Opinion: Long walk into oblivion

Musharraf has resigned but the political fallout will test the ruling alliance.

    Musharraf, who today resigned, will join the ranks of Pakistani leaders who have played a role in the country's history [GALLO/GETTY]

    In the end, the Pakistani ruling coalition only needed to summon the courage — something they found in short supply for nearly five months — to go for the kill.
    Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, threw in the towel by announcing his "resignation" despite promising a defiant "fight to the finish".

    The die was cast after all four provincial assemblies making up the federation voted in numbers to demand he seek a vote of confidence or quit.

    The beleaguered leader was also ditched by his loyalists in all these federating units.

    Alone and with no power base, Musharraf now found that tremendous political and moral pressure had been brought to bear on him to resign.

    The decision seemed inevitable though skeptics continued to suspect he might use presidential powers to dismiss the government and parliament in a last ditch effort to save himself from impeachment.

    But this was always dependent on two critical factors: support from the army, his real power base, which he quit last year, and Washington.

    Depending on the army became unlikely after his successor General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani made a paradigm shift to move the army out of politics and support democracy.

    His fate was also sealed when Washington finally came around to view Musharraf as a liability.

    Difficult decision

    In the murky world of Pakistani politics, things do not always follow a straight and narrow path. This explains why political pundits were not betting on a cornered Musharraf simply walking into oblivion.

    Musharraf twice sacked the chief justice (the judge was reinstated briefly following a popular movement) and deposed a number of independent-minded judges in a sweeping emergency measure only last year.

    He feared they would overrule his controversial re-election as president.

    But more than the fear of becoming the first Pakistani leader to be impeached, Musharraf's paramount concern was his fate after resigning.

    In the last few days, even as the coalition hammered out the impeachment knell, interlocutors from Saudi Arabia and Britain converged on Islamabad to resolve the impasse after the retired general announced through his allies that he would fight to stay on.

    The US employed less-visible means but pushed through with the same message: encourage Musharraf to call it a day and ask the coalition not impeach or try the embattled leader.

    Quid pro quo

    The military did not support Musharraf as he faced off with political opponents [AP]
    Pakistani media recently reported that Musharraf was seeking indemnity for his acts as president and army chief in return for his resignation.

    He was also said to seek guarantees of presidential level security if he stayed in Pakistan.

    However, apart from agreeing to "adequate" security, the coalition refused to offer him immunity from prosecution for his controversial decisions, such as the extra-constitutional step of imposing emergency law and deposing judges last year. 

    Musharraf has survived at least three known attempts on his life. He faces threat from extremists, predominantly al-Qaeda, and other militant groups because of his support for the US war on terror.

    The continuing terror war has led to great upheaval within Pakistan, making Musharraf intensely unpopular.

    In an opinion poll conducted last month by the International Republican Institute (IRI), a non-profit group based in Washington, 83 per cent of Pakistanis said they wanted Musharraf to resign immediately. His job approval rating also slipped to an all-time low of 11 per cent.

    Next residence

    Though he continues to swear he will remain in Pakistan — he has a farm house on the outskirts of Islamabad - three foreign destinations have been mentioned as a possible future home for Musharraf.

    These include Boston in the US, where his son resides; Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, which hosted former premier Nawaz Sharif (deposed by Musharraf in 1999); and Turkey, where Musharraf spent his childhood.

    However, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, recently denied that the option of asylum was on the table. News reports suggest Turkey, too, has declined to host the former president, fearing an unstable situation in the event al-Qaeda chooses to pursue Musharraf there.

    This leaves Saudi Arabia, which has given conflicting signals about whether to host yet another high-profile exiled leader from the South Asian nation.

    But The News, Pakistan's leading English daily, quoted sources on Monday saying that Riyadh had told Islamabad it was no longer interested in becoming a permanent residence for exiled Pakistani leaders.

    As throughout his nine-year reign, Musharraf will once again be challenged to live up to his word: this time on where he wants to live out of power.

    In his last public pledge on the issue in June, he said: "I will live and die in Pakistan, there is no other way".

    Easier said than done

    Meanwhile, the election of a new president and reinstatement of deposed judges is expected to test the uneasy ruling alliance of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

    The dominant view is that the desire to remove the former president was the glue - and part of an understanding - that held them together following a spectacular showing at the February 18 national elections, which saw Musharraf allies drubbed.

    For starters, the PPP will be under tremendous pressure to restore the judges Musharraf deposed.

    Pakistanis are not likely to quickly forget that the PPP has twice failed to restore them despite public assurances.

    The PPP fears the deposed judiciary will revoke the indemnity granted to Asif Zardari, its leader, under a so-called National Reconciliation Ordinance.

    Musharraf had decreed the ordinance last year, removing decade-old corruption cases against Zardari and his wife Benazir Bhutto, the slain former premier.

    However, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, who pushed Zardari into making a pitch for Musharraf's ouster early this month, will unlikely settle for anything less than the reinstatement of judges and a consensus president.

    In that, the end of Musharraf's rule may signal the beginning of real political drama.

    The writer is News Editor at Dawn News, an independent Pakistani TV channel.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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