On Monday, The News reported that the Punjab Assembly passed a resolution [almost] “unanimously demanding President Pervez Musharraf to seek a vote of confidence.” The news agency added, “A total of 321 votes supported the resolution whereas only 25 went against it.” According to the Associated Press, lawmakers of the country’s “most powerful province” accused the President of “gross misconduct” and demanded he step down from office, in what the news agency called, “an opening salvo in the ruling coalition’s campaign to oust the defiant former army chief.” The AP further reported that lawmakers of the PA even drew support from the main pro-Musharraf party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q. The news agency added, “Though the measure carries no constitutional weight, it ramps up the pressure on the president.”
The political volatility of the country seems further exacerbated by the current security situation, a fact highlighted by the aforementioned AP report. According to the news agency:
The political battle unfolded as witnesses reported Pakistan’s military rained bombs on militants in a tribal region along the border with in fighting that has killed dozens of people and forced thousands to flee in recent days.
Media outlets today reported that Pakistani warplanes killed at least six civilians in a tribal area bordering Afghanistan after fierce clashes killed more than 50 Taliban militants. The AFP cited “local security officials” in its coverage, who said, “Jets pounded suspected Islamist hideouts after rebels attacked two security posts overnight, but some bombs hit civilian houses in the Bajaur tribal zone, a known haunt of Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.”
However, in a sign that militants “are also cranking up the pressure,” the AFP reported that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the deputy to Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, released his first English-language video call for jihad in Pakistan.The Daily Times reported that the purported audiotape of Zawahiri announced that “Musharraf mistreated AQ Khan to please Washington and allowed U.S. agencies’ operations inside Pakistan.” Pakistan’s ARY Television network, which aired the clip, “said that parts of the tape, which was first aired on Sunday, were withheld ‘due to sensitivities and personal attacks.'” Nevertheless, the first official message by the AQ deputy in English called for the Pakistani people “to support jihad in Pakistan and lists a litany of grievances against the Pakistani government and U.S. involvement there.”
Although the authenticity of the tape has not yet been verified, it comes amid a growing anti-Musharraf wave that is likely to increase. Although Pakistan’s National Assembly reportedly convened today to discuss impeachment proceedings, observers say “it could be several days before it hears the charges against Mr. Musharraf.” The charges, of course, are ever-intensifying. Dawn reported today, “The government’s charge-sheet against President Pervez Musharraf will comprise hundreds of pages containing charges of misconduct, financial irregularities, violations of the Constitution and ‘criminal acts’ that could lead to an open trial, but the PPP expects the president to resign before the impeachment motion is submitted to parliament.”
There are two obvious questions. The first: Will Musharraf cave to this mounting pressure and exit gracefully? BBC News quoted presidential spokesman Rashif Qureshi, who asserted over the weekend that Musharraf would not step down from office. Qureshi stated, “Everything they are saying is false, so why should he resign?” The BBC added, “The charges are not likely to be presented to parliament until after independence celebrations on Thursday. Before then the government is getting the four provincial assemblies to hold their own votes – which will ask the president to seek a vote of confidence.” [So far, we have seen the near-unanimous results from the Punjab Assembly, see above.] Although the provincial assembly votes will not have any direct bearing on the impeachment process, it will encourage more politicians to call for the president’s resignation, the BBC reported. The coalition, therefore, seeks to increase the heat on the president until he resigns voluntarily.
The second question: What next? It seems that the pressure on Musharraf will not dissipate until the president is out of office. However, what happens afterwards? Adviser to the Prime Minister on Production and Industries Manzoor Wattoo told the Daily Times that PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari “may be the next president” of the country as he “had representation in all provincial assembles and the National Assembly.” So – President Musharraf to President Zardari? An unelected official to yet another unelected figure. Tell me, how is that change? [For further commentary, see CHUP’s past op-ed, entitled, “Zardari, the Godfather?”] [Images from BBC News & Reuters]