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Home > News > Columnists > Hamid Mir

The Musharraf-Bhutto deal is in doldrums

August 02, 2007

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Diplomats in Islamabad are very optimistic about a possible deal between Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf [Images] and exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. But this optimism is not reflected on the faces of those who are close to Musharraf and Bhutto.

Surprisingly, India's National Security Adviser M K Narayanan said this week that Musharraf has overcome a major domestic crisis and India will continue the peace talks with him.

Narayanan thinks the worst is over for Musharraf because his statement came after the Musharraf-Bhutto meeting in Abu Dhabi. Top US officials are also very optimistic about the future of the Musharraf-Bhutto deal, but the ground reality in Pakistan is different.

The Pakistan supreme court's July 20 decision against Musharraf (the supreme court reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry who Musharraf had suspended) was like a political 9/11 for his government. Attorney General Makhdoom Ali Khan clearly admitted in his resignation that the July 20 decision was a big failure for the government.

Musharraf cannot get away from this failure by saying that he still has lot of respect for the chief justice. He replaced Makhdoom Ali Khan with retired justice Qayyum, the man who defended Musharraf in court against the chief justice.

Musharraf's sudden meeting with Bhutto in Abu Dhabi was also seen as a sign of weakness among his allies. The Ruling PML-Q (Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam)) leadership has conveyed to Musharraf that they will support a deal with the PPPP (Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians -- a party formed in 2002 by the Pakistan People's Party for the purpose of complying with electoral rules governing Pakistani parties) only if Benazir Bhutto agrees to elect him in uniform from the current assemblies.

On the other side, a majority of PPPP legislators have told Bhutto that they will not vote for Musharraf in uniform and many of them refuse to vote for him even if he were to shed his uniform.

Now what is Musharraf's future?

Can Benazir save him?

Can he live with a chief justice who led processions from city to city with the popular slogan 'Go Musharraf Go?'

Some ministers like Ejaz-ul Haq have started calling Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry just to re-establish a working relationship with him. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussein (the former interim prime minister) is also planning to arrange a one to one meeting between Musharraf and the chief justice but all these meetings cannot change the constitutional realities.

Musharraf has to take off his uniform. Benazir can only help him by supporting a constitutional amendment but it is difficult because there will be a revolt in the PPPP.

The worst is not over for Musharraf, even though he is still popular in the White House and 10 Downing Street. Western leaders and some Indian leaders think Musharraf is still the best choice to fight terrorism in South Asia but Musharraf cannot fight terrorism alone. Bhutto cannot help Musharraf alone. Pakistan needs a broad-based political alliance against terrorism with a changed strategy.

Musharraf realises that if Bhutto cannot get him elected in uniform, she will become a political liability. She will be unable to help him against terrorism in practical terms. She can only issue some statements against extremism but cannot hold a small public meeting in the troubled areas. She has lost political influence in the Pashtun belt of the North West Frontier Province due to her pro-US stance for more than a decade.

Moreover, she has no roots in the tribal areas where the casualties of the security forces are fast climbing to 1,000. Who can help Musharraf in the areas where the Pakistan army is actually fighting against militancy? It is Maulana Fazalur Rehman of the Jamiat-ul-Ulama-i-Islam and Asfandyar Wali Khan, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan's grandson, of the Awami National Party.

Both of them were also very active behind organising a grand Pak-Afghan peace jirga in Kabul. Musharraf's top security advisers dreamed for an understanding between Bhutto and Fazalur Rehman many times but some Western capitals have strong objections against the maulana.

It seems that Washington and London [Images] are thinking only about their interests through the eyes of their favourite leaders and are not bothered about Pakistan's interest. Interestingly, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is trying to convince his Western friends that they must change their opinion about Maulana Fazalur Rehman.

Karzai thinks the maulana is not a hardcore religious fanatic, he is a typical politician with a long beard who can help not only Musharraf but also the Karzai administration in any difficult situation.

We need people and a strategy which can defend Pakistan's interest, not the interest of some individuals.

What is the interest of Pakistan today? Pakistan needs a genuine democracy. The July 20 decision was the first step towards democracy and supremacy of the constitution. We need to encourage democracy in our tribal areas. The truth is that our army is not fighting Al Qaeda [Images] in North Wazirastan. They are fighting against local militants who took to arms after their villages were bombed.

We need reconciliation, not confrontation with angry Pakistani militants. These militants must become part of the mainstream political process of the country. Religious parties like the Jamiat-ul-Ulama-i-Islam and moderate parties like the Awami National Party can promote democracy in the tribal areas.

The government should not force anyone to choose on the basis of extremism or moderation; local people should decide their representatives on their own. Dividing Pakistani society on the basis of extremism and liberalism will be a disaster. The government should have a deal with all political parties to promote democracy in tribal areas. The deal should be to get rid off the old British black laws and extend the writ of the constitution in tribal areas.

Seven tribal agencies can be declared a new province with a separate provincial assembly. We can make peace in these areas with some constitutional reforms not by bombs. We need a deal for the security of Pakistan, not for the security of some individuals.

Pakistan needs a deal between all the major political parties on national issues. We don't need a deal between some individuals just to please some foreign forces.

The deal between two individuals will not materialise unless it is expanded to all the major political parties on a specific national agenda. Top PPPP leaders in Pakistan don't see any future for a deal between Musharraf and Bhutto. Top PML-Q leaders are tight-lipped. Off the record, they tell us that there will be no deal.

Ultimately, Musharraf will rely on his old allies like the PML-Q and the Muttahida Quami Movement. Maulana Fazalur Rehman may give a surprise by a new deal. In reality, the highly publicised deal between Musharraf and Benazir is off due to non-cooperation from their own ranks.

Hamid Mir is executive editor, Geo TV in Islamabad.

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