Jun 012008

A country where there can be such uncertainty about the highest office in the realm and where the posting of a one-star general and the rotation of a guard battalion can fuel such rumours is in drastic need of institutional overhaul

Where institutions do not exist and the stability threshold is low, analysis is reduced to astrology and events tempt adventurers and partisans to weave a tapestry to create scenarios. Consider.

Frame one: the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, calls on the president, Pervez Musharraf; frame two: the brigade commander of 111 Brigade — it has the dubious distinction of being referred to as the coup brigade — Brig. Asim Bajwa is posted out (he is one of nearly 500 officers that are being shuffled as a matter of routine); frame three: one of the guard battalions at the presidency is rotated, sparking rumours that the president’s personal security has been changed; frame four: Senate chairman, Mohammadmian Soomro, is returning to Pakistan cutting short his visit to Berlin.

What does one get? A story that says Mr Musharraf, former army chief, is being removed; he is under house arrest; there is a plane waiting to take him to Turkey.

For good measure we were also told that General Kayani was meeting Mr Musharraf because the latter had planned to remove the former and bring in Lt-Gen Nadeem Taj, currently Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence, as the new army chief.

Result: the stock market reacts negatively to the story and the general sense of despondency is increased.

But wait, the scenario doesn’t dissipate. General Kayani’s meeting with Mr Musharraf does raise questions, not least because it was a rather long meeting and came on the heels of anti-Musharraf statements by Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif.

What did they discuss? Did General Kayani indeed look Mr Musharraf in the eye as we are told and ask him to step down? Or was it a meeting between the former and the current army chief to work out a strategy that could restore the balance which the army sees as tipping in favour of the civilians?

Turkey remains quiet. But the US National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley, calls Tariq Aziz. We are told he extends Washington’s support to Mr Musharraf. The next day President George Bush phones President Musharraf and says the same.

The US media reacts to rumours in Pakistan and most commentaries note that it was becoming increasingly difficult for Mr Musharraf to hang in there.

Let’s try and make sense of what is happening — short of astrology or inside knowledge of palace intrigues — beginning with the obvious.

Mr Musharraf is under tremendous pressure; about that there is no doubt. So far, however, he has given no indication that he is wilting under it. The Pakistan People’s Party, both for personal reasons on the part of its co-chairman, Mr Zardari, and because the party is in a pact with the Presidency, an arrangement whose important aspects may be guaranteed by America on the one hand and the army on the other, seems prepared to allow its coalition to fall apart than restore the former chief justice of Pakistan.

Until this arrangement benefits the PPP more than the cost it is likely to extract, the president should be secure.

Of course, there is America and there is the army. The continuation of the arrangement that squeezes the PPP and the Presidency into the same boat implies that the preferences of the two guarantors should remain unchanged. Any change in those preferences by one or both could decidedly impact the arrangement, arguably against the interests of Mr Musharraf.

The army should be comfortable with Mr Musharraf as someone who is best suited to watch its interests both internally as well as in relation to the US. It is aware of the growing anti-Musharraf din but will keep monitoring the situation to weigh the cost to and benefits for the institution of retaining or cutting Mr Musharraf loose.

Let us not forget that the army has allowed the civilian government to embark on a course which brings down the temperature for it in the tribal areas. But for that strategy to work, the army needs the US to understand that there are no quick-fixes, a term I pick up from the talk the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee gave at the National Defence University.

Greater understanding by the US of the need for Pakistan to try a different, four-pronged approach — combining application of force with political measures, economic development and revitalisation of the civil administration — also means more leverage for Washington vis-à-vis Pakistan’s internal situation. If that translates into continued support for Mr Musharraf, we can be sure that the jig is still not up for the president.

In the middle of all this stands the Pakistan Army. It has remained neutral so far, though neutrality does not mean it has played no role in shaping things or is unlikely to do so as events unfold. When Mr Aitzaz Ahsan thanks the army for staying away from the fray, as he did when he spoke in Lahore a few days ago, he accepts two things: the army retains its primacy as a political player, a balancer and an arbitrator; and two, that it may not be very happy seeing the country plunge into another crisis.

Ceteris paribus then, the PPP has the cards to trump Mr Sharif if he assigns a higher value to the judges’ issue while ignoring the possible loss of Punjab. On the other hand, he could have recourse to consociationism and enter into a secret pact with the PPP on the judges’ issue hoping to get the benefit of the “imperfect information principle” in such games (see Moeed Yusuf and Ejaz Haider, “The games they play!”; TFT, May 23-29, 2008 | Vol. XX, No. 14).

If the game is being played along these lines and the preferences and compulsions of players do not undergo any immediate change, Mr Musharraf is unlikely to board the plane to Turkey — at least in the near future.

That having been said, other problems do not go away and they are serious ones. A country where there can be such uncertainty about the highest office in the realm and where the posting of a one-star general and the rotation of a guard battalion can fuel such rumours is in drastic need of institutional overhaul. But that is another debate.

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at sapper@dailytimes.com.pk

Source: Daily Times, 1/6/2008

 Posted by at 1:27 pm

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