Pakistan – an Alternative to Musharraf? Part II

By | December 18, 2021

At least formally, the nineteen year old son of Benazir, Bilawal Zardari, is elected head of the PPP, and from this moment on, he will add the surname Bhutto to that of his father. In reality, the young man is only a screen that hides the unpresentable Asif Zardari, who is formally assigned the position of co-president and who, in fact, will govern the party. Meanwhile, in the political palaces of Islamabad, more than in the squares, alliances are forged or broken, options are left open or closed and the probable or safe votes are counted to understand whether Musharraf will be forced to resign or will work alongside of a prime minister at the head of a ‘broad-based’ government. However, despite the fact that foreign investments continue to rain on the country and the economic growth rate on paper is a good 8%, in January the population finds themselves queuing for flour, the price of which has practically doubled due to the government’s insane export policies. Also in January, the price of many consumer goods also doubled and the crisis in electricity and gas for domestic use worsened. The empty stomach and the cold of one of the coldest winters in living memory do much more in the end for the opposition of poor Benazir’s ghost. For Pakistan 2002, please check

The electoral campaign takes place in an almost surreal atmosphere, essentially based on the shadow of Bhutto and on a possible occult player: the newly elected chief of the Kiyani army. The general does all he can to win popular support, by requiring all military personnel holding civilian or political positions to resign and effectively unraveling the network of army members put in charge of lucrative civilian activities by Musharraf. The positive image of himself and of the army that the general painstakingly builds, however, is frankly disturbing for some: “It is a script that repeats itself – many argue – and always begins with a general who gains popular sympathy and consent by demonstrating to be ‘clean’ and to want to change things “. The latest in time was in 1999 Musharraf, whose coup d’état was greeted as a breath of fresh air after 10 years of corruption and political wrangling, signed by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. The verdict of the polls, in the end, is rather obvious: the majority in the Pakistani People’s Party, closely followed by Sharif’s Muslim League of Pakistan. Third place, with a notable distance, the Muslim League of Pakistan (Q) which supports President Musharraf. Asif Zardari goes the task of choosing the members of the new government: a coalition government because, despite the victory, the PPP did not obtain an absolute majority. The result of the polls, which according to analysts and according to many politicians had already been decided previously between London and Washington, changes very little in the country. Certainly, President Musharraf appears politically weaker. But no weaker, on balance, than it was before the vote. In fact, Zardari and Sharif alone do not have enough numbers to form the two-thirds majority that could knock the president down, questioning the legality of his re-election and, above all, to repeal the constitutional amendments made by Musharraf during the emergency. But despite everything, and despite having always been enemies, the two forge a government alliance based, essentially, on a single strong motivation: to manage power, even if formally both are outside the distribution of government seats. In fact, neither of them has been a candidate, neither of them has the slightest chance of becoming prime minister for the moment. However, both plan to run later, in the areas where the elections have been postponed for security reasons, and therefore to secure a seat in Parliament that would allow them to triumphantly return to the division of seats.

After long and tiring negotiations, in March a man from Zardari, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was elected premier. The alliance between Zardari and Sharif goes on with mixed fortunes, settling back only to settle the score with Musharraf. In fact, in August, the president was forced to resign to avoid the impeachment and on 6 September the unpresentable Asif Zardari was elected in his place. Considered the ‘lesser evil’ by Washington, which does not trust Nawaz Sharif at all, too shrewd, too seasoned, too close to the secret services, to Islamic militants and ready to declare that he wants to reintroduce Sharia law in the country. The momentary honeymoon between the members of the government immediately splits on the question of the judges of the Supreme Court, which the government has freed but has no intention of reinstating for fear that Zardari will be put under investigation for the dozens of crimes mentioned. he is accused, crimes that were promptly cleared by Musharraf’s judges. Sharif withdraws his ministers from the government, to which he guarantees only external support, but the Pakistani political situation now appears to be an indestructible mess. The Taliban benefits from this, carrying out attacks at the rate of one every two days. In the meantime, relations between Islamabad and the United States have never been so stormy: in June, American troops killed 11 Pakistani soldiers crossing the Afghan borders, an organization close to the Pentagon publishes yet another report highlighting the connections between the ISI and the Taliban, Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of the Pakistani atomic bomb and protagonist of the trafficking of nuclear material with countries such as Iran, Libya and North Korea is effectively released from house arrest. At the end of August, two American combat helicopters landed in Pakistani territory for the first time, looking for terrorists and killing a dozen women and children. Since then, US missile attacks in Pakistan have become a constant. Islamabad summons the US ambassador to Pakistan and issues a formal protest, to no avail.

On the other hand, as Zardari himself admitted, the fight against terrorism is definitely bad: in February General Kiyani had already concluded a questionable agreement with Baitullah Mehsud’s newborn Tehrik-i-Taliban, withdrawing the government troops from Waziristan. The first real measure taken by the new government is the signing of a further agreement with another Taliban-like organization: Tehriq-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammed led by Maulana Fazlullah. The agreement provides for the withdrawal of government troops from Swat and the introduction of sharia law in the province, in exchange for the cessation of hostilities and the commitment not to “lend help to foreign fighters”. The measure once again displeases Washington and pushes Afghan President Karzai to declare that his army reserves the right to pursue the Taliban right into the Pakistani borders. Karzai therefore supports American war actions in Pakistani territory, but NATO refuses to follow allies on such slippery ground.

In reality, as Sherpao predicted, on closer inspection there is nothing new. The president has changed, of course, but only that. The economy is falling apart, the terrorists are winning their battle, and it won’t take long for the internal situation to spiral into chaos. And at that point Washington could also support the rise of someone who, just like Musharraf, brings the country back to normality and respect for public order, legality and, above all, international agreements.

Pakistan - an Alternative to Musharraf