Monday, August 18, 2008

Musharraf Resigns

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf finally pulled the trigger in a televised speech to the nation this morning,August 18.

“I might have made some mistakes, but the people of Pakistan will forgive me,” said the departing Pakistan president,portraying his resignation as a selfless attempt to spare Pakistan a bitter impeachment fight that would create further instability.

The main event came after a 45-minute defense of his leadership, ranging from counterterrorism to the construction of highways, dams and canals. There was even a bit extolling the increase in Pakistani cellphones during his rule. Without going into details, Musharraf simply declared that "not a single charge in the impeachment can stand against me....No charge can be proved against me because I never did anything for myself, it was all for Pakistan."

What all this means, of course, is that a deal was cut between Musharraf and the ruling coalition for him to go quietly, as I predicted.

Mohammed Mian Soomro, chairman of the Senate and a Musharraf loyalist, replaces him temporarily until a parliamentary vote to choose a new president, which is supposed to take place within 30 days.

According to the Pakistani paper Dawn, the negotiations included a granting of immunity for Musharraf, courtesy of the army, which was officially neutral but was unwilling to have its old commander Musharraf impeached and dragged through a show trial. That immunity was supposed to be announced after his resignation and departure from Pakistan.

Speaking of which, Musharraf will probably end up in Saudi Arabia or in the Emirates. The US State Department, after helping to create this sordid mess seems to realize that opening its doors to Musharraf might not be such a good idea, especially if the Islamists take over as they did in Iran. No less a personage than Condi Rice declared in a FOX news interview that ‘US asylum for Musharraf is not on the table’.

So.....what's next?

Obviously, the election of the next Pakistani president is next on the table now that Musharraf has been dealt with. The president is elected by the parliament, and it will obviously involve a deal between the kingpins of the two parties that make up the ruling coalition, Asif Ali Zardari, Benazhir Bhutto's widower and head of the Pakistan People's Party(PPP) and former Prime minister Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League(PML-N).

There's no love lost between the two. The PPP is largely a left leaning group of kleptocrats while the PML is a more conservative, Islamist party. Musharraf was one of the few things they agreed on, and now that he's out of the picture, I'd expect some serious infighting.

If someone put a gun to my head and I had to bet on the matter, I'd probably say that Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, the current Prime Minister would end up assuming the presidency while Nawaz Sharif takes over as Prime Minister...although this is Pakistan and absolutely anything can happen. Given the dysfunctional nature of the country, even another army coup isn't out of the question, and from a US standpoint it might almost be preferable compared to dealing with the PPP or the PML-N.

One of my main concerns is who's watching over Pakistan's nukes. Musharraf was the former guarantor of the security of Pakistan' s nuclear arsenal for the West. Now that he's on his way out, I'd be interested to know who's taking over that particular chore.
Stay tuned....

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