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Archive for August 19th, 2008

News of President Pervez Musharraf‘s surprise resignation yesterday prompted many media outlets and people to ponder the question, “What next?” The overwhelming response to Monday’s development motivated me to sift through the various assessments of the president’s exit.

From the Western Press:

The NY Times editorial discussed the challenges currently facing Pakistan’s coalition government in the wake of Musharraf’s exit, including choosing the next civilian president and tackling the security problem. The editors asserted, “For seven years, the Bush administration enabled Mr. Musharraf — believing that he was the best ally for the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. He never delivered on that promise. And Pakistan’s people deeply resent Washington for propping up the dictator. With Mr. Musharraf finally out of the picture, it is time to focus American policy on his dangerous and dangerously neglected country.”

A feature piece in today’s Washington Post reported that Musharraf’s resignation “signaled the beginning of a new round of political uncertainty.” The news agency added, “…with the country’s economy at an all-time low and a radical Islamist insurgency based in the country’s tribal areas gaining in strength, the civilian coalition faces challenges that will not be easily or quickly sorted out.” An op-ed piece in the Washington Post by Ahmed Rashid also echoed this sentiment. Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and recent author of Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, emphasized:

Three of Pakistan’s past four military rulers have been driven from power by popular movements, but the politicians who followed the military all failed to take advantage of the people’s desire for democracy and economic development and were eventually forced out by the military on charges of corruption and incompetence.

Will that occur? While Rashid does not explicitly predict that history will repeat itself, he did note, “Most Pakistanis see the coalition government as the country’s last chance for democracy, and they want it to work.” However, the coalition must work hand in hand with the Pakistani army and the international community to begin tackling the country’s real problems and not succumb to the political wrangling we have seen too often in the past.

The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Kissel questioned whether the “young coalition government can consolidate a wobbly democracy” in the aftermath of Musharraf’s resignation from office. In the six months since the February 2008 elections, Kissel noted the coalition has “performed poorly, especially in dealing with the growing jihadist insurgency.” Moreover, she added, the political risk is having economic effects – from the weakening Pakistani rupee to the stock market plunging over 30% since April. With inflation at nearly 24% and unemployment increasing, the government must tackle these issues, and soon. However, Kissel wrote, “Without a strong democracy, Pakistan will continue to swing from civilian to military to civilian control, never finding the moderate middle ground its people deserve. To get the process rolling, the new government needs to move quickly to show that it is competent at basic governance. Getting serious about fighting the war on terror is an essential first step.”

The UK’s Guardian included an op-ed by Kamila Shamsie, entitled, “Musharraf Was the Last to Read the Writing on the Wall.” She wrote, “Although he [Musharraf] has finally bowed out – there remained no other option once both the army and the U.S. refused to back his bid to stay in power – Pakistan is not really in any condition to be euphoric. Suicide bombings are rampant, the Taliban have control over parts of the country, and the economy is in free fall. To add to this, Zardari and Sharif have given the nation ample reason in the past to deeply mistrust their governance.” Shamsie added,

In fact, so great is their unpopularity that there exists a vociferous segment of Pakistani society that continues to believe that Musharraf was the better option – “This is Pakistan, not Oz,” a friend angrily wrote to me when I voiced approval of Musharraf’s departure. She meant that in a fairytale world democracy might be an ideal solution, but the corruption and infighting of Pakistan’s democratic leaders still made Musharraf the better choice.

According to the BBC News’ Ilyas Khan, however, there is one big reason the two coalition leaders, Zardari and Sharif, cannot afford to fail in Musharraf’s wake – “Both have been victims of military coups in the past, and it is only through joint action that they can hope to survive another attempt by Pakistan’s powerful military to keep a civilian government under its influence.”

From the Pakistani Press:

The News’ assessment of Musharraf’s farewell speech was critical. The editorial asserted,

His speech on this occasion, bordering towards the end on the maudlin, explains a great deal of what went wrong. Not because the many allegations leveled by Musharraf against the elected government are accurate; nor because, he, as he claims, is the nation’s sole savior, but because his assessment of his tenure contains so much evidence of delusion and a refusal to acknowledge that one man alone cannot have a monopoly on altruism and good intention.

His departure, noted The News, also “brings with it great hope.” The editors added, “… now that the field has been cleared, the alleged conspiracies that hampered governance ended, it is time for the elected government to show people their ballots were not wasted. The coalition partners must demonstrate they are capable of insightful leadership, political wisdom and can live up to the task of guiding the country onwards along the path of progress.”

The Nation also welcomed the end of Musharraf’s tenure in office, but noted, “After Musharraf’s exit, the ruling coalition will have to accept the responsibility of running the government because from now on it would not be able to find anyone else to shift the blame for its failures. Its first test will be the nomination of the new President and the faster it can find a candidate, who is acceptable to a broad spectrum of political and social circles, the quicker it can move on to tackling other challenges.”

What is incontestable, echoed today’s Dawn editorial, “is that the country must move on from this crisis quickly.” The news agency added, “the four-party coalition at the center told the country in no uncertain terms that governance would be impossible in the shadow of President Musharraf.” Although the issues seem clear, the solutions appear more elusive. However, noted Dawn, the politicians must show the same purpose and focus in dealing with these problems that they have demonstrated in taking on the president.”

Many predicted Musharraf’s eventual exit, including those at the Daily Times. All in all, the editors noted, his announcement yesterday was “a good swan song,” adding, “He was in control of himself, he was confident and assured, neither bitter nor crowing. He did not fumble even in extempore mode, a remarkable achievement in view of the charged environment and subject of his speech.” While the news agency did note the president’s negative achievements in office, they did acknowledge the positive things he accomplished. The editorial noted, “One ugly blowback in the post-Musharraf period may be the rolling back of some of the good he did. One hopes that this will not happen. Politicians will not have the luxury of blaming him any more. His legacy is undeniably there and the good that he did must stand, even though this is too emotional and passionate a moment to dwell on it with any degree of objectivity.”

From the Pakistani Blogosphere:

Pakistanis blogged furiously following the announcement of Musharraf’s resignation. Adil at All Things Pakistan presented four critical questions that must be addressed in the aftermath of Monday’s development, including Who will be the next President of Pakistan, When will the judges be restored, What is the future of the ruling coalition, and What about the survival issues of the Pakistani awam? The answers the coalition government come up with “will impact what happens to Pakistan politics as well as what happens to Pakistan’s political leadership itself,” he noted.

AKS at Five Rupees praised Musharraf’s “last hurrah,” noting the speech “was a rather balanced and conciliatory affair, which says a lot about the man.” He added, “Musharraf came off as a man proud of his achievements, a patriot who was sincere with the country; this farewell speech will certainly help in remedying Musharraf’s lately tainted reputation.” His departure, however, has created a “massive political vacuum and only time will tell us how effectively this is filled. In the mean time.”

According to Teeth Maestro, the bottom line “is that Musharraf is out – that’s naturally one hurdle that needed to be crossed…” However, he added, “Zardari is in – now that’s one thing I mourn – Run for the hills – the cats out of the bag.” The blogger asserted, “Pakistan now needs to hold strong, it is genuine honest Pakistanis that need to get together and rebuild Pakistan – we cannot continue to be held hostage by corrupt leaders and dictators who walk away when they are done cleansing our country – history repeats itself for the umpteenth time when our leaders get up and walk out of the country when its a sordid mess.”

In the Pakistani Spectator‘s opinion, the next four months leading up to December are crucial. Farid Masood added, “Leadership must avoid political confrontation, as this time is to sacrifice many things for the nation and the country.”

So essentially, it’s over. Musharraf has stepped down. And, I, like many others who have assessed this situation (as seen above), are relieved that the coalition government can no longer use the president’s presence as an excuse anymore. Political wrangling must be put aside to tackle the issues that are actually important to the country and the Pakistani people: the economy, the militancy problem, the restoration of the judiciary, to name just a few. Otherwise, the witch hunt is likely to ensue once again. [Image from the AFP]

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