Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pakistan - something has to give

THE BATTLELINES in Pakistan have become clear, with detained former premier Benazir Bhutto trying to forge a coalition of opposition parties in an apparent bid to isolate President Pervez Musharraf ahead of elections. Bhutto has demanded that Musharraf to step down as president and ruled out serving as prime minister under the general.
She has also said that she is ready for an alliance with another ex-prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, held telephone talks with former cricket star Imran Khan and agreed with a key Islamist to launch a "joint struggle" against Musharraf.
Musharraf's response is also clear: He intends to pursue his own course in the country and is in no mood to make compromises. He has promised to hold elections but would not lift the state of emergency until then.
However, international pressure is building against him for imposing the state of emergency, suspending the constitution, dismissing most judges, detaining thousands of opposition and rights activists and lawyers and imposing sweeping curbs against the media.
It is clear that Musharraf is determined to stay the course. One of the reasons that might be behind his apparent one-track mind could be the realisation that giving up power and authority would expose him to being held responsible for what the current opposition could perceive and describe actions against the interests of the people. As such, he possibly fears that he faces a bleak future in Pakistan if without power and authority..
Musharraf signalled his determination yet again on Tuesday when he, acting through the foreign ministry, rejected a Commonwealth deadline to end emergency rule in 10 days or face suspension from the group.
Surely, Musharraf should be feeling the heat. He could indeed opt out if he lives up to his pledge that he would step down as army chief and be sworn in as a civilian president as soon as the Supreme Court, where new judges seen as friendly to the government have been appointed, ruled on challenges to his Oct.6 election as president.
It is definitely a stalemate in Pakistan, with neither side willing for compromise as Bhutto emphasised on Tuesday when she ruled out political co-existence with Musharraf.
"Negotiations between us have broken down over the massive use of police force against women and children," Bhutto declared. "There's no question now of getting this back on track because anyone who is associated with General Musharraf gets contaminated," she said.
However, it is no longer a simple political game. The crisis has raised serious international concern about the stability of Pakistan and its ability to sustain its fight against a growing militancy that has its roots in the socio-economic system of the country as much as in the crisis in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Something has to give, and the world wonders what would give and when.