What’s next for Pakistan?
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Pakistan’s President Musharraf lifted the emergency on December 15 and restored the constitution, introducing several amendments to the Constitution by presidential decree. He’s also constituted a new national command authority, chaired by the president himself, to oversee all matters related to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. All the mainstream political parties, with the exception of one of the two major religious parties, have agreed to participate in the forthcoming elections, due on January 8. Curbs on the media remain in place, and many of the lawyers continue with their boycott of normal judicial activity in the country. But there’s no widespread political agitation, and election campaigns are now in full swing. I’m now joined by Aijaz Ahmad, Real News senior news analyst, from Delhi. Aijaz, President Musharraf seems to have handled this crisis relatively well from his own point of view. He claims he’s restored democracy. Most of the parties are participating in the election campaign. What do you make of this situation?
AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: The real issue is the amendments, the question of the amendments which he has introduced into the constitution. And when one says that he has restored the constitution, one has to ask themselves what constitution we are talking about. The Constitution dates back to 1973, but since then it has been amended, and now Musharraf has introduced six new amendments. The heart of those amendments is that all the actions he has taken during the forty days of the emergency are now built into the constitution, and no courts can challenge them.
JAY: And his removal of the leadership of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, most of those men are either under house arrest or have been forcibly retired. So this all becomes legal now and things carry on.
AHMAD: Precisely. That particular decision itself cannot be—according to these amendments, cannot be challenged in the courts, and the incoming parliament cannot overturn those decisions except by two thirds majority. It is unlikely that the opposition will have a two-thirds majority. So this restoration of democracy is actually in my view a permanent extension of the emergency conditions themselves.
JAY: Why did he find it necessary to create this national command authority to take control of the nuclear weapons? He’s given up the reins of the army, but it seems by implication he doesn’t trust who he’s handed the army over to.
AHMAD: I think two different things. One is that Pakistani high command as a whole, including Musharraf of course, but as a whole, is deeply offended by charges coming from the United States that these nuclear weapons are not safe in the hands of the Pakistan army. They are saying, we have this national command, and we are going to take charge of it. And they have said explicitly that any foreign power who wants to interfere with this should know that we have the power to defend our own assets and interests. But I think what might also happen now is that the Pakistan government may demand from the United States that it give to Pakistan the same kind of nuclear deal that it has offered to India. I think this command authority is meant to address both those questions.
JAY: Sharif is participating in the election—I should say, his party is, ’cause as far as I understand personally, he’s still being barred from running for prime minister himself. Bhutto is running. Why are they running, and what changed their minds, especially Sharif’s?
AHMAD: Benazir’s argument throughout has been that if we boycott the elections, they have the parliament, and then he can rush through the parliament anything he wants. But if we fight the elections and if all of us fight the elections, then in order to prevent us from getting a massive majority, they’ll have to rig the elections in such a way that the whole world will see how unfair the elections are. Her view has prevailed. So Sharif has been forced to participate in the elections by the stand that Benazir took.
JAY: Given the unpopularity of Musharraf himself, why is his party expected to do so well?
AHMAD: Well, the intelligence agencies will see to it that his party does well. Everyone is expecting a hung parliament.
JAY: Now what’s happening in the Northwest Frontier Provinces? We read that the Taliban have united under a single leader.
AHMAD: The significant thing about that unified command is that in the Northwest Frontier Province there are two different regions. One is the federally administered tribal agency, Waziristan, which is semi-autonomous, and then there is the rest of the Northwest Frontier Province. It brings together the Taliban from both these regions of the NWFP and gives them a united command. Their official communique says that this command has been established in order to fight against NATO and to fight a defensive battle against the Pakistani state. However, in reality, it is meant to further escalate the Taliban activity in northwestern frontier province.
JAY: And they said their objective was to establish Sharia law within their regions. Can the Pakistan government allow this? Or will they allow it?
AHMAD: Well, they have been trying to establish this Sharia law wherever they’re dominant. So long as this activity remains local, Pakistani state will try to accommodate these people. But if the offensive escalates, then the Pakistan army will actually retaliate in a very big way.
JAY: And what the US wants is this campaign. Certainly, if Pakistan leaves these regions alone, they create more support for the fight against NATO in Afghanistan. [cross talk]
AHMAD: That is right. That is right.
JAY: And the US wants the Pakistani government to get involved in a big way. Are they likely to see this after the elections?
AHMAD: What the Pakistani state would like to do is to use that political party, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, as its principal instrumentality for political containment of the Taliban, and carry out some raids here and there as circumspectly as they can.
JAY: Just to finish off, has Musharraf managed this situation after the elections? Does he come out of this maintaining power with a relatively stabilized situation? Or does this crisis continue to unfold?
AHMAD: As of now, yes, partly because Benazir is still in dialogue with Musharraf. We don’t know how close she will come to him. After the elections, she may still emerge as the prime minister in his new government. One very interesting anecdote. The Interpol office in Riyadh has inquired from the Pakistan government whether or not there should still be a red alert for apprehending Benazir Bhutto as a criminal. The Pakistani state is going to say to Benazir, if you want us to lift this red alert on the part of the Interpol, you’d better do what we tell you to do.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.