Tuesday, August 28, 2007

When Musharraf’s Luck Ran Out

While a crumbling Musharraf is now prepared to even concede his uniform just to get re-elected, it might be all too late.

One should always try to negotiate from a position from strength, but then the General’s heightened sense of self-esteem and arrogance prevented him from doing so. And so it happens that it was only when he was finally driven into a corner that he felt the need to commence negotiations - but by then he had little choice other than to negotiate from a weakened position.

On the other hand, Benazir Bhutto, adrift in some cloud cuckoo land of pre-1996 vintage, has failed to recognise the radically altered political environment in the Pakistan of 2007. Thanks to the lively new media she has been exposed as a self-interested politician keen to be absolved from the potentially crippling Swiss Money Laundering Case, be allowed to keep her ill-gotten millions, as well as, be provided with a third go at the prime-ministership. In return for all this, she has been more than willing to betray the commitments she made under the ‘Charter of Democracy’ and dance a political tango with a military dictator.

However, in doing so she has provided Nawaz Sharif with a chance of a lifetime. If Nawaz Sharif returns to Pakistan, like he seems determined to, he can lead a nationwide anti-Musharraf movement (even if he is sent to jail) and win popular acclaim for himself.

One often wondered when a modicum of reality would descend on the lady’s cerebrum. Recent reports suggest that the moment might have arrived. Today’s Dawn reports

PPP insiders said that Ms Bhutto was gradually coming round to the thinking of most of her party’s senior members who believe that any power-sharing pact with the president at this juncture would greatly damage the party’s electoral chances.

The PPP sources said she seemed to have realised that by continuing her negotiations with Gen Musharraf, she was alienating most of the moderates in the country, most of whom have become hostile to the US after 9/11 and since the presidential move against the chief justice, do not want to see Gen Musharraf occupying the presidency any more.

“There is no way the two could help each other any more. Now by continuing to cling to each other they are only dragging themselves further down the drain,” said a PPP stalwart who was opposed to the deal from the very beginning.

He blamed the Americans for, what he said, delivering Ms Bhutto to Gen Musharraf and breaking up the ARD, which was ‘the most potent and winning political combination’. “The two (Ms Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif) would have received the widest national acclaim and support had they landed in Pakistan together and started implementing the Charter of Democracy, which is perhaps the best document ever produced by Pakistani politicians,” he remarked.

If she dumps Musharraf at this stage, then he will be left high and dry. In any case Musharraf’s chances of getting re-elected through the current assemblies are looking progressively uncertain. PML (Q) desertions are not only increasing by the day, but some of its leadership is getting more and more vocal against a uniformed re-election.

According to the Nation newspaper:

[M]any PML-Q leaders have viciously turned against the re-election in uniform only because they considered it unconstitutional. Senator S.M. Zafar and PML Senior Vice President Kabir Ali Wasti top the list.

When contacted, Wasti claimed that the decision has been taken that Musharraf would contest for the presidential slot sans uniform. “We will support him (Musharraf) only if he doffed off his uniform and tried to get reelected from fresh assemblies,” Wasti said, adding that if the case was not so, he and many other PML leaders would strongly resist the re-election.

Adding to this is yesterday’s widely publicised resignation of Ishaq Khakwani, the minister of state information technology and telecommunication. He is said to have resigned ‘to protest President Pervez Musharraf's plans to run for re-election while remaining head of the army’.

If Benazir Bhutto ditches Musharraf at this critical moment, the only honourable step open to Musharraf is for him to resign.

Such an event will, of course, not lead to a state of chaos. We already have a well-known precedent of a military dictator suddenly vanishing from the scene in a blazing C130. So was there chaos after Zia’s unexpected death? The answer is, of course, no.

Musharraf’s departure would mean the Chairman of Senate, Mian Muhammad Soomro, becoming the acting President. Soomro can then appoint a transparently neutral and above-board caretaker government which will be assigned the task of ensuring completely free and fair elections (i.e. without any interference from the ‘Agencies’).

If Musharraf refuses to resign – which will be the probable case anyway – some commentators believe this could lead to an impasse in the presidential elections, which would then ‘leave the army with no option but to impose martial law minus Gen Musharraf’.


In event of such national chaos, it is more likely that the army will ‘request’ its Chief - who is already way past his superannuation age - to retire ‘with grace and dignity’ (in other words, give him the boot).

On the other hand, with the majority of the public solidly opposed to very idea of martial law, if by some stupid misfortune it does come about, it will have to be very brief in nature as the army will be unable to confront the public in the streets of Lahore or Rawalpindi.

As I began this blog by blaming Musharraf’s ‘heightened sense of self-esteem and arrogance’ for his impending downfall, it is now well worth reflecting as to when his downward spiral actually commenced.


Amidst all this re-election ballyhoo a noteworthy date which almost slipped past everyone’s attention was that last Sunday was the first anniversary of Nawab Akbar Bugti’s death.

To mark the event virtually all of Balochistan came to a standstill for two whole days (with the exception of the Pushtun-populated northern areas where the provincial-wide strike was only partly carried out).

Intriguingly, this two day strike was carried out at the request of one Brahamdagh Bugti, who is not only the murdered Nawab’s grandson but also officially one of the two most wanted rebels in Balochistan (the other being Balach Marri, the son of Nawab Khair Buksh Marri). And, almost to a man, all the Baloch heeded Brahamdagh Bugti’s appeal.

This makes a mockery of Musharraf’s claims of having crushed the Baloch insurgency by killing the Bugti chieftain. The other night Hasil Bizenjo was on Geo TV admitting to all that in death Akbar Bugti had achieved the status of becoming the greatest Baloch hero and his fame had easily eclipsed Mir Chakar Rind and all other historical Baloch figures of note. (This admission carries all the more weight as Bizenjo is perceived by many in Balochistan to be an ‘Agency’ man).

The memory of Bugti now appears to fuel the flame of a widespread insurgency in Balochistan and, I am told, that a palpable hatred for a ‘murdering’ Musharraf is not an uncommon sentiment found among the Baloch people - particularly among the younger lot.

The irony is that ISI is said to have repeatedly warned Musharraf that the problems of Balochistan were political and would only be exacerbated by military action. Deluded by the arrogance of power, Musharraf instead listened to the hawks in the Military Intelligence - and some suggest, also the views of the chairman of Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL), the company that owns the Sui gas facility.

In the last few days of August 2006 it is believed that Musharraf secluded himself in the hill station of Murri, where he received regular reports from his troops who had by then successfully encircled Bugti’s hideout. It is from there that he is supposed to have issued instructions for the elimination of Akbar Bugti.

Unfortunately for him, after this brutal act of supreme arrogance the fortunes of Musharraf began taking a downward spiral. This is how Adil Najam, writing in The News, perceives it:

If one looks back and seeks the one turning point of political inflection in General Pervez Musharraf's rule; that point will be the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti on August 26, 2006. From that moment on it was clear that Gen Musharraf was on his way out. It was not clear --- and still is not -- exactly when or exactly how he would go. But suddenly there was the sense that his departure was not only likely, but imminent. Something dramatic happened that day. It was not just Nawab Akbar Bugti who died but also the silent consensus that had propped up Gen. Musharraf's military rule in Pakistan the previous five years. From then on Gen. Musharraf has been on a downwards trajectory and it is clear that his personal survival can come only at increasing costs to him and to the country.

Up to that point there was a sense that even if there was not a majority that actually supported his rule, there was in fact a plurality of Pakistanis who were willing to tolerate it. Or, at the least, were not actively opposed to it. This is what really changed on August 26, 2006. The killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti -- or, more precisely, the manner in which he was killed and the government's reaction to it -- forced many people who were willing to sit on the sidelines to actually choose sides. Invariably, they choose to distance themselves from the general. There was a clear sense that a line had been crossed. It was obviously not the first time that line had been crossed, but it was one crossing too many. Like the proverbial last straw on the camel's back, this was the one decision that decided the issues for the then undecideds.

Much like those who would later march for the reinstatement of the Chief Justice were moved to do so not because they 'liked' the Chief Justice but because they vehemently disliked the way he was treated by Gen. Musharraf. Similarly, many of those who were repulsed by the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti were moved not because they approved of Bugti's agenda or tactics, they were revolted by the arrogance of power that was evident in the manner of his removal. It is this recognition of the arrogance of power, the obvious desire to retain that power at all costs and for purely personal satisfaction that has turned the tide against Gen. Musharraf. And the tide was turned on August 26, 2006.


Anonymous said...

PML(q)MNAs are fast leaving their party to join Nawaz. So basically little else will change except the top leadership.

I have a gloomy feeling that Pakistan will not be able to implement true democracy after these recent deals and stuff. I believe Pakistan's political scenario will remain the same.

what do u think onlooker?


Anonymous said...

In my (outsider's) estimate, given his past record in dealing with detractors(Akbar Bugti, Chief Justice's assistant, journalist who reported US missile strike) Musharraf will not deal with such a direct threat to his position aka Nawaz Sharif, either 'democratically' or even 'legally'. Nawaz Sharif should be prepared for 'extraconstitutional' methods being used to thwart him, who knows even while he is abroad.

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