Pervez Musharraf: From kingmaker to supplicant (News Analysis)

August 7th, 2008 - 10:36 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Nawaz Sharif

Islamabad, Aug 7 (IANS) In a mere 254 days since he shed his army chief’s uniform, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has plummeted from being an all-powerful kingmaker who single-handedly called the shots to a toothless tiger who faces impeachment - unless he quits office before that happens. This is sweet revenge for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf had sacked in a bloodless coup Oct 12, 1999 and sent into exile a year later. Sharif defiantly returned last September, was sent back and then returned once again.

This, coupled with the return from exile of another former prime minister Benzair Bhutto - who was assassinated in a gun-and-bomb attack Dec 27, 2007 - set in motion a chain of events that saw the resounding defeat of the erstwhile ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) in the February general elections and a coalition comprising the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and two junior partners take office.

Ironically, Musharraf would never have become the Pakistan Army chief but for Sharif, who, in 1998, had prompted the incumbent, General Jehangir Karamat, to put in his papers. Sharif then elevated Musharraf to the post after superseding several officers who were senior to him.

Bhutto’s widower and PPP co-chair Asif Ali Zardari announced the impeachment move Aug 7, but, in a way, the writing on the wall had been there since Nov 28, 2007 when Musharraf handed over the army chief’s baton to General Ashraf Parvez Kiyani and took oath for a second term in office - this time as a civilian president.

Musharraf was perhaps smug in his view that a deal being brokered on his behalf with Bhutto to return from exile and share power after the general elections - originally scheduled for January - would see him home.

Bhutto’s assassination, and Sharif’s return grossly upset that equation after the general elections were eventually held in February.

After that, it was only a matter of time before Musharraf either stepped down voluntarily or faced impeachment. His only hope now seems to lie in his trusted ally, the US, to intervene and persuade the Pakistani government to drop the impeachment move and permit the president to continue in office while stripping him of much of his powers.

Musharraf could also exercise his power to dissolve parliament and the four provincial assemblies to forestall his impeachment but that is bound to attract worldwide condemnation, particularly from the US.

This is because legally, Musharraf is on extremely shaky ground.

After the 1999 coup, Musharraf declared himself Pakistan’s chief executive and formally appointed himself president June 20, 2001, days before travelling to Agra for peace talks with India that ended in a deadlock.

Then, in an attempt to legitimise his presidency, he “won” a referendum Apr 30, 2002 to extend his term to five years after the general elections that were due in October that year.

In Dec 2003, Musharraf cut a deal with the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) six party religious alliance that enabled the PML-Q government muster a two-thirds majority in parliament and pass the Seventeenth Amendment. This retroactively legalized the 1999 coup and many of the decrees Musharraf had issued thereafter.

On Jan 1, 2004 Musharraf won a confidence vote from the Electoral College comprising the five legislatures. This body then re-elected him Oct 6, 2007 for a second term as president.

Given this, it was incumbent on him to seek a fresh trust vote from the new Electoral College but he refrained from doing so - given that the numbers were stacked against him.

In the midst of all this, Musharraf found time to suspend then chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury March 9, 2007 on charges of misconduct. The Supreme Court reinstated him July 20, 2007 and Musharraf retaliated by declaring an emergency Nov 3 the same year and sacked Chaudhury and 59 judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts.

And, with Sharif threatening to walk out of the coalition unless the judges were reinstated, Zardari had no option but to accede.

Thus, with the final denouement underway, Musharraf finds himself with very little elbowroom to manoeuvre. It’s quite a comedown for the former paratrooper who once swaggered with US President George W. Bush in the Rose Garden of the White House during an official visit to Washington.

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