Monday, August 18, 2008

Musharraf Gone

Image credit: CIA World Factbook

Too bad I didn't see this coming. Oh, wait, I did:

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf quit office on Monday to avoid impeachment charges, nearly nine years after the key U.S. ally in its campaign against terrorism took power in a coup.

Speculation the former army chief would resign had mounted since the fractious coalition government, led by the party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said this month it planned to impeach him.

Pakistan's Musharraf quits under impeachment threat

It was pretty obvious to me back in early June when A.Q. Khan was willing to testify against him that Musharraf was toast:

Once he resigned as head of the army, this day seemed inevitable. The army is the center of power in Pakistan. To not be in control of it meant that Musharraf no longer could control his own destiny. Once his party lost the election last February, he had much less political standing, too. Apparently, there's a new leader in the country.

More Changes In Pakistan

It seems like an obvious inference that the new head of the Army, Ashfaq Kayani, has been calling the shots for some time. The Los Angeles Times writes:

But Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the man Musharraf picked to succeed him at the helm of the military late last year, has made it clear that he will not intervene to preserve the presidential tenure of his onetime superior officer and mentor.

"Let us rededicate ourselves to the military tradition of sacrifice," a solemn-faced Kayani told an Independence Day gathering Thursday in a speech widely interpreted as closing the door to any army effort to stave off the impeachment process.

Pakistan Army Staying 'Hands-off' Amid Musharraf Crisis

Let us contemplate who is doing the "sacrificing" here, and then we'll know who isn't calling the shots anymore. The LA Times goes on to quote unnamed military officials as saying that the army decided not to support Musharraf, because to do so would have caused the Pakistani public to distrust the army. This might have been a consideration, but I find that taking a more cynical view of the politics there usually leads to a clearer view of them. Power is always a limited commodity, even for the army of Pakistan.

What all this means is less clear. The two rival political parties in Pakistan, can now stand around kicking the body of Musharraf's presidency, but whether they have the power to change Pakistan is another question. The New York Times observes:

His resignation came after 10 days of intense political maneuvering in Pakistan, and cleared the way for the four-month-old coalition government to choose a new president by a vote of Parliament and the provincial assemblies. But there were intense concerns in Washington that Mr. Musharraf’s departure would open a new era of instability in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country of 165 million people, as the fragile coalition jockeys for his share of power.
The talks are likely to be long and contentious. American officials have said that Mr. Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister who was assassinated in December, would like the post. But Mr. Sharif, who maintains a barely civil relationship with Mr. Zardari, is said to be strongly opposed to the elevation of Mr. Zardari.

A colleague of Mr. Sharif’s said the Pakistan Muslim League-N might agree to Mr. Zardari in the post if it was stripped of its current powers, including the power to dissolve the parliament and to choose the army chief.

President Musharraf of Pakistan Resigns

In addition to the army, a rather widespread radical Muslim insurgency represents another power center:

In Mr Musharraf's place comes a civilian leadership, albeit in an unstable coalition government whose future is uncertain and whose ability to combat the extremism in the tribal areas is untested. Nobody yet knows who will be the next president.

But the coalition was the product of elections, not a coup, and therefore is now being projected by Washington and London as a surer basis for future action than the weakened Musharraf.

It is from the tribal areas, the US and Britain say, that Taleban fighters cross into Afghanistan where they present a real danger to NATO forces supporting the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai.

The Strongman And The War On Terror

The Taliban aren't just a problem in Afghanistan. They've also been active in Kashmir for many years. The BBC reports:

India has had a mixed relationship with Pervez Musharraf.

Many in the Indian establishment view him with deep suspicion, especially after the two countries fought a bitter conflict in 1999, in the Kargil region of Indian-administered Kashmir.

India fears vacuum left by Musharraf

I'd think that another potentially ruinous war with India is the last thing the Pakistani army wants, but that might change if internal politics take what the army views as an undesirable turn.

Despite my cynical view of these events, I can't help but hold out some hope that things will get better in Pakistan. If I were in Gen. Kayani's shoes right now, I'd be concerned about the rise of militant Islam in my country, knowing that it was a force that could eventually remove the army from power. While it's true that the army and the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) Agency (Pakistan's CIA) has abetted this movement, anyone with the smallest understanding of human nature realizes that no one controls fanatics but the head fanatic. The army needs the civilian leadership right now, if it is going to win. That need might spark real changes there, if the civilian leadership is up to the challenge. The adequacy of that leadership, and the depths of the army's need, is what we'll find out in the next few months.

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