Musharraf, “shorthand” for Pakistan?

May 18, 2008

I finally got around to reading the full text of a speech by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Pakistan Forum earlier this month and the following exchange caught my eye:

President Musharraf/file photoQuestion: “Does the Bush Administration still consider President Musharraf an indispensable ally?”

Negroponte: “Well, first of all, I think what you — your first question is prompted by the fact that at times in the past, when we talked about the war on terror, particularly in the wake of 9/11, we personalized the characterization of Pakistan’s collaboration with us by saying that Mr. Musharraf was an indispensable ally in the war on terror. And I myself used that phrase on a number of occasions.

“But it really is shorthand for the nation of Pakistan and it’s a shorthand for saying that we have an — I mean, Pakistan is in an indispensable situation in terms of dealing with the threats we confront in the war on terror because of the border area, because of al Qaeda, because of the position that this whole al Qaeda threat poses to our interests, the interests of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the rest of the world. So I think that’s — that would be what I’d say to that one.”

Am I alone in thinking that “shorthand” is an extraordinary word for the Americans to use about Musharraf? The reference is all the more interesting in the context of speculation on whether the rift between former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan People’s Party leader Asif Ali Zardari will take pressure off Musharraf to quit.  

The Washington Post, in an article headlined “Sidelined Musharraf Still Exerts Influence“, says that the former army general has continued to influence the country from the shadows, even after his political allies were trounced in elections in February.

“In the past week, the coalition’s acrimonious split — over how and when to restore judges fired by Musharraf — has dashed some of the hopes for democratic progress generated by elections in February,” it says. “Just as swiftly, it has generated talk of Musharraf as the political beneficiary, chortling at his adversaries’ failures and sensing a chance for political muscle-flexing if not rehabilitation.”

Lawyers’ protest in Multan May 12/Asim TanveerAn analysis in the Daily Times, however,  suggests the row over the judiciary could produce a backlash against Musharraf, particularly given a pledge by the lawyers’ movement to hold a major protest on June 10 to champion the restoration of the judges. The backlash would also hit Zardari, accused by some of his critics of bowing to American pressure and resisting demands by Sharif that Musharraf be forced out of office. 

“The lawyers and many civil society groups are expected to start street protests for the restoration of the judges. Several political parties are also expected to join them,” writes Hasan-Askari Rizvi in the Daily Times. “The PML-N (Sharif’s party) will certainly not hold back because such a situation would strengthen its position. The movement will target the government, especially Musharraf, and Asif Ali Zardari.”

It looks like volatile times ahead in Pakistan.


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