February 24, 2008

Pervez Gets Boogie Fever?

The Telegraph reports that Pervez Musharraf may resign his post "within days" after failing to convince his opposition to let him remain in office. The Pakistani president sees the writing on the wall and doesn't want to have a destabilizing impeachment follow the successful parliamentary elections, according to his aides:

Pervez Musharraf is considering stepping down as president of Pakistan rather than waiting to be forced out by his victorious opponents, aides have told The Sunday Telegraph.

One close confidante said that the president believed he had run out of options after three of the main parties who triumphed in last week's poll announced they would form a coalition government together, and also pledged to reinstate the country's chief justice and 60 other judges sacked by Mr Musharraf in November.

"He has already started discussing the exit strategy for himself," a close friend said. "I think it is now just a matter of days and not months because he would like to make a graceful exit on a high."

According to senior aides, Mr Musharraf wants to avoid a power struggle with the newly elected parliament, in which his opponents will be close to the two-thirds majority needed to impeach him and remove him from office.

"He may have made many mistakes, but he genuinely tried to build the country and he doesn't want to destroy it just for the sake of his personal office," said an official close to the president.

Sacking the judges may have allowed him to claim the presidency, but it clearly delegitimized him. Musharraf must have thought that a clean election would vindicate his decision to seek stability prior to the polling, and that Pakistanis would forgive his stacking of the judiciary in that context. He obviously misread the political impact of tampering with the independence of the courts, and now he has to seek the best way to exit without either getting thrown in his own jails or bringing Pakistan into chaos.

Who would follow Musharraf? It could be Benazir Bhutto's widow Asif Zardari, who now co-chairs her PPP party. Zardari's refusal to bargain with or be cowed by Musharraf has forced the former military dictator's hand. Zardari has already declined the position of prime minister, which will go to PPP VP Makhdoom Amin Fahim. Zardari's role in Musharraf's exit will undoubtedly make him a popular choice for Musharraf's successor.

The US probably wouldn't mind Zardari taking the spot. Zardari, like his late wife, wants to prosecute the war against the Islamists. The potential problem could be the army. Musharraf's hand-picked successor as Chief of Staff, Ashfaq Kayani, also served earlier as the head of military intelligence, and could resent the unseating of his mentor and friend. Will the army step in to rescue Musharraf -- or perhaps to install Kayani as military dictator and to end the parliament before it begins? It's unlikely given the mood of the country, but not impossible.

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