Archive for April 22nd, 2008

On Monday, the Pakistani Supreme Court struck down a requirement introduced by the government of President Pervez Musharraf that parliamentary candidates must hold a Bachelors degree. The News reported today, “A seven-member larger bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, while hearing the petition filed against the condition of graduation degree, abolished it by declaring it as against the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution.”

The NY Times reported on the development in light of the speculations surrounding PPP co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari. The article noted, “The action clears the way for Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto and leader of the major party in the new governing coalition, who has indicated that he might run for a seat in Parliament in May and, it is expected, look to assume the post of prime minister. While he claims to have a degree, there have been questions over whether he finished his studies.”

Recent developments have presumably been paving the way for Zardari’s road to the premiership. On April 10th, [see related post], a Sindh High Court judge cleared Zardari of charges of conspiracy and murder of his brother-in-law Murtaza Bhutto’s murder case, the last case against him in the local courts. The development further cleared the way for the PPP co-Chairman to stand for the upcoming  bi-parliamentary elections, which could inevitably lead to his premiership. The ambiguity surrounding the future of this position was further compounded during current Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani‘s recent interview with Newsweek. When asked, “How long do you expect to remain in office in view of Zardari’s recent comment that he would become premier if the need arose,” Gilani responded,

“The PPP is a very democratic party with roots in all four provinces. We have decided to separate the party and the government offices. I’m PPP vice chairman, but I don’t attend party meetings. The party formulates the policies, and the government implements the policies. I’m here because of the party, and I’ll be here as long as the party wishes me to be.”

Prominent PPP member and current Information Minister Sherry Rahman sought to dismiss these speculations Sunday, when she told the Daily Times that Zardari only indicated he would become the Prime Minister “if need be,” adding, “Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani was elected unanimously. Zardari was talking about the future, not present.” Despite her efforts to counter these rumors, the future roles of both Zardari and PML-N head Nawaz Sharif continue to remain ambiguous, although Pakistaniat noted yesterday that the intentions of Sharif appear to be much more clear, as Nawaz, Shahbaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz “are all ready to file their nomination papers and have made quite clear that once elected they will run the show – at least in the Punjab – directly.”

The question is, of course, whether these ambitions and other disagreements will fracture the current ruling coalition government. Currently, the two parties were reportedly in a deadlock over the judicial issue, “as the PPP was reluctant to restore Iftikhar Chaudhry as Supreme Court Justice, and some reports suggested Sharif’s aides could resign from cabinet.” Reuters cited PPP party sources, who told the news agency, “Chaudhry’s defiance of Musharraf made him a cause celebre, but while the PPP leadership has stood up for the independence of the judiciary it has reservations about some individual judges, including Chaudhry.” The news agency added, “Analysts say the PPP is worried that some judges could take up challenges to a pardon Musharraf granted in October that wiped out corruption cases against Bhutto and Zardari, among others.” Despite these reports, both party leaders have sought to downplay any differences that remained over this issue. On Tuesday, Zardari and Sharif vowed to honor their commitment to reinstate the judges, asserting in a joint statement that any differences over the issue would not break their alliance. [Image retrieved from The News]

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On Monday, a “leading Pakistani militant” was released in what the Associated Press called a “major step by the new government to talk peace with Islamic militants and break with President Pervez Musharraf‘s policy of using force.” BBC News reported, “Maulana Sufi Mohammed was arrested in Pakistan in November 2001 after returning from Afghanistan. He had led hundreds of young tribal men into Afghanistan to support the Taliban in their fight against U.S.-led forces. He was freed after being taken from his hospital bed for talks in Peshawar with the chief minister of North West Frontier Province (NWFP).” Sufi Mohammed, the chief of the banned group Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM), was reportedly released under a peace agreement with tribal elders. The NWFP information minister told reporters, “Sufi Mohammed and the jirga (tribal council) have given assurances that he and his companions will remain peaceful…Our government wants all the issues to be resolved amicably through negotiations.”

BBC News detailed segments of this six-point peace agreement, reporting that it commits the TNSM movement to creating conditions for “peace and restoration of the government’s writ” in the Swat district of NWFP, where the army had been engaged in an intense struggle with militants. Under one clause of the deal, the group declared the killing of government employees, police, or military officials is “un-Islamic,” a development that is significant given the violence in the area perpetrated by followers of Maulana Fazlullah, a militant commonly known as the “Radio Mullah,” [for more background information, see this previous post]. The agreement therefore could undermine support for Fazlullah, who is a close relative of Sufi Mohammed, [the AFP specified that he is actually Mohammed’s son-in-law.]

Monday’s development could garner further credibility for the government’s negotiations with “reconcilable” militants, a policy that invited criticism from senior U.S. officials but was backed by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband during his recent two-day visit to Pakistan. Despite Miliband’s support for militant negotiations, (an announcement that garnered much media coverage Monday) those following the news should still remember past failed peace agreements with pro-Taliban militants. Nevertheless, this recent policy does differ in its “multi-pronged” approach to reconciliation. The AFP quoted Miliband stating yesterday, “Reconciliation does not mean creating safe space for terrorists...Reconciliation means dividing those ideologically committed to wage a war against this country or other countries, and those able to play by non-violent constitutional rules. It is about building stability and prosperity.” Whether or not the government follows through with this more comprehensive approach still remains to be seen, [Image from AFP].

Below is a news clip from the beginning of the month on Mullah Fazlullah and the fighting in Swat Valley:

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