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Home > News > Columnists > Hamid Mir

Catch me if you can

November 30, 2007

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Retired General Pervez Musharraf [Images] and Osama bin Laden spoke to the world on the same day, November 29. Musharraf spoke on Pakistan television and Osama spoke through a taped message from an undisclosed location. The content of the two were different but the message was the same in terms of the meaning.

Musharraf issued his message on his first day as  civilian president. Musharraf's first day as a civilian president was very tough. He took oath in the morning of November 29 in Islamabad. He delivered a speech the same late evening on the state-run Pakistan Television and announced he would lift the emergency by December 16. In the same speech, he urged a national reconciliation and expressed a strong hope that Benazir Bhutto [Images] and Nawaz Sharif would not boycott the coming election.

Sharif took just few minutes to respond to Musharraf's speech. He exploded a bombshell by announcing he would boycott the election along with many Islamist and secular leaders. His biggest achievement was to win over the heads of the Islamic parties' alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal and the nationalist secular parties' alliance Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement, or PONAM. Sharif won the support of not only an Islamist like Qazi Hussain Ahmad but also got the support of nationalist secular leader Mehmood Khan Achakzai along with cricket hero Imran Khan [Images]. This bombshell was a big surprise for all those who were of the view that Sharif returned to Pakistan after striking a secret deal with Musharraf.

Another impression was that the United States played an important role in Sharif's return to Pakistan and that Bhutto and Sharif would form a broad-based moderate alliance with Musharraf against Islamic extremists. At least Sharif dispelled the impressions about him.

There is no doubt that the US and Saudi Arabia pressurized Musharraf to allow Sharif to come back to Pakistan. Initially, Musharraf was not ready to accept any 'dictation' in this regard. He visited Saudi Arabia and requested King Abdullah not to support Sharif, but this time the king behaved like a king and disappointed a general in uniform. Contrary to Bhutto of Sindh, Sharif from Punjab returned to Pakistan without any understanding with his old enemy. Sharif had all the assurances from his foreign friends that the election commission would not disqualify him despite the fact that he was convicted by the Sindh high court in 2000 for hijacking Musharraf's plane. It was also proposed that the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz could unite and Sharif was offered to lead the united Muslim League. Spokesman of the pro-Musharraf PML-Q, Senator Tariq Azeem, issued a statement in the Pakistani press that his party was ready to shake hands with Sharif. One close friend of Musharraf even offered the PML-N prime ministership but the industrialist turned politician declined all these offers. Now, the big question is: Why did Nawaz Sharif boycott the election? Why did he refuse the premiership?

Sharif is sure Musharraf will use the next parliament for providing a constitutional cover to his unconstitutional acts after November 3. Musharraf needs a two-third majority of his supporters at any cost in the next parliament; otherwise his opponents can impeach him easily. A hung parliament will not serve Musharraf's interest and Sharif is sure Musharraf will rig the election at any cost. He is sure that despite taking off his army uniform Musharraf will continue trying to drag the army into politics to safeguard his interest. The bosses of the two powerful army intelligence agencies are considered to be among  Musharraf's most loyal aides. All the four provincial governors controlling the administration are Musharraf loyalists; they will look after the rigging with the help of the police and bureaucracy. The caretaker prime minister is also from the PML-Q and it will be very easy for Musharraf to get election results of his liking.

Everybody knows the results of the next election. Old allies of Musharraf like the PML-Q and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement will get the majority. Musharraf can give a reasonable share of seats to both Bhutto and Sharif if they are ready to cooperate with him. These two former prime ministers will get some share in power through a coalition government; they will not be all powerful. If one of them becomes prime minister to promote national reconciliation, s/he will take oath from Musharraf. A prime minister under Musharraf will not be different from Shaukat Aziz. Taking oath from Musharraf and becoming another Aziz is political suicide for Sharif and that is why he decided to boycott the coming 'election.'

Instead of participating in the coming election, Sharif is planning a countrywide agitation against Musharraf. This agitation may provide an excuse to Musharraf for extending the emergency beyond December 16.

Sharif will demand the restoration of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry along with other judges who refused to accept the emergency. A majority of lawyers, civil society and people in the media will support Sharif because these deposed judges are the new heroes of Pakistan.

New divisions in Pakistani society have emerged. Before November 3, Musharraf tried to divide Pakistanis as moderates and extremists. Now Pakistanis think they are divided between law breakers and law abiders. Musharraf is a law breaker. A law breaker and his supporters inside and outside Pakistan cannot claim to be moderates. That is the reason moderate segments of Pakistani society -- like lawyers, the media and civil society -- are angrier with Musharraf than Islamists like Maulana Fazalur Rehman.

There is a big threat that the anti-Musharraf movement may change into an anti-US movement because President George W Bush [Images] is still supporting a man in Pakistan who fired and arrested a chief justice of the supreme court -- a first in the history of Pakistan -- without any solid evidence. Musharraf accused the deposed chief justice and some people in the media of hatching a conspiracy against him but never provided any details of the so-called conspiracy to the people of Pakistan. He is talking about national reconciliation but his actions are different from his words. He still uses threatening language against deposed judges and the media.

Many people in the US are happy that at least Musharraf took off his uniform. Now the Pakistani army will have a full-time chief and continue the war against terror in a professional manner, Musharraf will only supervise this war. It is not true. Musharraf will not have any relaxing times in the next couple of months. He will face a lot of problems in promoting the US-led war against terrorism and moving towards resolving some disputes with India.

The new army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, was selected for the job because of his seniority and competence. He is the second former Inter-Services Intelligence chief to head the army chief after General Ziauddin who was appointed by Sharif as army chief in 1999. In 2005, as ISI chief, Kiyani arrested a top Al Qaeda [Images] leader, Abu Faraj. Kiyani is also supervising army operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan since October.

The day Musharraf took off his uniform and Kiyani took over the office of army chief, Osama bin Laden issued a new message. This message was mainly addressed to Europe, but actually he challenged all those who are trying to hunt him down for years. The message was loud and clear: 'I am the sole responsible person for the 9/11 attacks, but I am still at large after six years, I will organize more attacks against you, catch me if you can.'

This new message will definitely spread new fear in Europe and it will irritate many in the West. It seems bin Laden wants the West to put more pressure on Musharraf and Kiyani to hunt him down. He wants to exploit Musharraf's weak political position in Pakistan.

Musharraf is looking very confused after taking off his uniform -- which he once declared was his skin. He still claims to be enjoying the army's confidence. His recent statements have the same message for Pakistani civil society as Osama has for the West. Musharraf is challenging the civil society by conveying a message that 'I am the one who subverted the constitution of Pakistan but I am still the president of Pakistan, I will introduce democracy of my own liking in Pakistan, I will continue violating the constitution, catch me if you can.'

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