s military ruler Pervez Musharraf from punishing political big fish turns out to have been bogged down in the ocean. Political critics and analysts are seeing this as the great victory of democracy over a military regime, while many feel that the Pakistani president finally had to abandon the idea of eliminating corruption, just for the sake of ensuring a few more years in power.


Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was ousted and hanged by the Pakistani military,  became the first woman leader of an Islamic country when she became prime minister in 1988 at the age of 35. She served a total of six years in office before being dismissed in 1996 amid widespread charges of corruption against herself and her husband. Since then she has lived abroad. In the summer of 2007, her associates said that talks had begun—with the encouragement of Bush administration officials—with the country’s current ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, for a power-sharing arrangement after presidential elections in October. Ms. Bhutto is seen as more favorably inclined to the United States than other potential coalition partners for General Musharraf, whose power has ebbed. No formal deal was reached, but Ms. Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, announced plans to return to Pakistan to participate in the campaign.

The decision to return appears to have been made without her reaching a formal power-sharing agreement with Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, party officials said. But in an indication that there was some understanding between her and the government, a presidential spokesman said there were no restrictions on her returning, implying that it was not likely that she would be threatened with arrest upon her return.

Last week, another exiled former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, who is a political rival of both Ms. Bhutto and General Musharraf, was threatened with jail on corruption charges and then deported within hours of landing in Pakistan to attempt his own return to run in the elections. Ms. Bhutto similarly faces a number of court cases in connection with corruption and money laundering, and she has demanded in negotiations with General Musharraf that the cases be withdrawn if she is to support his rule.

Benzir Bhutto has been living in London and Dubai since her second government was dismissed in 1996 and corruption charges were brought against her. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who spent seven years in jail on corruption and murder charges, is now under medical treatment.

Talks over a power-sharing deal between Ms. Bhutto and General Musharraf have gone on for months, nudged by the Bush administration, in hopes of finding a way for moderate elements in Pakistan to join forces, and for General Musharraf to stay in power and for Ms. Bhutto to return and serve as prime minister. Pakistan’s intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Pervaiz Kiyani, traveled to London last month with aides of General Musharraf as the deal came close.

Meanwhile, President Musharraf easily won the presidential election, but an opposition boycott and pending hearings in the Supreme Court, which still has to decide on his eligibility to stand for election in uniform, left him with an incomplete victory. The vote, by national and provincial assemblies, ended up as a one-man race after other candidates withdrew. All opposition parties refused to take part and only legislators from the ruling coalition, plus a few independents voted. Musharraf won 252 votes in the National Assembly and Senate while one of his opponents, a former Supreme Court judge, Wajihuddin Ahmed, won two votes, the chief election commissioner, Qazi Muhammad Farooq, announced in the national Parliament. The provincial assemblies returned similarly clear margins. Musharraf had been widely expected to win the vote because the government coalition holds a majority in all but one provincial assembly. But the election will be recognized only if the Supreme Court, which is hearing challenges to Musharraf’s participation in the election later this month, rules in his favor. Two of his opponents have raised constitutional objections to him being elected by the outgoing assemblies, running for what is in effect a third presidential term, and running for elected office while still holding the post of chief of army staff. The lawyer’s movement, which has opposed Musharraf’s eight years of military rule on constitutional grounds, and all the main opposition parties, are backing the legal challenges. Musharraf, who seized power in October 1999, has always struggled against accusations that his leadership is illegitimate. He first led the country as chief executive, and then in 2002 sought an election by referendum that was widely criticized for being rigged. He won a vote of confidence by the Electoral College in January 2004 allowing him to continue as president until November 2007.

It may be mentioned here that, after seizing power from a democratically elected government on corruption charges, General Musharraf displayed firm determination in cleansing Pakistan’s politics from corruption, nepotism and black money. But, the recent developments prove that, whatever the Pakistani General said were not at least his honest intention. He used such an ideological stand for legalizing his coup and removing elected Prime Minister Mia Nawaz Sharif from power. No doubt, the Musharraf government initially brought a series of charges against two of the former Prime Ministers and members of their families. But, in less than seven years in administration, possibly Musharraf felt the hard realities that he can rather remain as a dictator in Pakistan but can never be a replacement to either Benzir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif. So, finally he had to seek refuge by reaching into a secret agreement of power sharing with Ms. Bhutto. But of course, political analysts feel that such an alliance of Musharraf with Benazir will not salvage his vessel because, now the common political foe of Musharraf and Bhutto, Mia Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League is not any minor factor in Pakistan’s politics. On the other hand, by affiliating with the military junta, Benazir might have ultimately screwed up her political future, thus giving Nawaz Sharif the excellent opportunity of attaining the status of a real fighter in restoring democracy in Pakistan.

As Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf has already decided to withdraw all corruption cases against former PM Benazir Bhutto and even to repeal the court order through which she and her husband had been convicted for six years, it is evidently clear that he [the president] is stepping back from his earlier announcement of eliminating corruption. So, this will be a message for any possible future military take over in that country that combating corruption of politicians are finally bogged into political realities.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor & publisher of The Weekly Blitz. He is a journalist, columnist, author and Peace activist. He is the recipient of PEN USA Freedom to Write Award 2005, Recipient of American Jewish Committee Moral Courage Award 2006.

Salah can be reached at: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


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