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Archive for March, 2008

parliament.jpgOn Monday, President Pervez Musharraf swore in 24 members of the new Prime Minister’s cabinet, six weeks after opposition parties swept the elections. According to the BBC News, “Twenty of those who took oath are from either the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).” Reuters, in its piece on the development added, “There is strong speculation the new government will force U.S. ally Musharraf, who came to power as a general in a 1999 coup, to quit within weeks or months.” However, there has reportedly been some apprehension within Pakistani media and political circles that “the United States could try to prop up Musharraf so that counterterrorism operations in the region are not disturbed by the changing of the guard in Islamabad.” Despite such speculation, the country’s new foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, described by the Associated Press as “a suave Cambridge University-educated scion of a landowning family,” told reporters after being sworn in, “I expect from the international community that it will support democracy in Pakistan and will help us in strengthening democratic institutions.” According to the AP, the appointment of Qureshi, a Benazir Bhutto loyalist, may have been “a move that could assuage Western concerns that Pakistan might ease up on Islamic militants.”
Several news sources today, including the Daily Times and BBC News, noted that members of the PML-N wore black armbands during the swearing in ceremony to protest and show their defiance of President Musharraf. According to Pakistan’s The News, “This is the first time in the national history that cabinet members were sworn in with black bands showing protests against the man who is administering oath to them.” The BBC cited PML-N spokesman Siddiqul Farooq, who said that several new ministers served jail terms during President Musharraf’s time in power – including the new Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was sworn in last week. Reuters quoted senior minister Nisar Ali Khan, who told the news agency, “We took the oath because there is a larger objective and that is the restoration of the judiciary.”
With the swearing in ceremony now over, media outlets reported the countdown to the implementation of the Murree Declaration, which promises the reinstatement of the deposed judges within 30 days after the formation of the government, has begun. According to the AP, Pakistan’s deposed chief justice, recently released from house arrest, [see March 25th post] “revved up the campaign to win back his job Monday.” The news agency added, “The return of former justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry to the political spotlight and the pledge of the new government to restore judges fired by Musharraf cranked up the pressure on the U.S.-backed president to quit after eight years in power.” The BBC’s Ilyas Khan further noted that the PML-N, in particular, has been strongly pushing for Musharraf to resign and “is likely to keep up pressure on the PPP, the senior coalition partner, to pave the way for his impeachment by parliament.” With such obvious, “in-your-face” opposition, it seems likely that the president will have no choice but to step down from power. However, once Musharraf does resign, the coalition government will no longer have the common enemy that originally unified them. It will be interesting to watch whether Musharraf’s absence will cause a shift in the newly elected government’s dynamic, considering that the PPP and PML-N have historically been bitter political rivals.
Of the new cabinet, the key leaders are: Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar (who CHUP interviewed recently), Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, and, of course, PM Gilani.

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This past week, two U.S. envoys – Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher – visited Pakistan to meet with the country’s newly elected leaders, as well as President Pervez Musharraf, the head of the ISI, and Gen. Ashfaq Kayani. A news analysis released by the NY Times aptly noted – “If it was not yet clear to Washington that a new political order prevailed here, the three-day visit this week by America’s chief diplomat dealing with Pakistan should put any doubt to rest.” Negroponte’s visit to Pakistan turned out to be “a series of indignities and chilly, almost hostile, receptions as he bore the brunt of the full range of complaints that Pakistanis now feel freer to air with the end of military rule by Washington’s favored ally, President Pervez Musharraf.”
Although the diplomatic visit was scheduled earlier and deemed as “routine” by the Foreign Office, media outlets reported that the officials, particularly Negroponte, were “castigated for barging their way in and trying to influence the hardly-formed new government before parliament could start its business of discussing foreign policy.”
The tides seem to have turned in the historically fickle U.S.-Pakistan relations. Regardless of whether one can argue that anti-Musharraf sentiment fueled anti-U.S. perceptions or vice versa – the newly elected government is committed to proving they will not go down that same path. Negroponte, during his news conference on Thursday, “publicly swallowed a bitter pill,” and acknowledged that “there would now be some real differences in strategy between the United States and Pakistan,” noted the Times piece. Pakistan’s Daily Times reported the official insisted “there was no hidden agenda to his visit and the U.S. did not intend to interfere in the political developments in Pakistan.” He told reporters, “Mr. Musharraf is the president of your country. The U.S. will respect whatever Pakistanis decide about their president…Certainly [the U.S. administration has] no desire … to interfere in [Pakistani] political arrangements.”
Despite these statements, the front-page of yesterday’s Washington Post reported that the United States has escalated unilateral strikes against Al Qaeda members and fighters operating inside Pakistan’s tribal areas, “partly because of anxieties that the country’s new leaders will insist on a scaling back of military operations in that country.” The Post cited U.S. officials, who noted, “The attacks followed a tacit understanding with Musharraf and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani that allows U.S. strikes on foreign fighters operating in Pakistan, but not against the Pakistani Taliban.” The “shake the tree” strategy, as dubbed by a senior U.S. official, has not been without controversy, and the belief is now that with the newly elected government, these efforts will be curtailed. Leaders of the PPP and PML-N have suggested that they are interested in negotiating with local Taliban leaders and giving a political voice to those who live in the FATA region. Boucher and Negroponte reportedly heard the message directly from tribal elders in the village of Landi Kotal in the Khyber area this past week. A tribal elder told the Post, “We told the visiting U.S. guests that the traditional jirga [tribal decision-making] system should be made effective to eliminate the causes of militancy and other problems from the tribal areas.” He added, “The tribal turmoil can be resolved only through negotiations, not with military operations.”
If the new government strategy is to negotiate with members of the Pakistani Taliban – we should distinguish just who is “reconcileable” from who is “irreconcileable” – a distinction made during Negroponte’s speech yesterday. He told reporters, “Security measures are obviously necessary when one is dealing with irreconcilable elements who want to destroy our very way of life…I don’t see how you can talk with those kinds of people.” There are, however, always elements who are willing to be part of the political process, whose overarching objective stems more from social and political grievances than gaining power by promoting instability. In Iraq, a similar strategy was concocted and applied in order to isolate and marginalize Al Qaeda in Iraq from the rest of the population. Today, the “Sons of Iraq” are made up of many former Sunni insurgents who have taken up arms against AQI, a solution that may not be fully sustainable, but has been deemed a success nonetheless. In Pakistan, not enough is known about the groups in the roguish frontier region and their distinctions from one another. Before we can fully decide whether we can negotiate with Pakistani militants or not, we need to not oversimplify the problem and instead know who exactly we are talking to.
Below is a recent news clip [from Al-Jazeera English] about the Negroponte-Boucher visit and a commentary on the security situation.

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On Wednesday, Pakistan’s The News reported that the ruling party of the country’s new coalition government, the Pakistan People’s Party, “will set up a new institution for accountability after abolishing the National Accountability Bureau.” All pending cases in the NAB against [former PPP stalwarts who switched over to the PML-Q] Faisal Saleh Hayat and Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, [the former federal interior minister under Shaukat Aziz] as well as other friends and associates of the Chaudhrys of Gujarat [leaders of the PML-Q], are likely to be reopened once the new NAB comes into being. PPP spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, told The News, “…the PPP will pursue all references of corruption that it has filed against the looters of the public exchequer, including one against [former prime minister] Shaukat Aziz…It would be up to the new accountability commission to decide whether it will take up the pending cases of NAB or not.”
What is the NAB, anyway? Established in November 1999, soon after Musharraf took power in the October 1999 military coup, the National Accountability Bureau is the anti-corruption government agency operating under the National Accountability Ordinance of 1999. Although the NAB has emphasized that it recovered over $40 billion from corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, and businessmen following its conception, Human Rights Watch has called the Bureau “a vehicle for detaining former officials and party leaders.” The NAB has been accused of jailing or threatening political opponents of the establishment, such as officials from the PPP or PML-N. In fact, recently elected prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was “apprehended” and jailed by the NAB in 2001, reportedly in response to a “hard-hitting” interview that called for the then-military regime to allow the exiled Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan and criticized Musharraf.
Although it seems that much of the PML-Q is being “targeted” by this new initiative, the PPP has asserted this new commission “would not be vindictive” and “all investigations will be done transparently.” Nevertheless, the corruption charges and subsequent investigations further emphasize (1) the purging of the government of any Musharraf “allies,” namely from the PML-Q, and (2) the inevitable attempt by the ruling coalition to assert its new power and start ruling with a “clean slate,” a shift not uncommon following regime changes in Pakistan. Do you feel this new NAB would act as yet another vehicle for a government wishing to curtail the influence of its opponents, or is it more of an “honest” initiative to weed out corruption?

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On Tuesday, the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani, was sworn into office in a ceremony that garnered major media attention. According to the NY Times, “a somewhat stiff” President Pervez Musharraf administered the oath of the new leader, which was a “highly emotional moment” for the followers of recently assassinated Benazir Bhutto. The Times added, “Afterward, supporters of his Pakistan Peoples Party stood and shouted, ‘Long live Bhutto.’” Gilani told reporters, “Our slain leader Benazir Bhutto sacrificed her life for the cause of democracy, and now it is our responsibility to strengthen the democratic institutions in line with the aspirations of common people.” According to the Associated Press, as the new PM took oath, he closed “the book on eight years of military rule.” In fact, on Monday, after being voted in as the country’s new prime minister, Gilani announced that the arrested judges, including deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, would be freed immediately. According to the LA Times, Chaudhry, an icon for the resistance against Musharraf in the past year, emerged from nearly five months of house arrest. Hundreds of his backers breached the police barricades and subsequently mobbed the residence. Chaudhry, speaking from his balcony, told his supporters, “We believe in the rule of law.” The new coalition has said that it will move within 30 days to completely restore the previous judiciary, “a step that would represent a sharp new challenge to Musharraf and one that could prompt his resignation,” noted the LA Times.
Also on Tuesday, a key figure in the new government, PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, told two visiting U.S. envoys, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, that there needs to be a change in Musharraf’s previous policy of using military force to combat Islamist militants. According to today’s NY Times piece, entitled, “Cool Reception for U.S. Envoys,” Sharif said at a news briefing Tuesday afternoon, “It cannot be that while wishing to ensure peace for others our country is turned into a killing field. We want peace in America, but we also want a peaceful Pakistan.” In reference to their discussion to open up talks with the militants, Sharif added, “I told them that situation has changed now. There is no more one-man show. Parliament has come into being, and the Parliament will decide all policies. No individual today can give a commitment on anything.” Boucher and Negroponte also reportedly met with Musharraf, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and the head of the ISI Tuesday, but media outlets reported that they did not release any comments on these talks. President Bush has already phoned the new PM Gilani and invited him to Washington “at his convenience,” reported the Associated Press. Gilani’s office quoted the premier as saying “Pakistan would continue to fight terrorism.”
What’s interesting about Sharif’s statements on Tuesday was that he seemed to frame the fight against militancy and extremism more as a Pakistan-U.S. policy issue, rather than a fight within the country itself. We can dispute the merits and issues behind cooperating in the U.S.-led “War on Terror,” and what such a commitment entails. The truth, however, is that rejecting a U.S. military role in Pakistan does not exempt us from our own fight against religious militancy. This is a fight that is occurring in our own backyard. Taking Musharraf out of the equation and framing our new government as one that doesn’t bow to the Bush administration may marginally help the issue now, but it is certainly no solution to the long-term security problem. I am curious about your thoughts on this matter – Do you think that negotiating with Baitullah Mehsud and the Tehreek-e-Taliban would really help achieve long-term security for Pakistan? Or will it be just another temporary solution to a burgeoning problem in the country?

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gilani.jpgOn Saturday, the Pakistan People’s Party named Yousuf Raza Gilani as their nomination for the country’s Prime Minister, [see yesterday's interview]. On Monday, the Parliament elected the nominee, a former house speaker and longtime aide of former PM Benazir Bhutto, to the post. According to The News, Gilani was elected with a “thumping majority,” receiving 264 votes. The other contender, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi of PML-Q, only received 42 votes. The Associated Press reported, “Gilani immediately shook the hand of Bhutto’s son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who wiped tears from his face and smiled.” Reuters noted, “There had been speculation the PPP would nominate a stop-gap prime minister and Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari who now leads the party, would take over the post after entering parliament via a by-election. But the News newspaper on Monday cited Zardari as rejecting such speculation, saying Gilani would be prime minister for a full five-year term.” Gilani, however, also told reporters while filing his nomination papers Sunday that he would serve in office “as long as his party wants him to,” thereby leaving the future of the post open to speculation.
Who is Gilani, the oft-labeled “dark horse” of the nomination race, and why is his appointment significant? The politician, who was a minister in Bhutto’s 1988-1990 government and parliamentary speaker during her 1993-1996 term, was jailed from 2001 to 2006 by President Musharraf’s regime for “making illegal appointments,” a charge his party insisted was politically motivated. While in prison, Gilani wrote a book that advocated for a strong military, but one that was removed from politics. According to Reuters, the new PM has also “called for the repeal of constitutional changes made by Musharraf to bolster his authority, including the power to dismiss a government.” Asked on Sunday whether he would work with Musharraf or edge him out of office, Gilani merely responded,  “I will follow the constitution.” Despite the previous accusations that led to his time in prison, Gilani forged a reputation during his time as parliament speaker as being nonpartisan and “sticking to the rules,” according to Ahsan Iqbal, a PML-N lawmaker. Iqbal told the Associated Press yesterday, “Mr. Gilani is a man who suffered from Musharraf’s martial law…He understands well that getting rid of dictatorship is important.” However, whether or not Gilani will be “temping” as our PM or will be a prominent leader during the election cycle is still up in the air. A retired general and prominent policy analyst, Talat Masood, did note to the AP news agency that the new PM would be “easier to dislodge” than other prime minister candidates who were considered for the position, (including Makhdoom Amin Fahim), a fact that is potentially significant given the questions still surrounding Zardari and his future role in the country.
[Note: Pakistaniat also included an informative profile on Gilani.]

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ppp.gifSince the February 18th elections and the formation of a new coalition government in Pakistan, the issue over the country’s Prime Minister candidate has been clouded with intrigue and conflicting stories. Although the reported PM front runner following the elections was reportedly Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the PPP‘s vice chairman, recent reports indicated that the senior party politician was being “edged out of the spotlight” in favor of other candidates, [see previous post, "Bye Bye Amin Fahim."] The rumors and “insider reports” ended Saturday when the PPP named Makhdoom Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani as their candidate for Pakistan’s next PM. According to the Associated Press today, “Lawmakers are expected to confirm him in a parliamentary vote Monday. He is a shoo-in after opposition parties swept elections last month and Musharraf is then expected to swear him in Tuesday.”
In the midst of such news attention, CHUP thought it would be interesting to interview Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, a senior PPP leader who recently defeated Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the leader of the PML-Q in the February elections. He was also considered to be another PM front runner prior to Saturday’s decision. In our effort to continuously give our readers insight into Pakistani current affairs, CHUP sat down and interviewed Mr. Mukhtar on his views on the current coalition government, the PPP’s popularity, and the issues currently plaguing the country.
Why do you feel your party, the PPP, received such an overwhelming majority in the elections?

The performance of the last government was disappointing for various groups of our society. For instance, the poorest people of Pakistan have been victims of the government’s inability to control inflation, while the business community has suffered because of the worsening law and order situation. Furthermore, the previous government was not able to manage the provision of basic necessities. I believe that the people of Pakistan were looking for a change and fresh start and therefore they voted for PPP.

What do you attribute your electoral success to in particular, considering that you defeated the PML-Q’s most prominent leader, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain in your constituency?

During the regime of the previous government, the city of Gujarat has hardly seen improvement in any aspect, particularly the law and order situation and the unavailability of basic necessities such as clean drinking water and a proper sewerage system. For the last five years, I have been personally in touch with the people of Gujarat and am aware of the problems they are facing. Therefore, my mandate is to address these problems and improve the standard of living in Gujarat.

There have been conflicting media reports surrounding the appointment of the Prime Minister – although news sources originally suggested that title would go to Makhdoom Amin Fahim, there are increasing rumors that this is no longer the case. Moreover, there have also been reports that Asif Ali Zardari wants to be PM – could we get your opinion on these rumors and others that indicate potential fractures in the PPP and shifts in the party’s power base?

As far as the candidature of Amin Fahim is concerned, it is based on earlier statements of the Party leadership. However, after the elections the scenario has changed and a number of other candidates have been added in the race. Furthermore, the Party has requested Asif Ali Zardari to take the position of the Prime Minister despite the fact that he has informed the people of Pakistan that he is not interested in the premiership. And no, if Amin Fahim does not become the Prime Minister, there will not be a shift in the power base of the party because it is united under the leadership of Asif Ali Zardari.

What do you feel is the most important crisis currently facing the country? How will this new coalition government tackle it?

I consider the breakdown of law and order and the collapse in the provision of basic utilities as the foremost issues facing the country. (which has hurt the industrial sector tremendously). The new political government will tackle the law and order issue through the elected representatives from areas such as Wana and Waziristan. These representatives will be asked to negotiate with the tribal people who are without the basic necessities of life. We believe that through better policies if proper development and employment opportunities are provided in these areas, the situation of law and order will improve. As far as the utilities are concerned, the new government will take into confidence the people who had earlier set up electrical powerhouses. The new government aims to encourage people to come forward and establish such companies on urgent basis by providing them attractive rates and growth friendly policies.

There is very low public opinion of President Musharraf at this time – will the government continue to demand his resignation?

As the government consists of various parties and is going to form a consensus government, all decisions will be taken in the parliament. And there is no denying that President Musharraf ratings have gone down as it is evident by the result of the 2008 elections.

Do you think the PPP and the PML-N will be able to maintain a united coalition despite their historic rivalry?

In spite of our historic rivalry, the magnitude of the crises faced by the country has compelled us to work together for a better future. I believe we need to continue to work together to bring this country out of the problems it faces. These problems are colossal and will take us at least three to four years to properly address and achieve the goals the new government has/will set.

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CHUP recently interviewed Mahir Nisar, the Vice President of Future Leaders of Pakistan, an organization that seeks to encourage the growth and development of Pakistan’s future leaders. FLP also strives to promote leadership within the country. It aims to promote awareness on politically pertinent issues affecting the country. The organization established Parliament Watch, a website that encouraged discussion and involvement among Pakistan’s youth in the lead up to the 2008 parliamentary elections. Visitors to the site could read profiles on the candidates and discuss issues with other “Parliament watchers.” FLP has been instrumental in getting the country’s youth more active in Pakistani politics, and CHUP was able to gain further insight from Mahir on their achievements.
How long have you been involved with Future Leaders of Pakistan and what was the inspiration behind forming such an organization?
I have been involved with FLP since its inception in 1997. As one of seven other founding members, we formed this organization with the desire and vision to unite, organize, and represent the youth. Our basic premise for our creation was to counter the ill-effects of the present generation, dynastic politics, and extremism. Our desire to help strengthen the political institutions through various projects is an attempt to meet these specific goals. As we strive to unite the youth of Pakistan, FLP is becoming a force that represents leadership initiative and a new brand of political discourse- one that prioritizes the interests of Pakistan above personal agendas and interests.
FLP’s project, Parliament Watch, garnered a lot of attention among Pakistan’s youth – what do you feel was the project’s biggest success? How will FLP continue to foster this project and continue the involvement of the younger generation?
We went into this project with sound statistical data and knew that providing such information to the people of Pakistan would help spread awareness. No other country in the world has completed a similar project that provides information on over 5,000 candidates and allows the public to comment and rate them. The biggest success of this project was the ability of the Pakistani online community to voice their opinions on the candidates with other fellow Pakistanis, while also being able to rate the candidates through our Candidate Desirability Index (CDI) rating system. In order to foster this momentum, we are currently conducting several projects in anticipation of the next election cycle. Our only desire is to strengthen the political institutions of Pakistan by spreading awareness about the people who form this institution, and on that basis we are currently conducting projects in furtherance of spreading awareness.

As a young Pakistani, what do you feel is the biggest issue currently facing the country? What should be done to counter this problem?

I feel that we lack leadership. We still are running with a personality-based political system without tackling the issues faced by the people of Pakistan. Once we are able to transform the politics of our country to one that reflects issue-based politics, then Pakistan will begin to flourish as a nation. Our organization is constantly trying to foster a new culture among the country’s youth by conducting an array of projects – from those addressing environmental problems to those pertaining to human rights issues. As Pakistanis helping Pakistanis, we are attempting to create a phenomenon that goes above and beyond cultural, political, and ethnic norms. We are creating a Pakistani identity amongst our youth of today for the future leadership of tomorrow.


What role can Pakistan’s younger generation and student activists play in the country’s new democratic era?

If they have a strong desire to be active in the transformation of Pakistan, they should join FLP. Our members hail from different political affiliations within Pakistan, including PPP-P, PML-N, PTI, ANP, etc. We are a diverse group of Pakistanis from different backgrounds and we stand committed to bridging these differences as a group. The youth, being the largest group in Pakistan, must help organizations like ours in changing Pakistan for the better. We believe in diversity because in reality it creates unity. It is our duty as the youth to tackle the issues that were not handled by our parents’ generations. I have a lot of faith in this new generation because they have a desire- a passion to make a difference in Pakistan. They have a passion to see a new Pakistan, a free Pakistan, and a prosperous Pakistan, and we, at FLP, want to be a part of that hope.

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mirza.jpgPakistan will elect its first female speaker of the National Assembly today, news sources reported. According to Bloomberg, Fehmida Mirza was nominated for the position by the Pakistan People’s Party, (PPP) and will run against Muhammad Israr Tarin, the candidate from the PML-Q. The outgoing speaker, Chaudhry Amir Hussain, will call the vote at 1100 (PST). Mirza is a seasoned politician from Benazir Bhutto‘s hometown in Sindh. Her husband, Zulfiqar Mirza, is “a long standing ally of Asif Ali Zardari,” the BBC reported. Fehmida Mirza currently sits in the Sindh provincial assembly.
Media outlets reporting on the development underscored the significance of a potential female NA speaker. The News noted, “Never before in the history of Pakistan’s National Assembly were the words “Madam Speaker” uttered. It will be for the first time that the chair will be addressed as “Madam Speaker”, another first added by the PPP to the political lexicon.” The Pak Tribune framed the “nomination and almost certain election” of Mirza in light of the broader debate over who will be appointed Prime Minister of the country. The news source noted the development “has practically sealed the fate of Makhdoom Amin Fahim and his aspirations to become the prime minister of Pakistan.” A prominent PPP member told the media, “There is not even an iota of doubt left now that the PPP`s prime ministerial nominee will be from the majority province [Punjab].” Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, a possible candidate, said that if the speaker is from Sindh, “the prime minister would be from the Punjab.” According to the Tribune, Mukhtar believes “this is quite obvious.” As has been reported before, the PPP is reportedly meant to announce their PM candidate this week. Until then, there are abundant speculations among media outlets on the possible outcome.
UPDATE: Mirza defeated Israr Tarin “easily” in a vote that was carried out by secret ballot. She reportedly received 249 out of 324 votes. Tarin only received 70. Following her win, Mirza told reporters, “It is one thing to sit in opposition, but this chair carries big responsibility … I am feeling that responsibility today and will, God willing, come up to expectations.”

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New post 9/30: Baitullah Mehsud: Dead? Click here to read CHUP’s latest piece.
Tonight, CBS Evening News released rare images of Pakistan’s elusive and dangerous Taliban-linked militant, Baitullah Mehsud [see website for video]. According to the evening broadcast, the pictures are “the first ever” to surface of the alleged mastermind behind Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and the leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban, the umbrella organization of militant groups in Pakistan, [see past backgroounder on Mehsud]. Analysts have noted that Mehsud “threatens to eclipse Osama bin Laden as the world’s top terrorist.” Christine Fair, of RAND Corp., called the militant a “violence entrepreneur” who is running a training camp for suicide bombers in the FATA region. She told CBS, “He may not be out there cultivating people to send them abroad, but people abroad may seek him out for the operations that they conduct back home or elsewhere.” Unlike Bin Laden and his right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who are visible figures in the jihadist community and use propaganda to assert their power, Mehsud is a secretive tribal fighter who is cloaked in mystery. However, the militant has asserted, “We want to eradicate Britain and America …We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.” CBS News concluded, “While Mehsud’s emergence from the shadows is worrisome, U.S. officials hope there’s an upside. As one intelligence analyst put it, if he makes himself more visible, he’ll be easier to eliminate.”
The CBS News piece is significant not just because it provides a rare glimpse of the militant leader, but also because it further affirms that this growing threat is in our backyard. It is no longer the fight that is just “occurring in the mountains,” that is just focused against Pakistani security forces. This is a battle that has spilled over into our cities and that threatens our families and our livelihood. The difference between bin Laden and the overarching Al Qaeda organization is that their network is largely virtual - their influence and connections mainly occur online, in jihadist password-protected chat rooms and via internet propaganda. The Tehreek-e-Taliban and Mehsud, in contrast, are waging a tangible war that has immediate local and national ramifications. Suicide bombers are not solely recruited or trained online, but in physical camps located in the northern tribal areas. The government, in its focus on internal bickering and details, cannot continue to avoid this problem, because it will not go away.

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protests.jpgOn Monday, Pakistan inaugurated its new Parliament that the Associated Press noted was “dominated by opponents of President Pervez Musharraf who have vowed to crimp his powers and review his U.S.-backed policies against Islamic militants.” The news agency added,  “At stake is the future course and political stability of this nuclear-armed nation of 160 million people, which is struggling with economic problems as well as militants linked to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.” There have been several bombings in the past three days, including the attack on Luna Caprese in Islamabad Saturday and a bomb blast on a police building in northwest Pakistan that killed three officers and wounded five. These attacks have further exacerbated perceptions of the worsening security situation and have added increasing pressure to the new government to quell this problem. According to Reuters, security was “tight” at the Pakistani Parliament on Monday, “with police and paramilitary soldiers guarding the complex and restricting traffic on the avenue outside.” In the brief ceremony, more than 300 MNAs (325 out of the 342 members) were sworn into office. Interestingly, Reuters noted the MNAs actually took oath under an old, democratic constitution, not the version Musharraf amended after he imposed emergency rule in November. The news agency further labeled this, “a sign of looming confrontation with the isolated president.”  The News added in its coverage that the 13th National Assembly session will be now adjourned until March 19th.
According to the Associated Press, Musharraf “stayed away” from the session, while PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif watched the proceedings from the gallery. PML-N lawmaker Ahsan Iqbal told reporters that their presence showed that “the people of Pakistan have rejected” Musharraf. Earlier in the day, Zardari asserted, “This is our first step. We have conveyed a message to the world community to support democracy, which defeats dictatorship.”
However,  the continuing struggle for the Prime Minister position, wrought with ambiguity, overshadowed this strong rhetoric emphasizing democratic ideals and progress. According to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, “The body language at Monday’s sitting could give some indication about the strength of Ms. [Benazir] Bhutto’s own stated original choice for the office, PPP senior vice-chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim or any potential challenger favored by her spouse and party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, or about whether Mr. Zardari would himself take the job for which he must win a National Assembly seat in a by-election.” The news agency added, “The issue of a prime minister’s choice has stolen part of the limelight from some of the other major issues of concern to the new assembly such as the potential face-off with the president over the coalition’s promise to restore about 60 superior court judges he sacked under his controversial Nov 3, 2007 emergency and the problems for the new government ranging from tackling militant violence to the citizens’ acute issues of bread and butter.” The PPP has promised to announce its PM candidate this week, before Musharraf calls a new session to elect a prime minister, which could potentially be delayed until next week.

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