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Aijaz Ahmad: US trying to guide formation of new Pakistan government; will Musharraf stay or go?

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AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: Full implications of the parliamentary elections of February 18 in Pakistan are yet far from clear. No one political party has emerged with sufficient number of seats to form government at the center. Therefore the great adversaries of yesteryears the Peoples Party, led now by Asif Zardari, which used to be led in the past by the late Benazir Bhutto, has joined hands with the Muslim League led by the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. And together they have announced that they’re ready to form coalition government at the center. Even so, complex negotiations are going on among various parties, because governments are to be formed not only at the center at the federal level, but also in the four provinces of Pakistan, while each province has thrown up a very different kind of scenario and very different kinds of coalitions are emerging on the provincial level, which will necessarily reflect on the federal level. So we are still not quite clear just what the lineup is going to be at either the provincial or the federal levels. However, it is becoming quite clear that Peoples Party will have the choice to have the prime minister, and Makhdoom Amin Fahim is being named as the most likely candidate to become prime minister. Many changes are already discernible in the policy orientations of the various political parties. Before the elections, all of them used to say very, very strongly that they have to get rid of Musharraf, they have to get rid of all the changes he has made in the constitution, that they are going to bring back the 60 judges of the higher courts that Musharraf had, fired, and so on and so forth. Now that the Parliament is about to be constituted, it is becoming quite clear that there probably aren’t enough votes to proceed to remove Musharraf through impeachment if necessary. Indeed the will to even try to see if there are enough votes is weakening, probably under US pressure. The future prime minister, Makhdoom Amin Fahim has said on the CNN that this is not the time to rock the boat, this is a time for cooperation, this is a time for a peaceful manner for a transition from a military government to a fully civilian government, and so on and so forth. Asif Zardari, who has taken over the Peoples Party, is now talking about a government of national consensus. The idea of a national consensus indeed goes far beyond the idea simply of a coalition government between two political parties, because national consensus must then include not only President Musharraf as a person, but also the political party with which he was so closely identified and which does indeed have 40 seats in Parliament. So Zardari is actually opening a door for that political party for cooperation in case his deal with Nawaz Sharif begins to fall apart. The impeachment idea is being given up, I think, almost entirely under US pressure. And the US has taken no time in making very clear that it is still pursuing the idea of running Pakistan through a troika, with General Kiyani in charge of the armed forces, a civilian prime minister, to give legitimacy to the government and President Musharraf, both as president and as head of the National Security Council. The idea of favoring Musharraf has been expressed in a great many ways. The three senators who came to Pakistan as so-called observers of the elections, Joe Biden, Kerry, and Chuck Hagel, made it quite clear on Pakistani television that they were not going to abandon Musharraf. And McCain, the leading Republican candidate, has gone so far as to declare that Musharraf was legitimately elected as president of Pakistan and should stay there. Condoleezza Rice has gone on record saying that Musharraf is the president of Pakistan, and that’s the man with whom the United States is going to deal. The ambassadors of both UK and the US in Islamabad are known to be exerting a great deal of pressure on various political parties, notably on the PPP, to work with Musharraf; the Saudi Ambassador in Islamabad is active in this matter; and so on. So the pressure is there for Musharraf to be accepted by the political parties, and Asif Ali Zardari, who has no legitimacy, and in fact for whom the great majority of Pakistani people have nothing but contempt, but who has now usurped the Peoples Party is obviously clearly persuaded to work with Musharraf. This is going to be a source of very great instability. And the kind of pressure that the US is exerting is already becoming a matter of great discontent in Pakistan.


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Based in New Delhi, Aijaz Ahmad has appeared many times on The Real News Network; he is Senior Editorial Consultant, and political commentator for the Indian newsmagazine, Frontline. He has taught Political Science, and has written widely on South Asia and the Middle East.