PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: The political crisis in Pakistan shows no sign of letting up. President Musharraf has taken off his army uniform and proposed to lift emergency rule, but an election boycott by opposition parties still hangs in the air. Former exiled prime minister Nawaz Sharif has also had his candidacy blocked by the electoral commission in Pakistan due to his former conviction on corruption and terrorism charges. To unravel these series of events, we go to the Real News senior news analyst Aijaz Ahmad. What is General Kayani doing? And what’s happening with the Pakistani crisis?
AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: President Musharraf has taken off his uniform, and General Kayani, who was the head of the intelligence services, has taken over command of the armed forces. Very interestingly, he has within days of taking command removed the former core commanders and appointed five new ones. The rumor in Islamabad is that he’s also going to appoint new heads of the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] for all the four provinces.
JAY: So this is a regime change of sorts.
AHMAD: It’s a regime change, certainly, and it looks significant. Kayani has taken charge. However, the two of them also have some absolutely fundamental interests in common. One is that the supremacy of the armed forces stays in place.
JAY: And this is also the American interest.
AHMAD: This would be the American interest. Which then means that so far as the army is concerned, Musharraf’s institutional power has been undermined thoroughly. But that does not mean that as a figurehead of the government his position has been undermined.
JAY: Would you say that Kayani’s move, his regime change, certainly Bhutto looking sooner or later to be the next prime minister, can you say there’s been some success for American policy in Pakistan? Are they heading towards the kind of stabilization they wanted?
AHMAD: Could well be. The second thing we know about Kayani is that he conducted the dialogue between Benazir and Musharraf which made it possible for Benazir to come back. And Benazir has now met Musharraf this Thursday. So you may actually have a situation in which the triumvirate that we have been talking about at the Real News from the beginning does in fact—
JAY: Kayani, Musharraf, and Bhutto.
AHMAD: —that’s right—that it does in fact come into play. Meanwhile what has happened is that Nawaz Sharif, who had surprisingly returned to Pakistan, it is said under Saudi insistence, has been disqualified by the Election Commission of Pakistan, his candidacy. So he is not even being allowed to run for elections. And therefore he, together with three or four other parties, notably the Jamaat-e-Islami and Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf, they are now talking very seriously of boycotting the elections. Benazir is saying that if you boycott the elections, you give Musharraf over two-thirds of the majority in Parliament, and then he can do whatever; and therefore, under protest, I will participate. Now, if she participates and they don’t, then she immediately becomes the prime minister.
JAY: Would the Pakistani people accept this triumvirate? The protest that had come earlier from the lawyers and the intelligentsia at the level of the Supreme Court, what do they get out of all this in the end? They wind up in the same situation they were before with a couple of new names.
AHMAD: Yes, the only thing they get out of it is that there is a civilian government. The emergency will be lifted. But the lawyers’ movement whose target was to have that judiciary reappointed, that target will not be met. Because it was a movement based only among sections of the intelligentsia, it could be contained relatively easy. It did not become a popular mass movement.
JAY: What the U.S. wants out of all this, in the final analysis, is some kind of a more vigorous assault on the Taliban and the al-Qaida forces and other extremist militants in Pakistan. If they do that, how does Pakistani public opinion react to that?
AHMAD: Within the last two weeks, for the first time, the Pakistan Air Force has used F-16s in the Waziristan area, that in the Swat area there has been a much bigger military offensive since Kayani has taken over. But beyond that I think it would be again very difficult for these armed forces, and it may not even be considered desirable by Kayani and Musharraf to really move in a very big way, because the problem again is who do you move against? You’re not talking about some isolated militias or some so-called terrorists whom you can isolate and kill. These are also people who are very much embedded among their own ethnic groups, families, and so on.
JAY: What should we be looking for over the next few weeks?
AHMAD: First of all, they will stabilize, the emergency will be lifted; elections will be held. Because Benazir is participating in the elections, sooner or later all the parties will come in and participate in the elections. The military may decide that Benazir is too strong a personality to have as a prime minister, and the ISI may so arrange that she will not get a majority, in which case you might have a weak civilian-coalition government.
JAY: Is the U.S. getting what they want out of the situation right now?
AHMAD: One of the American objectives is to curtail the Chinese influence in Pakistan. Then there is the question of Balochistan under the leadership of one [“Nawab”] Bugti, a most unlikely national liberation leader. And once the army moved in, in a very big way, it fizzled out. Could the Baloch movement be resurrected again in Pakistan? To put pressure on the army that if you don’t act the way we want you to act, you will lose this province? We don’t know. Americans have two or three very big issues aside from this containment of the Islamicist insurgency.
JAY: But their main objective, at least publicly, is to get the insurgents.
AHMAD: They will get it and they won’t get it, in the sense that there will be some movement, but in terms that the Pakistani military considers judicious, in their own interests, and in the interest of the stability of their own country. This is an institution that looks after its own power in relation to the civilians, as well as looks after the stability of their country.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.