Naveed Ahmad
(Academic as well as an investigative journalist. Besides reporting for ISN Security Watch (Switzerland), Arabian Radio Network (Dubai) and Geo News Network (Pakistan), he lectures on security affairs, energy politics and media affairs in Pakistani universities as well as foreign think-tanks. He is also a research associate with Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS)

Copyright: Naveed Ahmad on line

Neither was it an assassin's bullet, nor noisy public protests outside the presidency but a credible impeachment threat to Pakistani ruler Pervez Musharraf that forced the former military general to resign from the office he has been occupying since October 12, 1999. His ouster not only concludes one of the most controversial chapters in the country's history but also exposes Pakistan to a renewed challenge of power struggle amongst the two larger political parties. Tribesmen in Pakistan's northwestern border regions and some of the settled areas are already facing consequences of a prolonged conflict between the armed forces and the Taliban operatives.

Despite positive economic outlook and politically correct decision of siding with United States against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the Musharraf regime adopted totalitarian policies at the domestic front. Leaving little room for political process, army was often called in as 'smart' solution to an assortment of problems, ranging from power supply challenge to dealing with a defiant tribal leader in southern outskirts of Balochistan province. Many analysts now agree that sheer arrogance and absence of collective decision-making failed Musharraf in achieving his goal of enlightened and developed Pakistan.

One classical mistake of attempting to fire sitting Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on March 9, 2007, sparked unprecedented protests by lawyers as well as civil society activist across the country. In a rare departure from the past, the Supreme Court declared the sacking of its chief justice by a military dictator unconstitutional and illegal on July 20, 2007, thus restoring him with honour and inflicting the worst embarrassment to Musharraf since his assumption of power in October 1999 through a bloodless military coup. Refusing to accept an independent judiciary, the general toppled the entire judicial system through a martial law on November 3, 2007, sacking over 60 senior most judges and installing handpicked men to get a favorable decision enabling him to run for the presidency for another time. The political parties across the board opposed the un-authorized sacking of justices and keeping them in house arrest along with families and even children. Though pro-Musharraf Muslim League was extremely calculated in its remarks but its Secretary General Mushahid Hussain had openly challenged the act of his leader, symbolizing the isolation the general was entering into.

Despite domestic unrest amid noisy protests for the release and eventual restoration of judges, Musharraf unflinchingly continued cooperation with the Coalition Forces' in fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Washington hardly showered generous applause for his work, always expecting more in the fight against terror. Meanwhile, the US-led NATO forces never halted their acts of hot pursuit inside the Pakistani territory, firing missiles from un-manned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with little surgical accuracy and causing high collateral damage. Unending violations of land and aerial frontiers ignited backlash and anger amongst Islamists and liberals alike against Musharraf's government as well as the Bush administration. 

Privy to his increasing isolation, Musharraf used the good offices of his friends in United States, United Kingdom and the Gulf states to strike a deal with Benazir Bhutto, liberal minded exiled leader of Pakistan People's Party. An ordinance was promulgated to clear corruption cases against her spouse Asif Ali Zardari. Upon homecoming, Benazir Bhutto narrowly survived twin attacks on her welcome procession in Karachi on October 17, 2007. Later, she lost her life to a sniper and a suicide bomber in Rawalpindi, hardly a mile away from where he father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged by another military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq.  Benazir's tragic death sparked violent protests across the country, thus resulting in postponement of general elections to February 18. The opposition parties of late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif bagged a promising win against Musharraf's allies, amid relatively lesser complaints of rigging in the polls.

Though the two rival parties, Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League, of late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif respectively had joined hands for restoration of independent judges and strengthening of democracy, the duo could hardly agree on modalities of bringing back the unlawfully deposed justices but developed absolute consensus of ousting the former military general who was occupying the presidency without a valid presidential election. Before the impeachment motion could be tabled in the parliament, the beleaguered leader decided to call it a day in a televised speech, with tears in his eyes and hands shaking.

For the Pakistani people, the joy of Musharraf's disgrace was short-lived as not only Benazir's successor and widower Asif Zardari backed out on his promise of restoring judges but also decided to contest for presidential office instead of nominating a non-political and non-controversial figure acceptable to all the other parliamentary parties. While the nation remains awe-stricken, the world is watching Pakistan embracing a fresh disaster, marked by mis-management, corruption and Islamic militancy. 

More than anything else, the western nations remain worried over the growing influence of the Taliban in Pakistan's northwest in proximity with the porous Afghan border. Unlike Musharraf era, the new government is little prepared to face an assortment of political and economic challenges, and above all, deal a decisive blow to the militants who were once being seen knocking at the doorstep of provincial capital, Peshawar. In his August 29 meeting with US Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, Pakistani Army Chief General Pervez Kiani assured him of Islamabad's continuing support for fight against terror. Though the US has been quietly observing shifting sands in the Pakistani politics, Kabul has been just short of declaring war on its western neighbor, also home to its 5 million-odd refugees.

The White House has mildly backed Afghan allegation against Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) of plotting a suicide bombers outside Indian embassy in Kabul, but Islamabad claims no proofs or tip offs have been passed on ever.

While the Pakistani army remains deeply entrenched in tribal areas and restive areas of Swat Valley, the decision-makers in Islamabad want to take the course of political negotiations to end the bloodshed and loss to public property at the hands of militants. Washington as well as Kabul, both remain wary of Pakistani attempts to reach ceasefire agreements, alleging her providing sanctuaries to the militants who infiltrate through multi-layered security of Afghan and NATO forces.

Times is of the essence for the democratic dispensation in Islamabad where the ruling Pakistan People's Party must hurry to cut short its vicious attempts of perpetuating power and focus on stabilizing the country's restive western regions. Poor security outlook has already brought down foreign investments at a time of soaring oil prices, increasing food shortages and nose-diving value of rupee. Undoubtedly, much of the country's mess is a direct consequence of Musharraf's 9-year rule; however, lousy economic policies and short-sighted security strategy are speeding up the country's slide into chaos, much to the advantage of Taliban operative working to destabilize Pakistan for backing the Bush's war against terror. While Islamabad needs to rationalize its carrot-and-stick approach to the Islamic militants, Washington and Kabul too need to take responsibility for securing their side of Pakistan-Afghan border, which has solely been thrust upon resource-constrained Islamabad.

Adding fuel to the ongoing backlash in tribal areas, death of 15 people in a hot pursuit inside the Pakistani territory by ISAF/NATO helicopters would result in increased pressure on the new government to do more for safeguarding the country's territory sovereignty. Led by late Benazir Bhutto's PPP, the both the houses of parliament have passed unanimous resolutions condemning the incursion and reiterated Pakistan's right to retaliate. The promise of post-Musharraf Pakistan may never be realized unless Washington sets pragmatic goals for itself as well as its allies. More than its own rulers, the educated Pakistani middle class now looks at US presidential hopefuls, McCain and Obama, for a silver lining. 

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