News & Current Affairs

September 12, 2008

Pakistan’s counter-insurgency quandary

Pakistan’s counter-insurgency quandary

The residents of Sheikh Yasin camp are not celebrating the inauguration of Pakistan’s new president.

Taheer, a farmer now resident in the Sheikh Yasin camp
The army’s killing people because America gives it money to fight terrorists, so it has to show it’s doing something
Taher, a farmer now resident in Sheikh Yasin camp

They jostle each other as they wait for hand-outs of bread and queuing for soup, ladled out from huge vats under a canvas tarpaulin crusty with flies.

More than 2,000 people have fled to the camp to escape an army bombing campaign against the local Taleban in the Bajaur tribal area near the Afghan border. More civilians were killed than militants, they say.

For many Pakistanis, this is what the “war on terror” has brought: displacement and death. There is resentment and anger.

Double game

Despite, or perhaps because of, the high price that Pakistan has paid since 9/11, there’s no consensus in the country about how to confront Islamist militancy.

Now with a new president and a relatively new government, once again questions are being raised about the country’s counter-insurgency policy.

Pakistan’s former military leader Pervez Musharraf swung between military offensives and peace talks with militants.

Neither worked, and the general, although a key American ally, was accused of playing a double game by maintaining links with the Taleban.

It’s not clear if it will be any different under the new civilian President, Asif Zardari, who took the oath of office this week. During his party’s short six months in government, it has also tried both war and peace.

But at his inaugural press conference, Mr Zardari seemed to signal a new line. He shared the podium with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president who has accused Pakistan of harboring and supporting the Taleban.

They pledged co-operation against the militants, something for which Washington has long been pressing.

‘America’s man’

“I think so far Mr Zardari has been more forthright and more articulate [than Musharraf] in his belief that the war on terror has to be fought with greater intensity and sincerity,” says Tariq Fathimi, a former ambassador to the United States.

“He has also been very categorical in stating that the war on terror is something that’s in the interest of Pakistan, and that must be something that pleases the Bush administration.”

resident of Sheikh Yasin camp

For Sheikh Yasin residents, the ‘war on terror’ has brought only misery

But for many in Pakistan, his performance has only strengthened impressions that he’s America’s man, and that’s a problem.

Most Pakistanis are opposed to their government’s participation in what they call America’s war. And a recent surge in US air strikes against suspected militant targets in Pakistan’s border region has not helped the new government.

“It is making things rather impossible for us,” says Rehman Malik, head of the Interior Ministry, “because when the people hear of an alien attack, nobody likes it, we’re talking about the sovereignty of our country.

“So we are fighting our war… and now we are asking the international community to help us.”

It’s not just the people – Pakistan’s army is also angry, and it’s still the country’s most powerful institution. Any new policy or approach by Asif Zardari would need its backing to be successful.

Analysts say the army is unsure about Mr Zardari but willing to work with him, especially if he can deliver clear parliamentary support for military action.

Pakistani soldiers in NWFP

The army is eager to get the government’s support

That source of popular legitimacy was sorely lacking under the previous administration. But the US air strikes complicate the relationship with the government.

“Within the army there is strong thinking that we are being let down by the government if it doesn’t respond,” says retired General Talat Masood.

“Because then, what would the people of Pakistan think about the army, which is just allowing national sovereignty to be violated in such a gross manner?”

There’s no doubt Pakistan is facing a huge problem of Islamic militancy. But many are convinced it can’t tackle this if it’s seen to be acting at America’s behest.

“Probably the only way to reverse it is to initiate a parliamentary debate,” says Zaffar Abbas, the Islamabad editor of Dawn Newspaper, “to have a home-grown policy to deal with militancy and religious extremism, which is somewhat de-linked from the American demand to have an international campaign against terrorism.

“Unless they are able to do it, it will be nearly impossible to deal with this menace of terrorism.”

Asif Zardari may have signalled that he’s willing to work closely with America. But as a democratically elected leader, he also says he’ll be directed by parliament.

How he handles that is crucial. His challenge is to truly make this Pakistan’s war.

September 6, 2008

Breaking News: Bhutto’s widower wins presidency

Bhutto’s widower wins presidency

Poster of Asif Ali Zardari outside parliament

Security is tight for the vote, which Asif Ali Zardari is expected to win

Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has won Pakistan’s presidential election, election officials say.

The election was called after Pervez Musharraf resigned rather than risk being impeached.

Sources told our correspondent that Mr Zardari will visit China soon as president.

Mr Zardari faces an Islamist insurgency and economic problems that are threatening Pakistan’s stability.

Meanwhile a bomb has killed at least 12 people near the city of Peshawar and injured many more.

The president is elected by secret ballots in the national and four provincial assemblies.

Although official figures for are still to be released for Punjab province and the national assembly, election commission officials say Mr Zardari has already gained the 352 votes he needs to be declared overall winner.

In Sindh province, Mr Zardari won all 65 votes. In North West Frontier Province he got 56 out of the 65 votes. In Balochistan province he was heading to win about 60 of the 65 votes.

Pakistan votes for new president

Pakistan votes for new president

Asif Zardari

Asif Zardari – one of Pakistan’s most controversial politicians

Voting has started in Pakistan to elect a successor to Pervez Musharraf, who resigned as president last month rather than risk impeachment.

The winner is expected to be Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Voting is being held in both the national and provincial assemblies.

The next president will have to tackle an Islamist insurgency and an economic crisis which are threatening the country’s stability.

Controversy

Mr Zardari was thrust into the center of political power by the killing of Ms Bhutto last December after which he became head of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

WHO VOTES FOR PRESIDENT?
Total votes: 702
National Assembly 342 votes
Senate 100 votes
Four provincial assemblies 65 votes each
Winner needs simple majority of votes

What Pakistanis think

‘Master plan’ to save Pakistan

Q&A: Presidential poll

Send us your comments

Mr Zardari is regarded by many as the de facto prime minister and he is now almost certain to become president.

Our correspondent says that in recent months Mr Zardari has shown skill by forging a large coalition and using it to peacefully unseat the former military ruler, President Musharraf.

Mr Zardari is one of Pakistan’s most controversial politicians.

For years he has been hounded by allegations of massive corruption – although he has never been convicted.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took his PML-N party out of the governing coalition last week, accusing Mr Zardari of breaking key promises.

Many in Pakistan fear the country is facing a return to an old-style politics of confrontation at a time when urgent action is needed to improve the economy and deal with a raging Islamist insurgency.

Juggling demands

Mr Zardari is seen as pro-Western and supportive of Washington’s self-declared war on terror.

Nawaz Sharif

Nawaz Sharif’s coalition with Mr Zardari did not last long

If he becomes president, he will have to juggle the demands of the United States, Pakistan’s powerful army, and strong anti-American sentiment in the country.

Our correspondent says Mr Musharraf tried to do that and failed. She adds that Pakistanis hope that Asif Zardari will have more success, but they see little in his past to encourage them.

The other candidates are Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui, a former judge who has the backing of Mr Sharif, and Mushahid Hussain Sayed, who was nominated by the PML-Q party that supported Mr Musharraf.

In the Islamabad parliament, members of the upper house, the Senate, are voting first, followed by the lower house.

Voting is being held in a similar fashion in Pakistan’s four provincial assemblies of Sindh, Punjab, Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province.

There is only one round of voting and whoever has most of the 702 votes wins. Results are expected late on Saturday.

August 22, 2008

Zardari nominated to be president

Zardari nominated to be president

Pakistan People’s Party leaders Asif Ali Zardari (L) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (C) and ex-PM Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad on Tuesday 19 August 2008

The coalition must decide who will be Pakistan’s new president

Pakistan’s biggest party, the PPP, has nominated its leader, Asif Zardari, to be the country’s president.

Pervez Musharraf resigned from the post on Monday in the face of the threat of impeachment by his political enemies.

Mr Zardari’s main coalition partner, Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N, is not in favor of Mr Zardari getting the job.

The two men are also deadlocked over how many of the judges sacked by Mr  Musharraf during emergency rule last November should be reinstated.

Twenty-four hours

PPP spokeswoman Sherry Rehman told reporters in Islamabad that senior PPP members had come to a unanimous decision to nominate Mr Zardari.

“Mr Zardari thanked the Pakistan People’s Party of which he is the co-chairman and said he will announce his decision within the next 24 hours,” she said.

The PPP and the PML-N have been discussing ways to reduce the power of the presidency. But if Mr Zardari gets the job, it is not clear if such reforms will go ahead.

He took over as PPP leader after his wife, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December.

The president is chosen by the two chambers of the national parliament and the country’s four provincial elections. The election will be held on 6 September.

Mr Sharif prefers what he calls a consensus president.

Wednesday deadline

Earlier on Friday Mr Sharif agreed to let parliament hold a debate next week on how to reinstate the judges sacked by Mr Musharraf.

He had threatened to pull out of the coalition government unless it was agreed on Friday that all the sacked judges be restored.

The PPP fears that if former Supreme Court judges, including ex-Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, are reinstated, they could overturn a controversial amnesty that Mr Musharraf granted Mr Zardari Ms Bhutto last year that paved the way for them to return to the country.

That would open up Mr Zardari to prosecution on long-standing corruption charges.

Mr Sharif pulled back from his threat to withdraw his PML-N party from the governing coalition after talks with other coalition parties in Islamabad.

But Mr Sharif is still hoping the resolution will result in Mr Chaudhry and the other judges getting their jobs back.

“Wednesday should be the day for reinstatement of judges,” he told journalists.

Squabbling

The coalition was elected in February but analysts say it has failed to find solutions to Pakistan’s economic crisis and to the militants in its north-western tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistani security officials examine the site of the suicide bombing in Wah

The politicians’ squabbling is hindering any possible plan for tackling militant violence.

The Pakistani Taleban claimed responsibility for Thursday’s suicide bombings on an ordnance factory in the town of Wah, near the capital Islamabad. It was the deadliest attack on a military site in Pakistan’s history.

The militant group promised more attacks in Pakistan’s major urban conurbations unless the army withdrew from the tribal areas.

On Tuesday, 32 people were killed in a suicide attack on a hospital in the northern town of Dera Ismail Khan.

On Friday the Taleban said at least 16 of their fighters were killed in clashes with security forces in the north-western district of Hangu.

In the Bajaur tribal region near the Afghan border, reports said at least one person was killed and eight others were injured when army helicopters fired at a convoy. Locals said the vehicles were carrying civilians who were fleeing the fighting in the area.

Mr Musharraf, a key ally of President George Bush’s “war on terror”, stepped down this week after nine years in power to avoid being impeached.

He sacked about 60 Supreme Court judges during a state of emergency in November to prevent them from overturning his re-election as president.

Analysts say that although the PPP and PML-N worked together to hound Mr Musharraf from office, there is a history of intense rivalry and mistrust between the two main parties.

The parties differ over the future of Mr Musharraf, who has been replaced by a caretaker president, the speaker of the Senate.

Mr Zardari’s party has said it believes Mr Musharraf may have immunity from prosecution.

But Mr Sharif’s party argues he should stand trial for, among other things, abrogating the constitution.

August 19, 2008

Musharraf foes set to hold talks

Musharraf foes set to hold talks

Coalition leaders Asif Ali Zardari (left) and Nawaz Sharif shake hands on 18 August at news of President Musharraf's resignation

The ruling parties must now fill the gap left by Pervez Musharraf

Leaders of Pakistan’s ruling coalition are to meet in Islamabad to discuss who will succeed their long-time opponent, former President Pervez Musharraf.

Mr Musharraf stepped down on Monday after nine years in power to avoid a move by the government to impeach him.

The coalition, led by the parties of the late Benazir Bhutto and ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, held a first, inconclusive round of talks on Monday.

Mr Musharraf was replaced automatically by caretaker President Muhammad Sumroo.

Mr Sumroo, speaker of the Senate and a political ally of Mr Musharraf, will lead the country until a new election is held by parliament.

It is unclear whether Mr Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, will face prosecution now that he is out of power.

Mutual distrust

On Monday, Mr Sharif, who leads the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), met Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of Benazir Bhutto, and other coalition figures.

President Musharraf live on TV, 18th August

Mr Musharraf denied being an enemy of democracy

Sources say their talks focused on the nomination of the next president and the restoration of judges deposed by Mr Musharraf.

The PPP and PML-N distrust each other and have already said different things about Mr Musharraf’s future.

Mr Zardari’s party said it believed he might have immunity from prosecution.

But Mr Sharif’s party argues he should stand trial for, among other things, abrogating the constitution.

The parties are also likely to differ on whether to reinstate the judges and are thought to have differences of emphasis on how to tackle a violent Islamist insurgency on the Afghan border, our correspondent says.

There is relief in Pakistan that Mr Musharraf is gone but mounting impatience with the political parties that won February’s elections.

‘Going, Going, Gone!’

Pakistan’s newspapers on Tuesday celebrated the exit of former president.

Musharraf should be blamed for his own fall
Stan Rodrigues, Newark, US

The headline of The Daily Times was “Going, Going, Gone!”, next to a photo of Mr Musharraf, while The News led with “Mush Quits With His Tail Between His Legs”.

The country’s media also speculated about what he might do next, reporting that he wants to stay in Pakistan, but may soon travel abroad, with Saudi Arabia, the US, the UK and Turkey mentioned as possible destinations.

Mr Musharraf left his official residence in Islamabad for the last time after announcing his resignation in a televised address.

He inspected a last military guard of honour before leaving the palace in a black limousine.

Mehr, Lahore, Pakistan

Send us your comments
I would rather have been ruled by a democratic dictator than despotic democrats

After nine years in power, Pervez Musharraf had finally run out of options, the BBC’s Chris Morris reports from Islamabad.

Well known in the West for his support for the US after the 11 September 2001 attacks, he had grown increasingly unpopular at home.

With the government on the verge of impeaching him, the former soldier’s instinct was to fight on, our correspondent says, but in his lengthy address he said he was stepping down for the good of the nation.

It is a landmark moment in Pakistan, our correspondent adds: the former military ruler forced from office by civilian politicians and the army standing by and allowing it to happen.

Mrs Bhutto’s son and heir, Bilawal, said he hoped the country could move forward after Mr Musharraf’s departure.

“I see that the biggest hurdle in the way of democracy has been removed,” he said.

Mrs Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi in December last year.

August 8, 2008

Musharraf faces impeachment bid

Musharraf faces impeachment bid

President Musharraf in Islamabad in April 2008

President Musharraf has said he would rather resign than be impeached

Pakistan’s ruling coalition parties say they will begin impeachment proceedings against President Pervez Musharraf.

Party leaders Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif made the announcement after three days of talks. They would need a two-thirds majority to impeach.

Mr Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

He gave up control of the army last year and his allies were defeated in February’s elections but he retains the power to dissolve parliament.

Mr Musharraf has previously said he would resign rather than face impeachment proceedings.

But late on Thursday, aides said the president would respond to the allegations in parliament.

The BBC’s Mark Dummett in Islamabad says an impeachment would take Pakistani politics into new territory, since no Pakistani leader has faced it before.

Sacked judges

Mr Zardari, of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and the PML-N’s Narwaz Sharif announced the impeachment move at a press conference in Islamabad.

STEPS TO IMPEACHMENT
Impeachment proposers need 50% majority in Senate or National Assembly
President given notice of impeachment, and has three days to respond
Joint session of Senate and Assembly must be held between 7 and 14 days later to investigate charges
If resolution presented, joint session must approve with two-thirds majority

Mr Zardari said: “We have good news for democracy. The coalition believes it is imperative to move for impeachment against General Musharraf.”

Mr Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, derided Mr Musharraf’s economic policies, adding: “He has worked to undermine the transition to democracy.”

He also warned Mr Musharraf not to dissolve parliament, saying: “If he does it, it will be his last verdict against the people.”

Mr Sharif said: “Pakistan cannot afford to see democracy derailed, this is not the same Pakistan as was the case in the 1980s and 1990s. People will not accept it now.”

The leaders say they will also move to have Mr Musharraf face votes of confidence in the national and four provincial assemblies.

Our correspondent says these will not be enough to dislodge President Musharraf but might weaken him ahead of any impeachment showdown.

Impeachment would need a two-thirds majority in the upper and lower houses of parliament but, our correspondent says, getting those numbers might be difficult.

The two leaders also promised to restore judges sacked under Mr Musharraf’s emergency rule once impeachment was successful.

How to proceed on that issue had caused deep divisions between the two coalition parties since the elections.

Military role

Mr Musharraf had been scheduled to attend the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing but has cancelled his trip and will be replaced by Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani.

Mr Musharraf was elected president for a five-year term last October in a controversial parliamentary vote.

One presidential source told AFP news agency Mr Musharraf was discussing a course of action and had the options of dissolving parliament or imposing emergency rule again.

The president is still thought to have heavy influence over the military and its reaction will remain crucial.

Pakistan has been ruled by military leaders for more than half of its existence since Partition in 1947.


What is your reaction? Should President Musharraf be impeached? Send us your comments

August 7, 2008

Musharraf faces impeachment bid

Musharraf faces impeachment bid

Courtesy BBC

President Musharraf in Islamabad in April 2008

President Musharraf has said he would rather resign than be impeached

Pakistan’s ruling coalition parties say they will begin impeachment proceedings against President Pervez Musharraf.

Party leaders Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif made the announcement after three days of talks. They would need a two-thirds majority to impeach.

Mr Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

He gave up control of the army last year and his allies were defeated in February’s elections but he retains the power to dissolve parliament.

Mr Musharraf has previously said he would resign rather than face impeachment proceedings but he has made no comment yet on the latest move.

Sacked judges

Mr Zardari, of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and the PML-N’s Narwaz Sharif announced the impeachment move at a press conference in Islamabad.

Mr Zardari said: “We have good news for democracy. The coalition believes it is imperative to move for impeachment against General Musharraf.”

STEPS TO IMPEACHMENT
Impeachment proposers need 50% majority in Senate or National Assembly
President given notice of impeachment, and has three days to respond
Joint session of Senate and Assembly must be held between 7 and 14 days later to investigate charges
If resolution presented, joint session must approve with two-thirds majority
OTHER POSSIBLE SCENARIO
President dissolves parliament, placing country under emergency rule to prevent impeachment

Mr Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, derided Mr Musharraf’s economic policies, adding: “He has worked to undermine the transition to democracy.”

He also warned Mr Musharraf not to dissolve parliament, saying: “If he does it, it will be his last verdict against the people.”

Mr Sharif said: “Pakistan cannot afford to see democracy derailed, this is not the same Pakistan as was the case in the 1980s and 1990s. People will not accept it now.”

The leaders say they will also move to have Mr Musharraf face votes of confidence in the national and four provincial assemblies.

They also promised to restore judges sacked under Mr Musharraf’s emergency rule once impeachment was successful.

How to proceed on that issue had caused deep divisions between the two coalition parties since the elections.

New territory

Mr Musharraf had been scheduled to attend the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing but has cancelled his trip and will be replaced by Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani.

Mr Musharraf was elected president for a five-year term last October in a controversial parliamentary vote.

One presidential source told Agence France-Presse news agency Mr Musharraf was discussing a course of action and had the options of dissolving parliament or imposing emergency rule again.

The BBC’s Mark Dummett in Islamabad says an impeachment would take Pakistani politics into new territory, since no Pakistani leader has faced it before.

The president is still thought to have heavy influence over the military and its reaction will remain crucial.

Pakistan has been ruled by military leaders for more than half of its existence since Partition in 1947.

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