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Musharraf: Cohabitation or exit?
February 20, 2008
The expression co-habitation came into vogue in France [Images] when the late Francois Mitterrand, the leader of the French Socialist Party, was the President in the 1980s. In the elections to the French National Assembly held when he was the President, his party was badly defeated and the Gaullists under Jacques Chirac won a majority.
Mitterrand chose to interpret the results as not reflecting on his presidency and he, as the President, and Chirac, as the prime minister, decided to co-habit. Under the French Constitution, the President is not just a figure-head. He has more powers than the British prime minister, but less than the US President. All powers relating to decision-making in respect of foreign policy and national security are exercised by the President who chairs cabinet meetings. The prime minister exercises all powers relating to domestic policy. The co-habitation arrangement between Mitterrand and Chirac worked with some periodic tensions, though.
The 1973 Pakistani Constitution, which the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto gave to Pakistan, resembled the Indian Constitution with all powers in the hands of the prime minister and with the President reduced to a figurehead. Before appointing Mohammad Khan Junejo as the prime minister, Gen Zia-ul-Haq changed this to give the President all the powers relating to foreign policy and national security and the power to dismiss the prime minister.
He used this power to dismiss Junejo in 1988 when differences developed between the two over the handling of the Afghan proximity attacks in Geneva, and over the inquiry into a serious explosion in an arms and ammunition storage depot of the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence at Ojehri near Islamabad.
President Ghulam [Images] Ishaq Khan used this power against Benazir Bhutto [Images] in 1990 and Nawaz Sharif in 1993. President Farooq Leghari of the Pakistan People's Party, who developed differences with Benazir, used this power to dismiss her in 1996 following allegations of corruption against Asif Zardari and his interference in the administration.
The mystery surrounding the death of Murtaza Ali Bhutto, her younger brother, in police firing in Karachi in September 1996 also contributed to Leghari's dismissal of Benazir. Murtaza had returned to Karachi from Islamabad where he allegedly had a fierce quarrel with Zardari and Benazir over dinner regarding his right to be nominated as the vice-chairman of the PPP. The cases filed against Zardari at the instance of Leghari are sub-judice.
Nawaz Sharif, whose party won a two-third majority in the 1996 elections, used this majority to abolish the power of the President to dismiss the elected prime minister. After seizing power in October,1999, Pervez Musharraf [Images] had this power restored in the Constitution. He also instituted the National Security Council chaired by the President, and transferred to the President all powers relating to decision-making in foreign policy and national security matters.
The Constitution, as repeatedly re-cast by Musharraf, resembles more the French than the Indian Constitution. Musharraf, therefore, need not necessarily resign because his opponents or critics have secured a majority in the elections.
Unless and until the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz can get the Constitutional amendments removed, Musharraf will continue to exercise the power of dismissal of the prime minister and handle all important decision-making in foreign policy and national security matters. That is why when Benazir was negotiating with Musharraf, she was demanding the abolition of the power of the President to dismiss the elected prime minister and of the NSC. Musharraf rejected both these demands.
A major point of difference between the PPP and the PML-N related to Nawaz's demand for the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Ahmed Chaudhury, removed by Musharraf. Benazir found it difficult to support this demand because, in her view, the dismissed chief justice was taking undue interest in the expeditious disposal of the case relating to the alleged murder of Murtaza Bhutto, which has been going on for 12 years with frequent adjournments like the case relating to the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, the US journalist killed by pro-Al Qaeda elements in the beginning of 2002.
The national reconciliation orders which Musharraf issued last year under an understanding reached with Benazir at the instance of the US related to all corruption-related cases, but not to the case under the Anti-Terrorism Act under which Nawaz Sharif stands convicted and the trial relating to the death of Murtaza Bhutto. Nawaz is keen to have the dismissed chief justice reinstated because firstly, he thinks he will have the re-election of Musharraf as the president set aside, which Sharif cannot achieve without a two-third majority in the National Assembly, and, secondly, he hopes that the reinstated chief justice will have his own conviction under the Anti-Terrorism Act set aside, thereby enabling him to be the prime minister. Till his conviction is set aside, he cannot be the prime minister.
The two most liked leaders in the eyes of the army and the US are Maqdoom Amin Fahim, the vice-chairman of the PPP, who used to be the minister for petroleum under Benazir Bhutto during her second tenure, and Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif.
The election results have highlighted an interesting outcome. No party has acquired a majority on its own. The PPP has emerged as the largest single party and will, therefore, have the right to be called first to attempt to form a government. It will have two options--- either form the government in co-operation with the PML-N or in co-operation with PML (Qaid-e-Azam) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement of Altaf Hussain -- both supporters of Musharraf.
If Nawaz Sharif strikes a hard bargain by demanding the re-instatement of the sacked chief justice, Zardari might be reluctant to agree to it. On the contrary, the PML-Q is unlikely to impose any conditions to co-operate with the PPP. The only conditions which the MQM might impose are the recognition of its importance in any government formed in Sindh. A major difficulty for the PPP in co-operating with the PML-Q would be the presence of some remnants of the Zia ul-Haq regime in it. It strongly suspects that these remnants must have played a role in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
The US and other Western countries are interested in Musharraf continuing as President. They don't trust Sharif because of his links with the Jamaat-e-Islami of Qazi Hussain Ahmed. The Jamaat-e-Islami boycotted the elections, but its cadres campaigned for Nawaz's party in Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province. They would like to work for a co-habitation arrangement with Musharraf as the president and Amin Fahim or Shahbaz Sharif as the prime minister. Will they succeed or will Musharraf have to quit? The answer to this question lies as much in Washington DC as in Islamabad. Musharraf still has some wriggle room, if he wants to exercise it. Will he wriggle or call it quits?