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Archive for February 13th, 2008

According to news sources yesterday and today, the new Pakistani military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani is withdrawing hundreds of army officers from civilian positions in the government “in a move widely seen as reducing the military’s role in politics,” noted the AFP. The NY Times reported that this action essentially “reverses an important policy of his predecessor, President Pervez Musharraf.” The news agency added that this order by Kayani “was his boldest step to disentangle the military from the civilian sphere of the government since he assumed the post after Mr. Musharraf stepped down as military chief in November.” Although army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said he made the decision last week, Kayani only announced it yesterday, less than a week shy of the much-anticipated Feb. 18th elections.Kayani has gradually shifted the military away from the political arena. Last month, the general warned officers not to maintain contacts with politicians. Although analysts call these actions “overdue,” they nevertheless show the army’s seriousness in getting out of civilian affairs. A piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday further highlighted this development, noting that that shift “could change how the Bush administration approaches Pakistan and the war against Islamist extremism.” The WSJ added, “The moves, say senior Pakistani officers, stand as a clear signal to Mr. Musharraf that he can’t rely on his former allies in the military to get ‘desirable results’ from the vote.” Moreover, Kayani seems to be viewed by U.S. officials as a more favorable alternative to the President, and many say his leadership “could enhance Washington’s ability to fight Al Qaeda.” The WSJ added, “They say he seems to agree more than Mr. Musharraf on the need to cooperate with Afghan and U.S. forces to track militants flowing over the Afghan-Pakistan border.”

In other security-related developments, media outlets also provided updates on the kidnapping of Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Kabul Tariq Azizuddin. According to Pakistan’s Daily Times, the “local Taliban” on Tuesday claimed responsibility for his abduction and said “they would release him in return for Taliban commander Mullah Mansoor Dadullah,” who was arrested in Quetta on Monday. Geo TV quoted the bureau chief of an Arab television channel, who said the local Taliban had asked tribal elders to convey their message to the Pakistani government.

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According to news sources, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari said on Tuesday that they will form a coalition government if their parties won the majority of the votes on Feb. 18th. According to Pakistan’s Daily Times, Zardari, following an hour-long meeting in Lahore, told reporters that the PPP would invite the PML-N as well as other “democratic forces” to join a governing coalition “even if the party won enough seats in parliament to rule on its own.” Zardari emphasized, “We will sit together because the country is passing through a dangerous phase, and we can only steer the country out of this crisis together. I am conveying this message to the establishment that I will change this system.”

According to Dawn, “The sources quoted Mr. Sharif as telling his guest that the PML-N would extend support to the PPP in forming the government without seeking any share in ministries.” Sharif said he had been supporting the PPP despite some reservations of some leaders of his party and “friends in other parties.” Dawn added, “The sources said that the two leaders agreed that the elections would be considered as ‘rigged‘ if the PPP and PML-N did not ‘secure top two positions.'”

The AFP reported that their comments “came after Human Rights Watch warned that Pakistan’s Election Commission had failed to investigate reports of campaign violations, threatening the validity of the parliamentary elections.” The news agency added, “The New York-based group said in a statement that the commission had ignored reports of arrests and harassment of opposition party members, and failed to act independently from Musharraf’s administration. HRW reportedly said that election candidates had so far filed more than 1,500 complaints of irregularities, but few have been investigated. On Tuesday, news sources also reported that tens of thousands of Pakistani troops have been deployed across Pakistan to provide security for next week’s elections amid a series of attacks. The AFP reported, “In a show of force ahead of Monday’s polls, army soldiers and paramilitary forces stood guard at government buildings and potentially sensitive areas of several major cities.”

Given how divisive party politics has been in Pakistan as well as the historic ‘bad blood’ between these two parties, the recent PML-N/PPP announcement is both significant and refreshing. However, could a coalition government be enough to tackle the many issues facing this country?

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