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Archive for May, 2008

On Wednesday, The News, quoting unidentified sources, reported that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf “has offered to resign in return for indemnity by parliament for his unconstitutional steps taken on November 3, 2007.” However, what exactly were these unconstitutional steps? According to The News, which cited “legal and constitutional experts,” there were three main steps taken by Musharraf – “The first was the removal of independent judges. The second was installing his own handpicked judges and the third was indemnifying the controversial and illegal National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO).” This package, if approved, will potentially pave the way for what media outlets deemed as Musharraf’s “safe exit” from office.

The Daily Times quoted Law Minister Farooq Naek, who told Dawn News Tuesday that the Pakistan People’s Party “was preparing a draft constitutional reforms package and might consult the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and other parties after presenting it to the federal cabinet.” Naek also told Geo News that the package would also “balance the powers of the president and prime minister.” Bloomberg cited statements by party spokesman Farhatullah Babar, who said in a phone interview today, “The constitutional package is one of the most critical issues right now,” and will be discussed May 24. The news agency added, “The constitutional changes will cover the appointment and removal of judges, the work of the Election Commission and presidential authority.”

What has the PML-N reaction been to this indemnity discussion? Although Bloomberg noted that PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif would support coalition efforts to curb Musharraf’s powers, the Daily Times reported that party leaders “reacted strongly” to Naek’s comments on Wednesday. The news agency noted:

PML-N spokesman Siddiqul Farooq and PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal told Dawn News that giving indemnity to Musharraf was not in the national interest…Farooq said the people of Pakistan had voted on February 18 against Musharraf’s policies and his unconstitutional actions, and offering him indemnity would be going against their wishes.

Should Musharraf be granted indemnity for his actions in November 2007? Although this move may not be the most desirable option, it would still essentially allow for his voluntary exit from office. That in effect could be viewed as more legitimate than forcing him out of power.

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Last week, media coverage in Pakistan was dominated by political developments following the PML-N resignation from the federal cabinet. While news outlets were in-depth in their coverage, I was curious to read the reactions of President Pervez Musharraf to these developments. How would he react to the PML-N exit and the speculations surrounding the future of the ruling coalition? Do these developments help his tarnished reputation or do they serve to villify him further? On Sunday, a feature article in the Washington Post assessed these very questions. Entitled, “Sidelined Musharraf Still Exerts Influence,” the Post’s Pamela Constable and Robin Wright wrote,

Bereft of his uniform, crucified in parliamentary elections and derided in graffiti as America’s pet dog, President Pervez Musharraf has virtually vanished from public life in the past three months…But even from the shadows, Musharraf’s presence has continued to influence the country he ruled as an army general from 1999 to 2007. The issue of whether he should remain in office has already divided the ruling coalition, eclipsed pressing national needs and revived conspiracy theories about American meddling in Pakistani affairs.

The coalition’s split over the judiciary issue has “generated talk of Musharraf as the political beneficiary, chortling at his adversaries’ failures and sensing a chance for political muscle-flexing if not rehabilitation,” Constable and Wright noted. Although virtually no one believes Musharraf will attempt another military coup or dissolve the newly elected Parliament – one can only imagine the public outrage if such a thing should occur – the reported “rift” within the coalition may “lessen the chances of his being impeached by Parliament or legally challenged by the former Supreme Court chief justice he fired last year,” the Post reported.

Do you agree with such an assessment? A Reuters blog on Sunday highlighted an analysis in the Daily Times by Hasan Askari-Rizvi, who suggested a split over the judiciary restoration issue could instead produce further backlash against Musharraf, “particularly given a pledge by the lawyers’ movement to hold a major protest on June 10 to champion the restoration of the judges.” Rizvi added, “The lawyers and many civil society groups are expected to start street protests for the restoration of the judges. Several political parties are also expected to join them…The movement will target the government, especially Musharraf, and Asif Ali Zardari.”

What do you think? Does Musharraf benefit from the reported divisions within this new government and the stunted progress of the judiciary issue? Will he still, as many analysts have predicted, prepare for a graceful exit or use a potential power vacuum for his political advantage? His press secretary, Rashid Qureshi was quoted by the Post saying that “the president’s only desire is to act as the constitutional president and see Pakistan move into a total civilian dispensation…[but as] things stabilize, the right time will come for him to move away and say goodbye.” Moreover, Constable and Wright asserted, “Although Musharraf may have reaped some temporary benefits – or at least some satisfaction – from the current tiff among his civilian adversaries, analysts said he has been permanently weakened by his heavy-handed actions last year and further diminished through his military retirement.” So what are your thoughts? Do you predict a graceful resignation from the former military leader or an attempt to seize power once again? [Image from Reuters]

 

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On Saturday, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan was freed unharmed after being held hostage for 96 days by suspected Taliban militants. According to the Associated Press, “Tariq Azizuddin disappeared Feb. 11 along with his driver and bodyguard as they drove from the Pakistani city of Peshawar toward the border. In a video aired April 19 on an Arab satellite channel [see video below], Azizuddin said Taliban militants had abducted them, [see past post for further details].” Although Azzizudin’s brother told outlets he did not know how authorities secured his release, The News reported that government sources “flatly denied there had been any deal whatsoever for the release of the ambassador.” Despite these claims, the news agency cited Taliban sources that said the envoy was released in return for the release of 12 Pakistani and Afghan Taliban.

An official told Dawn that Azzizudin’s last day before the release “was reportedly in Shaktoi, a small town in the Mehsud-dominated part of South Waziristan.” He insisted that Azizuddin’s kidnappers initially did not know who he was, telling reporters, “They just spotted a vehicle bearing a red registration number plate and thought that it was carrying someone important…It dawned on them later that the guy they were holding was an ambassador.” The ambassador remained with the Taliban over the 96 days, although the Tehreek-e-Taliban, the umbrella organization led by Beitullah Mehsud, denied it was holding him.

BBC News reported on the release in light of the rescue of two other foreign contractors, who were kidnapped near Herat, Afghanistan almost a month ago. The news agency noted, “Tariq Azizuddin said he had been released in the Pakistani tribal area of north Waziristan on Friday, but was vague about the identity of his kidnappers.” Moreover, despite the government denials noted above, the envoy said his release had been the result of a “chain of actions set about on the order” of the Pakistani prime minister and his government. Moreover, the BBC’s Barbara Plett noted that “informed observers” suspect Azzizudin was released as part of a prisoner swap in the midst of government-militant peace talks. [Image from AFP]

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In security-related developments this week, media outlets reported on a “breakthrough” in negotiations with Islamist militants in Swat, [see this past post for further background on the situation in Swat Valley]. The NWFP government on Tuesday announced that insurgents “agreed to to extend a ceasefire till the next round of talks,” reported Dawn newspaper. However, in return, the government agreed to implement Islamic law [Shariah] in the Malakand region [which encompasses one third the area of the NWFP]. The Pakistani newspaper, The Nation, specified in its coverage:

Provincial officials negotiating with representatives of militant leader Maulana Fazlullah said they had agreed in principle to implement previously drafted regulations allowing Islamic scholars to offer guidance to judges in the Malakand and Swat areas. The decision did not specify the extent to which Islamic law would be promoted or required in courts, and officials said they would work out details later.

Although many media headlines blared, “Shariah Law in Swat Agreed,” a development that is significant in light of the secular party currently in power, Afrasiab Khattak, a senior official of the NWFP’s ruling Awami National Party, was quick to assure reporters, “We are not introducing any new law…These will be same courts like anywhere in Pakistan, headed by normal civil and district judges.” The NWFP Senior Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour has noted the Shariah-compliant system would be enforced in Swat within one month. Despite the assurances from the ANP, the advent of Shariah law in some capacity is arguably problematic for this region. However, the establishment of Islamic law in Swat, as well as the release of prisoners taken into custody during the insurgency, and the withdrawal of Pakistani troops from the area are some of the main demands of the negotiating militants.

As the talks have continued, several of these demands have already been addressed. On Wednesday, media outlets, including the Daily Times, reported that the Pakistan Army exchanged prisoners with the local Taliban in South and North Waziristan. Military spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas told the news agency, Twelve security personnel – five army jawans and seven Frontier Corps personnel – were swapped for over 30 Taliban prisoners.” The News reported, ” [Abbas] said the government had already accepted the major demands of the militants, including the removal of all roadside checkpoints, withdrawal of the Pakistan Army from the tribal areas, Darra Adamkhel and Swat, compensation to the affected people and release of all the suspected militants held during the military operations.” He added the government had already begun calling back Army troops from the “[Beitullah] Mehsud-inhabited hilltops” in the frontier areas. The AFP, in its coverage, noted the Pakistani military termed the movement a “readjustment” of forces, rather than a “withdrawal,” adding, “The moves were mainly to facilitate the return of people who had fled the area due to previous unrest.” The AFP added that Abbas “declined to comment on whether the troop moves were linked to the peace talks with militants.”

In its report, the Associated Press underlined the reactions of American, British, and NATO officials to these developments. According to the news agency, “Washington and London are co-funding a plan to flood the impoverished tribal belt, a possible hiding place for al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, with development aid in a bid to dry up support for extremism.” However, they view past peace agreements with militants as failures and warn that any future accords must be strictly enforced. The AP also cited statements made by NATO spokesman James Appathurai, who told reporters in Brussels, “The principle concern is … the deals being struck between the Pakistani government and extremist groups in the tribal areas may be allowing them … to have safe havens, rest, reconstitute and then move across the border.” Although he asserted that NATO did not want to engage in the internal policies of Pakistan, they “have every right to and will convey our concerns about what is happening inside Afghanistan,” where attacks in the eastern regional command of the country were up 50 percent in April.

An alleged U.S. missile strike in Pakistan’s FATA yesterday that killed 12 people could be further problematic for anti-American perceptions in the region. Today, Pakistani militants vowed to avenge the attack, blaming the incident on the United States. According to an AP report, “Residents said they saw a U.S. aircraft flying in the area before two explosions rocked the village.” A photographer from the AFP said more than 1,000 tribesmen gathered to bury eight people in Damadola, while four more were buried in neighboring villages. The news agency reported, “Shouting ‘Death to America’ and waving klaashnikovs, the mourners vowed they would avenge the attacks from the U.S. forces across the border, the photographer witnessed.” Such reactions are certain to influence the already-poor perceptions of the United States in the region and may have further consequences for foreign troops located across the border. [Image from the Associated Press]

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With the unfolding political developments currently dominating media coverage of Pakistan, it is difficult for me to not provide daily updates on the PML-N exit from the federal cabinet and the judiciary restoration issue. However, following this post, I do promise to update you on the other (mainly security-related) issues affecting the country.

On Wednesday, Pakistani media outlets continued to report on the developments following the widely covered PML-N resignation. The News reported:

In yet another controversial move, the government has contacted several deposed judges of the provincial high courts with an offer to reappoint them as judges of their respective high courts but at the cost of compromising their pre-Nov 3 seniority.

What exactly is this new initiative? If implemented, the offer “would make those judges of the provincial high courts who had refused to take oath under General Musharraf’s PCO on Nov 3, 2007, junior to their colleagues who preferred to work with a military strongman under the PCO.” The Daily Times noted, “It claimed that the government had decided to reappoint the sacked judges if they agreed to adjust themselves with the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) judges, adding that the same offer would be forwarded to the Supreme Court judges if the initiative succeeded.” However, almost all the deposed judges approached with the initiative rejected the offer. The News added, “Sources said that through this move the government would be rewarding the judges who had taken oath under the PCO on Nov 3, and punishing those who had refused to show allegiance to the military dictator in violation of the Constitution.” According to the media outlet, the PPP “wanted to retain the incumbent chief justices of the provincial high courts even if the deposed judges were restored.” This differs from the PML-N “full restoration” position, which had reportedly “compromised to the extent that the PCO judges appointed after Nov 3 in the Supreme Court, would be made ad hoc judges,” noted The News.

The debate over the judiciary restoration (not the issue itself, but the how-to) was essentially the impetus behind the PML-N resignation from the cabinet on Monday. Yesterday, the nine PML-N federal ministers submitted their official resignations to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who asked them “to continue to hold their offices until the matter was discussed with PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari who would return home soon,” Dawn newspaper reported. Although the resignations garnered significant media attention and speculation over the future of the ruling coalition, it is important to underline that Pakistani politicians downplayed its significance. On Wednesday, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, following an announcement that a resolution for restoration of judges will be presented before a joint session of Parliament, told reporters, “The media is presenting a picture as if the country is facing a situation of severe crisis, but in my view the situation is not that grave.” BBC News reported that Zardari “called the dispute a minor matter and said he expected Mr Sharif’s party to re-join the government.” A separate analysis by the BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan further affirmed this point, noting,

And Tuesday’s cabinet split may not be as dramatic as it appears. Mr. Sharif says his party will continue to support the government from the backbenches, rather than join the opposition. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is refusing to accept the resignations until Mr Zardari returns from abroad.

Do you agree that this situation can be rectified? Moreover, have we all just been waiting for this coalition to crumble, and therefore view any somewhat negative development as the final straw? According to The News, Zardari did assert that he will not abandon being Nawaz’s partner, and the PML-N leader emphasized that his party will continue to support the government. What do you think of these assertions? [Image from The News]

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Nawaz Sharif‘s dramatic announcement yesterday that his party, PML-N, was resigning from the cabinet garnered much news coverage and raised doubts about the fate of the six-week-old coalition government. Following the development, Pakistani media outlets reported on the reactions of PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, although coverage of his response varied slightly among news sources. Although The News reported that Zardari said that his party “would keep supporting the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in Punjab and no new ministers would be inducted into the federal government in place of the PML-N ministers who had resigned,” Dawn noted that he said the government did decide to appoint a new finance minister today in place of Ishaq Dar. According to Geo News, this decision to replace Dar was due to the country’s “looming budget” and “pressing economic issues.” Dawn noted that Zardari still emphasized that the other minister positions would remain vacant, adding, “We will wait for Nawaz Sharif to come back.”

The Daily Times reported that the PPP co-chairman “asked Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani not to accept the resignations of PML-N ministers.” The Times, citing a report by ARY Television, “Zardari said he would call a party meeting after his return from London and that he would persuade the PML-N to resume talks.” According to the Daily Times, “Zardari said his differences with PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif were not of serious nature and that the PPP would not field a candidate against him in the June 26 by-elections.”

Despite Zardari’s diplomatic overtures, I have still been confused over the logic of Sharif’s decision Monday. However, upon reading and exploring various theories, I found this explanation, from The Pakistan Policy Blog most plausible:

So what’s Sharif doing? He’s strategically distancing himself from the PPP with a measured protest against the latter’s refusal to reinstate the deposed judges in the agreed manner and time frame. His party’s resignation from the government permits the PPP to proceed on its own course vis-a-vis the judges…If the public finds the PPP’s judicial ‘reforms’ palatable, then Nawaz can return to the government. But, if they don’t, he can say that he had nothing to do with this and, despite his best efforts, the judges were not restored.

Definitely a logical explanation that allows Nawaz a seemingly convenient exit out of the hot seat  – what do you think?

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So it’s official – on Monday, PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif announced that ministers from his party will resign from their posts tomorrow over differences regarding the restoration of the judiciary, [PML-N currently has nine ministers in the 24-member federal cabinet]. Media coverage yesterday predicted this development, following news that the ruling parties had not come to an agreement on the judiciary issue, [see yesterday's related post]. During the news conference, Nawaz used the opportunity to play to oh-so-famous “blame game,” telling reporters, “PPP failed to keep its promise and that is why we have decided to part ways with the coalition government.” According to The News, he added, “We left no stone unturned to keep our promise made in the Murree Declaration…I had to go to Dubai and then London to hold negotiations with the PPP on the issue but to no avail.”

Oh, Nawaz, woe is you. News outlets did add, however, following the PML-N leader’s swan song, that his party “would not take any decision that would strengthen what he called a ‘dictatorship’ under Musharraf.” The AFP quoted him asserting,

We will not be part of any conspiracy aimed at strengthening dictatorships…We want the unconditional, dignified and honorable return of the judges…We will not sit on opposition benches for the time being.

So what many deemed was the inevitable has now occurred. We must now consider the next steps the fledgling government must take to ensure its survival and quell doubts that the entire regime is collapsing. The Associated Press assessed, “While the civilian government is likely to survive, Sharif’s move raises doubts over its stability and is a setback to Pakistan’s transition to democracy after eight years of military rule under Musharraf.” Despite his dramatic exit, we must realize this is not the last we’ll see of Nawaz Sharif. However, perhaps in his party’s absence, the government can finally concentrate on other issues impacting the country – including the food and electricity crises and working to uphold the newly signed peace agreement with militants, [a development covered on Friday by BBC News]. Or perhaps it will crumble further under the weight of these decisions. [Image from the AFP]

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