A woman president for Pakistan?

August 19, 2008

A comment recently by Asif Zardari, the powerful head of the Pakistan People’s Party, that the country’s next president could be a woman has set off speculation that he might propose the name of one of his sisters, both members of his party, to succeed President Pervez Musharraf.

What better way to burnish Pakistan’s credentials as an enlightened democracy than have a woman as head of state at a time when the power of Islamist militants is growing, especially in the vital northwest region where they have been burning down schools for girls.

Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif Besides, installing either Faryal Talpur or Azra Fazal Pechucho as president would help tighten Zardari’s grip on power with a handpicked president and prime minister, as The Pakistan Policy Blog notes. The name of National Assembly speaker Fahmida Mirza has also been mentioned as another possible woman candidate.

But then again, and reflecting the pressures on them, Zardari and coalition partner Nawaz Sharif might turn to the troubled North-West Frontier Province, choosing a candidate from there as one way to counter the expanding influence of the Islamists. One of the frontrunners would be Asfandyar Wali Khan, president of the Awami National Party, a regional group with liberal credentials, based in the NWFP. Candidates from Baluchistan, the other region where a low-key insurgency has raged, have also been mentioned in reports

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Linked perhaps to the eventual choice is also a decision on whether the presidency should be returned to its ceremonial post as was traditionally the case, or continue with a much more powerful institution as was the case with Musharraf.

Under Musharraf, the president retained the authority to dismiss parliament and make top military and judicial appointments, source of much of the political turmoil that engulfed the final years of his rule. The president is also the head of the country’s nuclear command authority.

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