Showdown or climbdown in Pakistan?

May 25, 2008

This is definitely a case of “the more you know, the less you understand”. 

PPP leader Asif Ali ZardariThere has been much talk in the media about whether PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari is heading for a showdown with President Pervez Musharraf to force him out of office.

But it is not clear whether Zardari is really looking for a showdown, or instead a climbdown that would allow Musharraf to stay on with reduced powers, while also accommodating former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose antipathy to the former army general dates back to the 1999 coup.

For an outsiders’ view, The Australian boiled it down into a story headlined “Leaders duel in battle for Pakistan. 

“Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, enraged over a tirade against him by Asif Ali Zardari, last night cut off longstanding secret contacts with the dominant Pakistan People’s Party as speculation mounted he would launch a counter-strike to shore up his hold on power,” it wrote.

But there is also an interesting insiders’ view from Ikram Sehgal, a defence analyst close to the Pakistan army, who says that Musharraf might replace army head General Ashfaq Kayani with another man to counter any attack by his political opponents

“Offence being the best defence, there are signs that the Empire is now preparing to strike back. The perception of continuing absolute authority in the public mind is quite a virtuoso performance by Musharraf, given that this avid bridge player’s only remaining power base is the ISI controlled by talented cousin Lt Gen Nadim Taj,” he writes. 

Army chief Ashfaq Kayani“The distancing of the Army from politics is a myth as long as uniformed officers in the ISI manipulate political power. For the populace the Army and ISI are synonymous, the perception of their meddling in Pakistani politics is very much alive and well, and will probably remain so. All principal political federal and administrative appointments are presently subject to “clearance” by Nadim Taj.  So let’s not fool ourselves!

 ”"Unsubstantiated rumours are afloat that Musharraf will replace Kayani with Nadim Taj as COAS of the Pakistan Army, sooner rather than later–i.e., before the constitutional amendment to be tabled by the PPP takes away his powers to appoint the Service Chiefs. Even when trial balloons do not fly, the desperate will gamble, throwing caution and calculated risks to the wind. ”

All I might add is that officers in the Pakistan army are rather good at playing bridge (just like the officers in the Indian army).  So what will Musharraf go for? Will he declare No Trumps and try to win with a three of clubs? Or is he still holding the Ace of Hearts?


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