The move to impeach the Pakistani president is the culmination of a power struggle between the former military chief and the civilian government.
By Isambard Wilkinson
It is a battle that has paralysed Pakistan since Mr Musharraf’s political party lost elections in February.
The governing coalition’s attempt to oust him has raised the prospect of a drawn-out and debilitating wrangle that could plunge Pakistan, and its neighbours, into chaos.
This could dangerously weaken Pakistan, which is already plagued by pro-Taliban militancy and whose people face rapidly escalating fuel and food prices.
The prospects of the nuclear-armed country, which is also a hiding place for al-Qaeda leaders, being rocked by further instability is a mounting concern both for the West and for Pakistan’s neighbours.
Mr Musharraf, who seized power in 1999, stepped down as army chief in November after being re-elected to serve a five-year term as president.
He has said in the past he would resign rather than be dragged through an impeachment process by a parliament filled with enemies.
There is a possibility, however, that he will do as his allies suggest and use the last remaining tools at his disposal – the remnants of a defeated political party and a military intelligence agency – to regain some of his much diminished power.
The United States, which has counted on Mr Musharraf as a linchpin in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, has yet to offer public support for him since the impeachment announcement. It has only said that the impeachment was an “internal” matter.
Leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which is pushing for impeachment, have tried to persuade Washington that Mr Musharraf has undermined the civilian government and that the country will continue to meander dangerously until he leaves power.
More worryingly for the president, American officials have begun to publicly question Mr Musharraf’s ability or willingness to tackle hardcore militants and his worth has an ally.
A recent New York Times report quoted US officials accusing Pakistani military intelligence of being responsible for a bloody terrorist attack on India’s embassy in Kabul.
But, more ominously, the attempt to impeach Mr Musharraf has exposed the lack of leadership alternatives in Pakistan and the failure of Western policy.
It has prompted the final gasp of a British and US‑backed deal that envisaged Mr Musharraf sharing power with the secular PPP, the party of the late Benazir Bhutto.
The deal was designed to prolong the political life of Mr Musharraf, a military strongman upon whom the West depended for his
co-operation in counter- terrorism, and to restore democracy to Pakistan.
Its ultimate goal was to install a secular, popular, broad-based government that would help counter growing Islamic militancy and that would be willing to take on al-Qaeda in its sanctuary in Pakistan.
The deal must have looked good on paper. However, it was blown apart by several incidents, perhaps predictable, that have left Pakistan on the brink of another political crisis and, according to British security officials, even more fertile
an environment for the propagation of international terrorism.
Last year, Mr Musharraf embarked on a series of hubris-driven, auto- destructive blunders that included sacking the chief justice and imposing a state of emergency.
The deal’s other chief protagonist, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated, as was widely predicted would happen, in December. Since then Mr Musharraf and Ms Bhutto’s distrusted and discredited widower and political successor, Asif Zardari, have failed to reach agreement on how to govern.
Mr Zardari’s main coalition partner, Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistan Muslim League-N leader, who was ousted from power by Mr Musharraf a decade ago and carries an equally troublesome past, has implacably sought Mr Musharraf’s political scalp.
The popular will may be that Mr Musharraf should go, but few are confident that whoever succeeds him will be up to the task.
The focus is now on the chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, who has made the well-intentioned, but perhaps ill-fated, statement that he will keep the army out of politics.
Pakistan press split over Musharraf
The decision by Pakistan’s governing coalition to begin impeachment proceedings against President Pervez Musharraf aroused a mixed response in the local press.
While both English and Urdu language papers agreed it was time for Mr Musharraf to go, several of the main English-language papers viewed the impeachment bid negatively, describing it as a cynical tussle by politicans vying for Mr Musharraf’s job and pointing out that the government had no long-term strategy.
However, in the Urdu-language press, some papers praised the government for trying to fulfil the expectations of the electorate and working towards a “new Pakistan”.
ENGLISH-LANGUAGE PAKISTAN OBSERVER
The decision of the ruling coalition… amounts to making a plunge into darkness and that too at a time when the country was in dire need of national unity and cohesion to ward off threats to its security and integrity¿ The political turbulence that might accompany the process of impeachment would further poison the atmosphere and accelerate the downslide to the amusement of our enemies.
ENGLISH-LANGUAGE THE NEWS
The politicians shouting for his ouster want him out so that they can tussle for his job – the altruism that apparently drives their efforts is as phoney as most things political in Pakistan; this is about power, who has it and who wields it. At a more humble level it is clear to a majority of ordinary people that the president has gone past his sell-by date.
Unless something out of the ordinary happens, President Pervez Musharraf’s political fate has been sealed¿ What the PPP and PML-N leaders should know is that President Musharraf’s removal from the scene will merely remove a perceived hindrance in the way of good governance. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the coalition partners have bothered so far to draw up a comprehensive development strategy focusing on long-and short-term goals.
ENGLISH-LANGUAGE THE NATION
Now that the coalition has decided that the president’s removal from office would precede the judges’ restoration, it is to be hoped it would wholeheartedly work to realise these objectives and succeed¿ Now that the differences between the two major political parties appear set for resolution, it is to be hoped that their leaderships would do all they can to… address the manifold problems of the people.
Pakistan’s ruling parties have agreed to impeach President Musharraf first and then restore the deposed judges. We believe the ruling alliance is… trying to meet the people’s expectations. If any misadventure is attempted by the presidency at this stage, the country will fall into anarchy. Everyone should play a positive role at this juncture.
URDU-LANGUAGE EXPRESS NAWA-I-WAQT
We believe President Musharraf should read the writing on the wall and withdraw honourably. If he is removed in a constitutional manner, he might face a court trial for the Kargil operation and the 2 November imposition of martial law… This would not be a pleasant situation for him.
We believe when the judges are restored and the country gets rid of President Musharraf, a new Pakistan will come into being where the ruling junta will address public problems in a better way. It is the right of the people that the coalition government focuses its attention on core issues and buries their mutual differences.
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