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Pakistanis won't accept a new General
Hamid Mir
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February 16, 2008

President Pervez Musharraf [Images] cannot afford to hold a fair and free election on February 18 in Pakistan. That is why rigging in the forthcoming election is virtually writing on the wall.

In a recent interview, Musharraf claimed that Pakistan would have the mother of all elections on February 18, but many observers think it will be the mother of all poll riggings.

Why will Musharraf rig the elections in spite of his tall claims of free and fair polls? Because Musharraf will not survive if the Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif get two third majority in the next national assembly.

The rigging started long before the election campaign, when Musharraf announced a caretaker government last November, which was headed by a prime minister who belonged to the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League.

Close relatives of the caretaker prime minister and the Information minister are contesting election from Sindh. The support from the so-called caretakers for the pro-Musharraf Muslim League is not a secret in Pakistan.

The Election Commission of Pakistan has received over 1,500 complaints of rigging in the last two months but not a single complaint has been addressed properly. The Human Rights Watch recently released a tape in which Pakistan Attorney General Malik Qayyum was caught, admitting to a friend over the telephone, that the elections will indeed be rigged.

In spite of fears of rigging, all surveys have suggested that opposition parties like PPP and PML-N will manage to get a majority in the elections. A considerably large turnout of voters can destroy all rigging plans.

However, a low turnout will definitely help the pro-Musharraf PML-Q and MQM. Interestingly, Jamat-i-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad and former cricket hero Imran Khan [Images] are urging masses to boycott the election.

By doing so, they are helping Musharraf indirectly. People are also scared of terrorist strikes on the election day, and it can badly affect voter turnout. So Musharraf will benefit if there are bomb blasts on election day. It won't be just an election for PPP and PML-N on February 18, it will be a big battle against the unannounced alliance of the state machinery and terrorists.

A recent meeting of PPP leader Asif Zardari with PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif in Lahore [Images] had been a bombshell for the pro-Musharraf Muslim League. Both Zardari and Sharif have agreed to fight the state-sponsored rigging on February 18.

It is the first time that a majority of top police officials and civil servants don't want to become part of the rigging plans. According to them, if the Pakistan army high command is staying away from politics this time, then why should the civil bureaucracy get involved in it?

Many civil servants have applied for medical leave on election day. It is expected that the state machinery in Punjab, rural Sindh and North West Frontier Province will not implement the rigging plans of Musharraf regime in full swing.

The PML-Q will face problems in implementing a massive rigging exercise because Musharraf has already doffed his army uniform. He can no longer use the armed forces of Pakistan to achieve his political objectives.

The country-wide agitation after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto [Images] on November 27, 2007, had forced army commanders to declare that would not be part of national politics. The neutral role of the army and a sympathy wave for Bhutto's party has changed the political spectrum of Pakistan.

I fear a lot of violence on election day and such turmoil can force the army to step in again. People will not accept a 'rigged victory' for the pro-Musharraf parties.

I must warn the army against playing a political role at any cost. The people of Pakistan will not accept any new General as their ruler.

Now the question is, what will happen to Musharraf if the PPP and the PML-N secure a majority? Both Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have confirmed to me that they have decided to form coalition governments at the Centre and at Punjab.

A close associate of Musharraf is still in contact with the PPP leadership. He is trying to convince the PPP to forge an alliance with the PML-Q. However, the PPP is playing a clever game; party co-chairman Zardari is yet to make a commitment to Musharraf. 

Zardari doesn't want to take a decision about Musharraf's future without consulting Nawaz Sharif.

Babar Awan, a PPP legislator, declared on Saturday that his party will remove Musharraf if it wins the election. Musharraf's sides tried their level best to make the PPP withdraw the statement, but it declined to do so.

I have also learnt that a close friend of Musharraf's is trying to convince the PML-N to grant a safe exit to Musharraf after the election. According to a senior leader of the PML-N, in such a scenario, Musharraf plans to resign and move quietly outside Pakistan.

When queried if he will provide a safe exit for his enemy, Sharif made it clear to me that he would not do so. He is determined to try Musharraf in a court of law under treason charges.

Why can't Musharraf survive as President with a coalition government comprising the PPP and the PML-N?

The PPP already has differences with Musharraf over the murder case of their leader Bhutto. Musharraf claimed last month that tribal militant leader Baitullah Mahsood is responsible for Bhutto's death.

But PPP leader Asif Zardari is not ready to accept that claim. He suspects that some people within the establishment were involved in Bhutto's assassination.

Moreover, the pro-Musharraf PML-Q leaders used filthy language against PPP during the election campaign. While the PPP is against the National Security Council, Musharraf is considered to the father of the NSC.

Neither the PPP nor the PML-N will accept a President who can dissolve Parliament anytime. These parties have promised their voters that they will curtail the 'anti-democratic constitutional powers' of the President.

It is expected that if they secure a majority, the PPP and the PML-N will ask Musharraf to resign immediately.

And what will happen after the Musharraf's downfall? Can the PPP and the PML-N co-exist for five years?

Surviving as a coalition for five years will be a big challenge for the PPP and the PML-N. They may develop differences over the restoration of 60 judges, who refused to take oath under emergency last year. If these judges are restored, they can re-open some old cases against Asif Zardari.

If the PPP can find a way to cooperate towards the restoration of deposed judges, then it will be a significant breakthrough. Majority of Pakistanis want the restoration of all the 60 judges, including former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

In that case, all the judges appointed after November 3, 2007 will be removed. The media will also enjoy more freedom.

If the PPP and the PML-N are ready to tolerate an independent judiciary and free media then the national Parliament will also be strengthened. Only a strong Parliament can give stability to Pakistan.

This Parliament will decide the future strategy of the war against terror in Pakistan. Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif are convinced that they must redefine their relationship with the United States. They want to fight the war against terror for Pakistan, not for US.

The Pakistan election of 2008 could herald the downfall of not only Musharraf, but also the policies of Bush in Pakistan.

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