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?