November 15, 2007

Musharraf: I'll Quit ... In A While

Pervez Musharraf attempted to calm the chaos in Pakistan today. He announced his resignation as Army chief of staff, making himself a civilian president, by the end of November. He also began work on a caretaker government, according to US diplomatic sources:

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and his aides worked to finalize a caretaker government Thursday, while his two opposition rivals opened talks on forming an alliance against him.

A U.S. diplomat was allowed to cross the barricades and heavy police cordon surrounding the house in the eastern city of Lahore where opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has been confined since Tuesday.

Bryan Hunt, the U.S. consul general in Lahore, emerged an hour later and said he had told Bhutto of Washington's wish for Musharraf to lift the emergency, quit as army chief and free opposition politicians and the media. ...

In an Associated Press interview Wednesday, Musharraf said he expects to quit as chief of the army by the end of November, heralding a return to civilian rule. However, he rejected Western pressure to quickly end the emergency.

The resignation would certainly help meet some of Benazir Bhutto's concerns, but Musharraf has a credibility problem. His resignation as CoS was supposed to come yesterday. This statement sounds a lot like, "I know I said I'd step down earlier, but now I really mean it."

Bhutto signaled earlier that she might still find a way to work with Musharraf if he resigned his position with the Army, and ended the emergency rule he declared earlier. Musharraf promises the first, but rejects outright the second. Appearing in a suit for an interview does not a civilian make out of a military dictator, especially when the dictator refuses to withdraw the basis of the dictatorship.

The move to form a caretaker government would signal that Musharraf might take this pledge a little more seriously. With the US talking directly with Bhutto and giving her even more credibility, Musharraf may feel pressed to start reversing at least some of the effects of his emergency decree. Mindful of the disastrous failure of the Jimmy Carter administration in neighboring Iran, the Bush administration has made sure to issue supporting statements for Musharraf, but in the same breath demand that he end emergency rule and restore the civilian justice system.

The US is applying all of the pressure it can afford to bring on Musharraf without seeing the situation spin entirely out of control. Will it work? Can Musharraf survive a return to normalcy, either politically or literally?


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