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.

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.

Musharraf Not Quitting

Despite suffering a landslide loss in parliamentary elections, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf has no intention to resign from office. After the successful and fair elections produced a lopsided coalition between Benazir Bhutto’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, Sharif called for Musharraf to leave office. Sharif could make it impossible for Musharraf to stay:

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said he intends to remain in office and work with the new government, despite the trouncing that the country’s parliamentary elections handed his ruling party and calls by the opposition to step down.
In an interview posted on the Wall Street Journal’s Web site Wednesday and in comments to CNN, Musharraf and his staff said he was not contemplating leaving office.
“No, not yet,” Musharraf told the Journal. “We have to move forward in a way that we bring about a stable democratic government to Pakistan.”

Musharraf did sound a very humble note in his response. The prime minister, elected by the new parliament, will run the country, Musharraf’s office explained. The president will cooperate with whomever the parliament elects, and presumably will focus on security rather than policy.
Sharif could force Musharraf from office, but he will need a lot of help. The parliament can impeach a president with a two-thirds majority, but Sharif’s PML-N came in second. The PPP holds the most seats, and even in a coalition with them, Sharif would come up short. Given the rickety nature of the democracy at this point, and the fact that Musharraf conducted a clean election, an impeachment may not suit the purposes of anyone but Sharif himself, who got removed from office in a coup engineered by Musharraf in 1999.
Can Sharif find a supermajority of parliamentarians who want to celebrate an end to one crisis by fomenting another? It’s unlikely. If he did, he might find that the Pakistani Army would object to a political meltdown, especially one aimed at removing their former chief of staff from office. Musharraf will likely fill his five-year term, and Sharif will have to grit his teeth and work with the man who chased him out of Pakistan nine years ago.

Musharraf Wins By Losing, Islamists Just Lose Big

The Pakistanis have rejected both Pervez Musharraf and the Islamists in their national and provincial elections yesterday, preliminary results show. Supporters of slain national leader Benazir Bhutto and returned exile Nawaz Sharif will dominate the national and provincial assemblies, and Musharraf will have to deal with a hostile but moderate Parliament:

After being sidelined for more than eight years by army intervention, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) seemed headed for a shock comeback as initial partial results of Monday’s elections put a question mark over President Pervez Musharraf’s political future.
The previously ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) of the president’s loyalists and some of its allies appeared to have suffered a humiliating drubbing in the low-turnout elections for the National Assembly and four provincial assemblies despite a perceived support they got from local governments and other state agencies in what the opposition parties called pre-poll rigging.
The PML-N had won 29 and the PPP 27 National Assembly seats after, what were called unofficial results for 87 constituencies, were known well past midnight, until when the PML-Q had won only nine and NWFP-based Awami National Party seven while nine had gone to independents, mainly in the party-less Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
The MMA, which ruled the NWFP for five years, appeared in danger of being wiped out from both the National Assembly and the Frontier legislature.
But the one-time arch-rivals turned allies PPP and PML-N were leading in most of the other constituencies of the lower house as well as of the provincial assemblies of the Punjab and Sindh while the remaining two provinces of the North-West Frontier and Balochistan appeared destined to get more mixed coalitions.

Between them, Bhutto’s PPP and Sharif’s PML-N have taken 153 seats, to PML-Q’s paltry 38, according to Dawn’s projections. Neither party has a majority, but undoubtedly they will form a coalition to dominate the assembly and to form a powerful counterweight to Musharraf. The Islamists have all but disappeared from the parliament at this point, with MMA winning only three seats after calling for a boycott earlier.
Musharraf, who got his face slapped by this result, appears secure in the presidency. Even with PPP and PML-N forming a coalition, they lack the two-thirds majority in the assembly required to impeach Musharraf. They have enough to thwart his policy agenda if necessary, but Musharraf may prove more compliant in the future. Both parties want to fight the terrorists, the PPP more than the PML-N, and they may want Musharraf to continue to be the leader of that fight.
The Islamists lost their mandate in the provinces as well. ANP, the center-left Pashtun party, will take the most seats in the Frontier province, followed by PPP. MMA only took 8 seats in that assembly, falling from power and obviously losing popularity in the region for its insistence on Islamist law. Musharraf’s PML-Q won a plurality in Balochistan and will likely form a coalition with PPP to lock out MMA.
Even though he took a beating at the polls, Musharraf may come out a winner from yesterday’s results. He apparently conducted the election honestly, and has acknowledged the results. He managed to marginalize the Islamists and has legitimized the moderates as the driving force in Pakistani politics. The PML-Q will not win many elections after Musharraf’s dictatorship — everyone knew that before the election — but he allowed them anyway and seems ready to deal with the result. It’s a pretty good day for democracy in Pakistan, and Musharraf deserves at least a little of the credit.

Pakistan Goes To The Polls

The delayed parliamentary elections have begun in Pakistan today, and depending on which news source one uses, either voters have rushed to the polls or stayed home out of fear. The AP notes a large turnout in the North West Frontier Province as the secular voters want a change from Islamist control. Reuters focuses on the negative:

Fears of violence kept many Pakistanis away from an election that could usher in a parliament set on driving President Pervez Musharraf from office, while Musharraf himself called for reconciliation after casting his vote.

The AP headlines their report as “Pakistani voters brave poll despite fear,” and give more specifics:

Barely one hour after the polls opened, about 200 men were pushing and shoving for ballot papers at this polling station in a secondary school — hidden behind giant walls and a steel gate.
“This is our right, and it is our chance after five years to make a change here. We want peace. We all want peace,” said Ullah, his scraggly white beard almost obscuring a toothless grin.
Like Ullah, many voters have said they would support secular parties, hoping to oust the ruling religious parties, whose victory in the province in 2002 was followed by a rise in Islamic extremism.

Reuters reports a “trickle” in cities across Pakistan. However, within three hours of the polls opening, they also report a 15% turnout. By Reuters’ own reporting, the polls will remain open for nine hours. That would put the final turnout around 50%, which is not far off from most Western democracies, especially the US. That hardly sounds like a trickle.
The AP reports on Christians in Charsadda, who have special motivation to come to the polls. After the election of an Islamist provincial government in 2002, the Christians there have received threats to convert to Islam or die at the hands of radicals. Their community has protected them, and almost everyone in Charsadda wants an end to the Islamists in part to keep them from harm.
One point that Reuters skips is the fact that some Islamist parties have chosen to boycott the election. That will depress turnout a bit, but apparently the secular voters even in NWFP won’t miss them a bit. Pakistan may be poised to deliver a blow to Islamist political hopes, and while that may push the Islamists towards war, it still would represent a courageous step by Pakistanis — if they make it.
The polls have already closed by the time this post will go up. We should start seeing results here by the afternoon.

Pakistani Ambassador Disappears After Dadullah Capture

The Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan has disappeared on the road between Peshawar and Kabul, and the Pakistanis suspect that the Taliban has kidnapped him. Tariq Azizuddin failed to show on schedule in Kabul, and no one has seen him or his driver since their departure. The Taliban apparently want Dadullah back:

Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan has been abducted in a troubled tribal border region just hours after a senior Taliban commander was arrested.
Tariq Azizuddin, the Pakistani envoy to Kabul, disappeared with his driver while travelling the Khyber Pass on the road between the Pakistani city of Peshawar and the Afghan border.
“We know that he was coming from Peshawar to Kabul and we lost contact with him. We are trying our best to find out what happened,” said a spokesman for the Pakistani embassy in Kabul.
Tribal militants may have abducted the ambassador. Rasool Khan Wazir, the chief administrative official in Khyber, said security forces had seen the envoy’s car driven at speed through a checkpost with “local people sitting in the front seat”.

Dadullah got captured in a shootout earlier in the day. He was wounded in the firefight and is listed in critical condition at the hospital where he has been detained. If he dies, Azizuddin may not survive his kidnapping. Of course, releasing Dadullah under these circumstances could kill him, too. Dadullah may not want to go, at least not yet.
It won’t be the first time the Taliban have ransomed hostages for Dadullah’s release. The Pakistanis released him and four other Taliban terrorists in exchange for Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo less than a year ago. The terrorists have played this game before, and why not? Despite the West’s oft-stated policy of non-negotiation with terrorists, European nations have routinely paid ransoms in both cash and terrorist releases.
This time the Taliban decided on a higher-level capture to gain Dadullah’s release, but they may have miscalculated. They won’t have the pressure of a foreign government leaning on Pervez Musharraf — and the kidnapping of a Pakistani ambassador may end the recent push towards truce in Swat and the Waziristans. Musharraf may be more inclined to press forward with his military for a solution than to allow the Taliban to control the critical roads between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
UPDATE: Azizuddin has some company:

Two employees of Pakistan’s atomic energy agency have been abducted in the country’s restive north-western region abutting the Afghan border, police say.
The technicians went missing on the same day as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Tariq Azizuddin, was reportedly abducted in the same region.

They were surveyors and geologists, not nuclear physicists, so the two won’t give them any nuclear technology or insight. Still, the trend says that the Taliban have decided to stack the odds in their favor for a swap.

Pakistanis Capture Taliban Commander

The Dadullah family has had a string of bad luck. First, the Taliban inner circle member Mullah Dadullah got killed in a NATO attack a year ago when the Americans imposed a much more aggressive strategy in dealing with Taliban probes and ambushes. Now his brother Mansoor, a top field commander for the Taliban, finds himself a prisoner of the Pakistani Army after losing a shootout:

Pakistani security forces captured a top figure in the Taliban militia fighting U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan along with four other militants Monday, a military official said.
Mansoor Dadullah, brother of the Taliban’s slain military commander Mullah Dadullah, was among five militants captured after a shootout near a seminary in Zhob district of southwestern Baluchistan province around 10 a.m., a local intelligence official told The Associated Press.

Once again, we have a surrender from the top levels of the Taliban rather than a fight to the death. For a mullah, that seems rather strange. Aren’t the mullahs of the Taliban the ones preaching the joys of martyrdom, and how death pleases Allah?
But like many other leaders of the jihadi movement, their asceticism apparently doesn’t allow them the joys of suicide and certain death. They have to sacrifice by capitulating when confronted by superior military forces. One can only imagine the heartbreak that these religious/military leaders have to face when they have to eschew a pointless death and bitterly accept the continuance of their lives.
The capture of Dadullah gives the Pakistanis, and hopefully NATO, a great intel opportunity. It’s possible that Dadullah’s high-level contacts could produce the whereabouts of Mullah Omar, and perhaps even Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Now that the news of his capture has gone out through the media, those people may have to relocate quickly and find new safe houses — actions that could flush them out into view long enough for a Predator to find them.

Bhutto Killed In Blast: Scotland Yard

Scotland Yard has concluded that Benazir Bhutto did not die from a gunshot wound, but instead died from the blast of the suicide bomber’s explosion immediately afterward. The Bhutto family and her political party have rejected the findings, and they have renewed their calls for a UN investigation:

Scotland Yard said in a report released Friday that Pakistan’s opposition leader Benazir Bhutto died as a result of a suicide bomb blast, not a gunshot — findings that support the Pakistani government’s version of the events.
Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party immediately rejected the British conclusion and repeated its demand for a U.N. investigation.
The party says Bhutto was shot and suspects a government cover-up because Bhutto had accused political allies of President Pervez Musharraf of plotting to kill her.
The British probe also found that a single attacker both fired the shots at Bhutto and detonated the blast by blowing himself up moments later.

That conclusion appears to disregard the video evidence of a shot apparently hitting Bhutto’s head moments before the explosion. In the final frames before the detonation, Bhutto’s hair and head appeared to react to a gunshot. The images helped force the Pakistani government into asking for Scotland Yard’s assistance in the first place.
With this conclusion, Scotland Yard essentially confirms the Pakistani government’s conclusions, which were roundly derided by the Pakistani people. Only an autopsy would be able to settle the question, but so far Bhutto’s family has resisted one. They claim that a Pakistani autopsy would cover up evidence, and they claim that the British have too limited a mandate to conduct a truly independent probe.
At some point, the Bhutto family should have their own expert conduct an autopsy, open to the media for more credibility. Otherwise, we will continue to have nothing but conjecture and accusation, and it will continue to prove destabilizing. Perhaps that is what some would prefer.

The Definition Of Insanity ….

Pervez Musharraf has apparently learned little from his tussle with the Taliban. Reports have Pakistan entering into negotiations …. again … with the Taliban …. again … for another cease-fire. This time, they have even more bargaining chips, having control of the Swat region:

Taliban militants declared a cease-fire Wednesday in fighting with Pakistani forces, and the government said it was preparing for peace talks with al-Qaida-linked extremists in the lawless tribal area near the border with Afghanistan.
Any deal that allows armed Islamic extremists to operate on Pakistani soil would run counter to U.S. demands for the government to crack down on militants. The Bush administration contends a failed truce last year allowed al-Qaida to expand its reach into this turbulent, nuclear-armed country, and the U.S. has sounded warnings in recent days about a revival of militant strength.
A spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a militant umbrella group, said the new cease-fire would include not only the tribal belt along the Afghan border but also the restive Swat region to the east where the army has also battled pro-Taliban fighters.
Two local Pakistani security officials told The Associated Press on Thursday that the truce followed secret talks with the militants and tribal elders. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is sensitive.

Two previous truces collapsed when the Taliban ended their hudna and used their gathered strength to attack Musharraf’s forces. The previous truces allowed the Taliban and al-Qaeda to consolidate their positions in the Waziristans and the North West Frontier Province. The Pakistani military had just begun an offensive against them in South Waziristan when the government called a halt to the operation. One Pakistani journalist wondered aloud why Musharraf bothered to start the operation in the first place, just to abandon it before even attempting to reach its objectives.
The worst aspect of this is the choice of partner for negotiation. The leader of Tehrik-e Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, is the man thought responsible for planning and ordering the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto’s party reacted predictably, noting that Musharraf’s own government holds Mehsud responsible for the assassination and condemning the talks.
If Musharraf concludes a peace treaty with a man who assassinates Pakistani political figures, it will send a message to the entire political class — every man and woman for himself. It will also make clear that the way to get to the table with Musharraf is to pick off one or more of his political opponents. Don’t think that message won’t come across plainly in Pakistan.

BBC: Missile Got AQ’s #3

The BBC reports that “senior Western counterterrorism officials” claim that the missile fired at a safe house in Pakistan two days ago killed Abu Laith al-Libi. Libi has “fallen as a martyr”, according to an Islamist website:

US intelligence agencies have been investigating reports that a top al-Qaeda figure was killed in the Afghan-Pakistan border area this week.
It follows a missile attack in Pakistan’s North Waziristan area in which 12 militants were reported killed.
While Western counter-terrorism officials told the BBC they believed Libi to be dead, they would not discuss how he was killed.

Some in American circles put the Libyan as #3 in al-Qaeda. He has appeared in AQ videos and internet communications, and in 2002 confirmed that Osama bin Laden had escaped Tora Bora. Abu Laith served as a field commander for AQ as well, crossing the border into Afghanistan to support the Taliban in their insurgent actions.
Seven months ago, the US tried killing al-Libi but hit a school instead. The incident caused a tremendous row with Afghanistan, and had many in the US questioning the conduct of the war there against the Taliban. The US had thought that al-Libi was worth the risk in collateral casualties, but it cost the government of Hamid Karzai support at the time and potentially weakened Kabul against the Taliban.
If they have killed al-Libi, it is a tremendous victory against AQ. It isn’t the end of the war by any means, but it will send their networks into disarray, potentially stalling other attacks in Afghanistan and elsewhere and exposing more targets as the network attempts to recover. (via CapQ reader Bob Estes)