OPINION & ANALYSIS: Pakistan’s chaotic stability

Crisis, what crisis?

How long will it be until Pakistan implodes? Take your pick of the analysts: a week or so as opposition parties take to the streets to complain about the postponement of elections, just announced; two weeks if the elections take place and the country descends into chaos; a few months and the mullahs will have poured down from the North West Frontier Province, seized Islamabad and the nuclear button; a year or so and Pakistan will have become another Afghanistan. Or perhaps it won’t implode at all.

The latter seems the most likely to me. On my first trip to Pakistan, in 1993, the country was as unstable as ever. Nawaz Sharif’s first government had fallen. Benazir Bhutto was back in power. Everyone was talking about a default on the country’s debts, rampant militancy, war, political chaos, inefficiency, corruption, and so on. Living there in the late 90s, I heard the same refrain every day. Clearly the events of the last week have shaken many – and rightfully given the strategically critical nature of the world’s second largest Muslim state – but perhaps the thing we should wonder at most is the astonishing fact that Pakistan successfully manages to keep itself together – apart from the inevitable and logical splitting off of eastern Pakistan to form Bangladesh in 1971 – not its manifest and manifold problems over 60 years of history. [complete article]

A revenger’s tragedy

Quite what motivation Musharraf’s government would have for assassinating Bhutto, it is hard to discern. He expected her to provide legitimacy for his presidency. Indeed, the very fact that she was eager to participate in the elections put a democratic sheen on his clinging to power. Her death not only weakens Musharraf’s position further, but may actually write the final chapter of his rule.

Security experts in Pakistan have little doubt who is behind the assassination. “I am convinced that the intelligence services were involved,” says Ayesha Siddiqa, author of the highly acclaimed book Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy. Only through the collusion of the security services could both a gunman and a suicide bomber have got so close to Bhutto, she says. Other analysts agree. There seems to be a general consensus that renegade current and former members of the ISI are working with religious extremists to spread a reign of terror.

Benazir Bhutto is the highest-value victim so far, but it is not just the PPP that is being targeted. Almost all Pakistani politicians are under threat. Hours before Bhutto’s assassination, an election rally organised by the Muslim League, the party of the other former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, was attacked by unknown gunmen. Four party workers were killed. The Muslim League blames a pro-Musharraf party, the PML(Q), for the incident. But Musharraf allies are themselves under attack.

On 21 December, the day of the festival of Eid ul-Adha, a suicide bomber attacked a mosque in Charsadda District, near Pesha war, during Friday prayers. The intended victim, the former interior minister Aftab Sherpao, escaped unhurt but the blast killed more than 50 people. Even religious politicians, such as Maulana Fazlur Rahman, head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Islamic Party of Religious Leaders), who has close ties with the Taliban, have received death threats. “The truth is that anyone can be bumped off in Pakistan,” says Imran Khan, the former cricketer and leader of the Movement for Justice Party, and it can simply be “blamed on al-Qaeda”. [complete article]

Pakistan: Restore democracy

In the next two months, Pakistan must work towards the following outcomes, with the strong and consistent support of the international community:

* Musharraf’s resignation, with Senate Chairman Mohammadmian Soomro taking over under the constitution as acting president and appointing neutral caretaker governments at the national and provincial levels with the consensus of the major political parties in all four federal units;
* postponement of the polls, accompanied with the announcement of an early new election date. The Election Commission announced on 2 January a postponement to 18 February but said nothing about other necessary changes needed if this step is to contribute to restoration of democracy in Pakistan,
* full restoration of the constitution, including an independent judiciary and constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly and association and safeguards against illegal arrest and detention;
* reconstitution of the Election Commission of Pakistan, with the consensus of all major political parties; and,
* the transfer of power and legitimate authority to elected civilian hands. [complete article]

Musharraf denies role in Bhutto’s assassination

Bhutto’s followers have focused their suspicions on several people with either past or present ties to Musharraf, four of whom Bhutto had named in a letter to the president as enemies plotting to kill her. One of those she implicated was Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, a former chief minister of Punjab province and a likely candidate to be prime minister if Musharraf’s allies do well enough in next month’s elections to form a government.

But Musharraf said the allegation that Elahi, or anyone else from the government, had participated in the attack was baseless and that Scotland Yard investigators whom he had invited to probe the matter would not be pursuing that possibility.

“I would like to know how she died, ultimately,” Musharraf said. “But I will not like anyone to go on a wild goose chase and start creating a disturbance.”

Sherry Rehman, spokeswoman for Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, accused Musharraf of trying to set the terms of Scotland Yard’s investigation before it even began. “It’s not for him to decide what’s a wild goose chase,” she said. [complete article]

See also, British police to help investigate Bhutto murder (The Indepedent), Pakistani opposition parties decry election delay (NYT), Musharraf not ‘fully satisfied’ by Bhutto inquiry (AP), and Gingerly, U.S. reaches out to Sharif in Pakistan (CSM).

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