AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: The retired general is still president. Musharraf has been the point man for the Bush administration in Pakistan since September 2001. This support has continued to this day, even after the electoral verdict of February 18, in which the one party that Musharraf had confected for himself was swept away, and almost two-thirds majority was given to the three political parties most opposed to Musharraf and now ready to form the government. The Bush administration seems to have bought into Musharraf’s argument that the historic rivalry between the two leading parties, the PPP and the Muslim League, is such that a stable civilian government in Pakistan is unlikely, and Musharraf could therefore go on manipulating Pakistani politics as president. The Bush administration also seems to have bought into the argument that Asif Zardari, the surviving husband of the late Benazir Bhutto, whom the US had brought together with Musharraf for the post-election arrangement, will now deliver the goods. Almost the opposite seems to be happening. The decisive event actually has been the declaration of the Pakistan election commission that the three political parties who are now joining in the coalition now command very close to a two-thirds majority, and can probably form that majority with the help of a small parliamentary block as soon as the National Assembly convenes. This kind of majority gives these parties to pass any legislation they wish. In light of all this, the two major parties have come together in a far-reaching agreement giving concessions to each other. Nawaz Sharif, who was insisting that he would not join the government and would support it only from outside, has now agreed to actually join the government and take up some of the ministries. Asif Zardari, as chief of the Peoples Party, the largest political party, has made three far-reaching concessions to Nawaz Sharif. First, that as soon as the National Assembly meets, and within 30 days of the convening of the National Assembly, they will restore, through a simple act of Parliament, they will restore the judiciary that had been dismissed by President Musharraf in November 2007. Second, that they will work together to repeal by a two-third majority the two amendments that Musharraf had introduced into the Pakistan Constitution, one that gives the president the right to dismiss Parliament if and when he deems necessary, and two, the one that gives the president the right to appoint the chiefs of the various military services. This is an agenda deeply, deeply opposed by President Musharraf. And it’s bound to bring the Parliament directly in collision with the presidency, that is to say, with President Musharraf in person. Will the United States continue to support Musharraf’s sinking ship, even as the Parliament rises against Musharraf? Will the Pakistan army, instigated by the Bush administration, intervene and thereby risk the possibility of a popular uprising in defense of the Parliament against yet another military intervention on behalf of a president that most people consider illegitimate? The crisis now seems to be at hand, and the next few days will tell us where it’s all going. The Bush administration can perhaps still salvage its position so far as war against extremism is concerned, but the Parliament now is strong enough to wage its war against extremism on its terms, rather than the terms set by the Bush administration.
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