Thursday, November 29, 2007

Musharraf Quits Army, Starts New Term As President

Pakistan's President Musharraf resigned from his position as head of the army today as he took the oath of office for a new five year term, handing the post off to his hand picked successor, Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani.

Given his precarious position, this is only to be expected.The army is one of the few cohesive and functioning parts of society left in Pakistan, and no one is going to be able to rule without their backing.

He also promised to lift the state of emergency by December 16 and restore the constitution before the January 8 parliamentary elections.

I'm reasonably certain that the Bush Administration had a hand in pushing him to make that step, and I hope it wasn't an error.While I'm aware of the major differences between the two situations, the pressure the Carter Administration put on the Shah of Iran before the Islamic Revolution comes to mind.

This little gem from Musharraf, spoken during his inaugural speech gives you an idea of what kind of arm twisting went on behind the scenes:

"I personally feel that there is an unrealistic and maybe an impractical or impracticable obsession with your form of democracy, with your form of human rights, civil liberties...We will do it our way as we understand our society, our environment better than anyone in the West."

Musharraf likewise urged former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif who recently returned from exile not to boycott the January 8 parliamentary elections, as they've stated they plan to do. He claimed that they have `a level playing field' and that the elections will be fair and transparent, but also made it clear that their boycotting the elections wouldn't change anything.

"Anyone who is talking of any boycotts should hear this out: Come hell or high water, elections will be held on January 8. Nobody derails it."

As members of Joshua's Army know, I think it's pretty obvious that Bhutto was forced on Musharraf by the US State Department with the idea that they were going to concoct a deal to share power and give Musharraf a stronger power base, and that a lot of the acrimony between them in the beginning was mere fencing as the deal was negotiated. I also think that Musharraf brought Sharif back into the picture as a possible alternative to Bhutto if the price was too high and/or she became unreasonable.

And I don't believe for a second the protests from both of them that no deal was made. Both of them left the country under a cloud and were subject to arrest on corruption charges, and the idea that they returned without certain assurances from Musharraf is ridiculous.

To my mind, the biggest danger in Pakistan is that this carefully constructed house of cards will fall apart at the hands of the Islamists, who have de facto rulership over a large part of the country, numerous sympathizers in the rest and no use for Musharraf or Bhutto, and only slightly more tolerance for Nawaz Sharif.

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