FROM ISLAMABAD to London to Washington

Published in The Islamic Times Newspaper

By Majed Iqbal- Sacking of the Chief justice, Lawyers rallying on the streets, MQM activists murdering protesters, Madrassah students trying to create a state within a state, the Lal Masjid showdown; Pakistan peoples Party’s switch in allegiance to the Musharraf regime; Pakistan has seen it all in the last seven months.

With deep discontent and resentment rising over the unfolding sagas in the last months, President Musharraf is bordering a Political crisis with elections looming on the horizon and ace cards to place on the table to obtain support seem to be running out.

 

Support for Musharraf has plunged since February, according to an opinion poll published on Wednesday 2nd August 2007. The latest poll, conducted by the Washington-based International Republican Institute, found dissatisfaction with the president has surged this year with 63 per cent of respondents calling for him to quit.

The poll also showed a rising sense of insecurity in the country, with 72 per cent of respondents not supporting Musharraf’s decision in March to suspend Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. More damning was the Brussels-based think tank, the International Crisis Group, who issued in their latest report on Pakistan that the end of President Musharraf’s government was ‘a matter of time’ and ‘If the president tries to rig the elections or proclaims emergency rule, it could lead to street demonstrations and violent clashes with the military’ the report warned.

Musharraf’s blunder in sacking the Chief Justice cost him hugely and drew immense dissatisfaction on the streets in Pakistan. With the entire nations focus on damning the President in interfering with the independence of the Judiciary, Musharraf required a calculated miracle to regain balance in his favour. The Lal Masjid showdown’s timing and orchestration was now to prove its worth, after allowing it to build up from as far back as February 2007.

According to Mir Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, who was sent to negotiate with the mosque administration, and who was about to resolve the issue in April, was “asked by someone very important to delay it”. According to Ishtiaq Ali Mehkri, news editor at Geo TV, the Lal Masjid standoff was a “masterpiece of intelligence agencies” and an “eyewash” to deflect attention from issues of national importance, especially the Supreme Court hearing of the petition of Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. The government milked this ‘triumph’ for all it is worth, portraying it as another victory against ‘extremism’. The image which Musharraf had cultivated in the West of being the last bulwark in Pakistan against the rising tide of Talibanisation was further strengthened.

Beyond the saga of Lal Masjid lay the challenge of Musharraf retaining his position and power; something which not only had been on his mind but the American administrations too. A swift maneuver from the Military regime in favour of reviving an old Pakistani dynasty with Musharraf still retaining power was the formula currently being conjured up.

On 27th July, Musharraf Benazir flew into the UAE capital Abu Dhabi for an unannounced meeting that was aimed at ending eight years of extreme hostility and to give the Pakistani politics a new direction. Much earlier, a US state department spokesman, briefing the media on June 11, had already alluded to possible changes “There are going to be some important elections coming up in the fall,” he said, adding that Musharraf had pledged that, if he “continues in political life“, he will “put aside the uniform“.

The set up therefore seems appeasing to all parties involved. That is, Musharraf and Benazir will together run Pakistan as President and Prime Minister respectively. The national general elections will take place in Pakistan in the coming months, but as it appears, the results of the elections have already been decided and endorsed from Washington. Once again, foreign nations triumph in playing the pivotal role ofsteering the direction of Pakistan, the cost of which the Pakistani population will pay for the time to come, just as they have witnessed with Musharraf and his instructions from Capitol Hill in the last decade.

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