February 22, 2008

Pakistani Parliamentary Coalition Likely To Push Musharraf To Quit

Leaders of the newly-elected parliament in Pakistan will demand that Pervez Musharraf resign from the presidency. They have rejected a plea from the US to keep Musharraf in place, and they plan to reinstate the judges Musharraf purged in order to have a means to push him out of office if he does not go willingly:

The Bush administration is pressing the opposition leaders who defeated Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to allow the former general to retain his position, a move that Western diplomats and U.S. officials say could trigger the very turmoil the United States seeks to avoid.

U.S. officials, from President Bush on down, said this week that they think Musharraf, a longtime U.S. ally, should continue to play a role, despite his party's rout in parliamentary elections Monday and his unpopularity in the volatile, nuclear-armed nation.

The U.S. is urging the Pakistani political leaders who won the elections to form a new government quickly and not press to reinstate the judges whom Musharraf ousted last year, Western diplomats and U.S. officials said Wednesday. If reinstated, the jurists likely would try to remove Musharraf from office.

Musharraf sacked the judges late last year and keeps the former chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, under house arrest. Chaudhry and the Supreme Court had delayed a ruling on whether Musharraf could legally run for president, since the Pakistani constitution required a two-year period between the end of military service and a presidential candidacy. Convinced that the court would rule against him, he purged its more independent members and installed allies who quickly ruled in favor of his candidacy.

The US at the time had few options. The Bush administration protested the move but remained solidly behind Musharraf otherwise. The White House remains committed to Musharraf even now, but the free and fair election has dictated a change on the ground. The Islamists have been rejected by the Pakistanis, and the centrists and moderates have come to power. The political situation has become much less dire.

Ironically, we can thank Musharraf for making himself somewhat less relevant. After stacking the courts, everyone expected him to stack the elections as well, or at least manipulate security and the press enough to put his opposition at a stark disadvantage. Instead, to everyone's surprise, Musharraf allowed clean and fair elections and accepted the results without protest or machination. It is too little and too late to rescue his reputation in Pakistan, but it did boost Pakistan's return to democracy.

Musharraf didn't even take the time in a column in today's Washington Post to explicitly argue for his continuation as president, preferring to focus on this achievement and the war against radical Islamists:

On terrorism, let me be perfectly clear: Pakistan faces and fights this menace with full dedication. How could we not? Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have declared war on the civilized world, and the moderate government and people of Pakistan are prime targets. Some have questioned our commitment to the fight against extremism. In fact, more than 1,000 Pakistani troops have lost their lives fighting al-Qaeda and Taliban forces over the past four years, and 112,000 troops are fully engaged in the regions along our border with Afghanistan. We will continue to work closely with our longtime American allies in our common struggle to rid Pakistan and the world of militant extremism.

But as the U.S. experience in Iraq has shown, military force alone is not sufficient. A successful counterinsurgency requires a multi-pronged approach -- military, political and economic. Our political strategy emphasizes separating terrorists from those citizens living in the regions bordering Afghanistan. Our economic strategy is bringing education, economic opportunity and the benefits of development to those same areas. As history has clearly taught us, when people see improvement in their daily lives and the lives of their children, they turn away from violence and toward peace and reconciliation.

But our success will require the continued support of the United States. I would ask Americans to remember that building democracy is difficult in the best of conditions; doing so in a complex country such as Pakistan -- with its uneasy political history, with its centuries-old regional and feudal cleavages, and with violent extremists dedicated to the defeat of democracy -- is even more challenging. As history has shown, a peaceful transition to democracy requires the leadership of government and the willingness of the population to embrace democratic ideals. The people of Pakistan on Monday demonstrated that willingness; now it is time for government leaders to work together and do our part.

Indeed. However, Musharraf may be a victim of his own success. As Pakistan's democracy returns, so will its rule of law -- and its parliament will have to begin that process by reinstating an independent judiciary. That will almost certainly result in Musharraf's expulsion.

The US should start looking for Plan B.


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