(by Nocholas Wapshott, Oct. 5, 2007, NYSun.com) – The future of the success of the war on Islamic terror may depend on the result of the presidential election in Pakistan on Saturday, in which President Musharraf, an ally of America, risks being removed by a growing demand for the return of democracy to the Islamic country.
Early signs suggest that General Musharraf will be reaffirmed as president by federal and provincial lawmakers, though in order to head off pro-democracy opponents he is expected to declare an amnesty that would allow a former prime minister who left the country eight years ago after allegations of fraud, Benazir Bhutto, to return in October to contest the parliamentary elections in January.
The amnesty, which the presidential candidate of Ms. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, said has been agreed upon and is expected to be announced by General Musharraf on Friday, would bolster the prospect of Ms. Bhutto, an opponent of the Islamists, becoming prime minister and thereby would ensure that Pakistan remains pro-Western and fully committed to the war on terror.
Pakistan is an important front in the war against Islamist terrorists, with Taliban forces from Pakistan’s lawless northern tribal lands mounting raids on NATO forces in Afghanistan, and the remote mountains in the north providing shelter for the architect of the attacks of September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden.
Pakistan’s 500,000-strong army has largely kept in check a rising tide of Islamist sentiment, but it has been unable to prevent the country from suffering suicide bombings by pro-Taliban terrorists and remaining a potent source of inspiration and training for Al Qaeda members who have gone on to strike at soft targets in Europe.
The president has taken bold action against his Islamic opponents, most notably in July, when he put an end to the months-long siege of pro-Taliban Islamists who had locked themselves inside the Red Mosque. His use of severe force to end the standoff led many moderate politicians to condemn him.
General Musharraf, who took control of Pakistan after a military coup eight years ago, has suggested that he would be prepared to step down as army chief and restore civilian rule if he were re-elected president, a move Ms. Bhutto has demanded.
“We feel it is a step toward democracy when General Musharraf will take off his uniform,” Ms. Bhutto said yesterday after a day of what she called “hectic negotiations, discussions and assurances.” She is expected on Friday to withdraw her threat to remove her party’s members of parliament from Pakistan’s assemblies.
However, at least one sticking point remains. Ms. Bhutto is holding out the prospect of her party opposing General Musharraf’s re-election in Saturday’s presidential vote, along with other opposition parties that are boycotting the presidential poll and the elections in January, unless he agrees to give up his right as president to fire the prime minister.
Ms. Bhutto’s election as premier in January would depend on a constitutional amendment as she has already served twice before as Pakistan’s prime minister. General Musharraf’s presidential candidacy remains the subject of legal challenges in Pakistan’s Supreme Court. Attempts by General Musharraf to broaden his appeal and make noticeable progress toward civilian government have received broad support from the State Department, though it has been at pains to stay at one remove from the negotiations and arguments surrounding the return of opposition members. President Bush has called upon General Musharraf to move as quickly as he can toward democracy.
Yesterday, a White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said any deal toward national reconciliation made between the general and Ms. Bhutto was “a matter for the Pakistanis to decide” and that America “wants to see free and fair elections.”
Ms. Bhutto has said that only with her return can Pakistan offer a moderate alternative to Islamism. “Extremism looms as a threat, but it will be contained as it has been in the past if the moderate middle can be mobilized to stand up to fanaticism. –Civil unrest is what the extremists want. Anarchy and chaos suit them,” she wrote last month in the Washington Post.
The amnesty deal may allow a third Pakistani secular leader, Nawaz Sharif, to return to fight the January elections. Mr. Sharif’s emotional homecoming to Pakistan last month was met on arrival with further accusations of fraud from Pakistani legal authorities, and he returned to exile rather than face arrest and trial.
The danger remains that a deal between the pro-Western General Musharraf and Ms. Bhutto will only serve to aggravate Islamist opponents. The general has come under sharp criticism, too, from moderate forces within Pakistan for his brutal handling of street protests in March emanating from his decision to dismiss the chief justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court, who doubted the legality of the general’s plans to ensure his re-election.
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
1. How did Pervez Musharraf become President of Pakistan?
2. a) Why does President Musharraf risk losing the presidency in Saturday’s election?
b) What is Pres. Musharraf expected to do to bolster his chances of winning the election?
3. Why did former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto leave Pakistan eight years ago?
4. For what reasons has President Musharraf been criticized?
5. a) What has Ms. Bhutto threatened to do if President Musharraf does not step down as army chief?
b) What has Ms. Bhutto threatened to do if President Musharraf does not give up his right as president to fire the prime minister?
6. Why would a constitutional amendment need to be passed for Ms. Bhutto to run again for prime minister in January?
7. President Musharraf took control of Pakistan in a military coup and has prevented democracy from returning to Pakistan. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was deposed from Pakistan upon allegations of fraud. What qualifications do both leaders have that would make Western countries want them to be re-elected?
ON GOVERNMENT OF PAKISTAN
Pakistan is a federal democratic republic with Islam as the state religion. The semi-presidential system includes a bicameral legislature consisting of a 100-member Senate and a 342-member National Assembly. The President is the Head of State and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and is elected by an electoral college. The prime minister is usually the leader of the largest party in the National Assembly. …(From wikipedia.org)
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