Pack up, Mush

THE move to impeach Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has set off alarm bells in official Washington. At this point, impeachment of Pakistan's self-appointed president and former military dictator is far from certain.

By Eric S. Margolis (American Angle)

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Published: Mon 11 Aug 2008, 10:08 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:12 PM

Removing a president through parliamentary impeachment is unprecedented in Pakistan's history, and fraught with legal and political uncertainties. Impeachment requires a two-thirds vote of the joint houses of parliament. Claims by the democratic coalition that it has the required 295 votes seem overtly optimistic.

The beleaguered Musharraf still has a few weeks to continue trying to undermine the shaky anti-Musharraf coalition of former PM Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League-N and Asif Zardari's Pakistan People's Party.

Zardari resisted for months Sharif's demands that Musharraf be impeached. The PPP leader feared that reinstatement of Pakistan's chief justices purged by Musharraf might reopen corruption charges against him. Washington offered Zardari numerous benefits if he thwarted proceedings against Musharraf. But public pressure finally forced the PPP to give in.

If impeachment does go ahead, President Musharraf has the legal power to dissolve parliament. But he is unlikely to do so without the full backing of Pakistan's military. So far, chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, has kept the military out of politics. Dissolving parliament could plunge Pakistan into chaos when violence is growing in the tribal areas, Northwest Frontier and Balochistan.

If Musharraf falls, the entire US strategy in Afghanistan, to which the US is about to send 10,000 more troops, is in grave jeopardy. Both Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari have expressed varying degrees of opposition to Pakistan's continued role in supporting the US-led occupation of Afghanistan and US attacks into Pakistan's tribal belt, Nawaz strongly, Zardari fitfully. Public opinion in Pakistan is almost totally against the Afghan War.

Without the use of Pakistani ports, supply depots and air bases, the US could not continue its occupation of Afghanistan. All heavy supplies, including fuel and ammunition, are trucked into Afghanistan from Pakistan. US aircraft flying round-the-clock air cover for Western occupation forces rely on Pakistani air bases.

So Washington is desperate to keep faithful sepoy Musharraf in power at all costs. Its Plan A is by increasing the overt and secret payments being funnelled from CIA to Musharraf and his supporters. Officially, the US has provided the Musharraf regime $11 billion since 2001. But secret CIA payments to the president and certain key army officers may be double that amount, or even more.

Musharraf's sole remaining source of power is his ability to hand out stacks of $100 bills to rent loyalty. My sources in Washington say secret payments will not only be increased, but new sums will be used to induce members of parliament to vote against impeachment. The US Embassy in Islamabad, which has been hailing the Musharraf dictatorship as a ‘full democracy,' will lobby intensively to block a vote against Musharraf.

If Plan A fails, then Washington's Plan B is to throw its weight behind Pakistan's military and push the so-far reluctant Gen. Kayani into politics. There is nothing new about this plan. Washington was close to Kayani when he was Musharraf's number two, and has seen him as a replacement for Musharraf for over 18 months. Whether the highly professional Gen. Kayani would go along with Washington's plans for him remains unknown. But proximity to power is a tremendous temptation, one to which previous Pakistani chiefs of staff have given in.

Washington would be very pleased to see the respected Kayani replace the by now totally discredited Musharraf. America has a long tradition of disposing of dictators once they are no longer useful. Musharraf, increasingly isolated and besieged, must be keenly aware of this.

Washington could also live with Asif Zardari, who is considered amenable to US influence and financial rewards. Nawaz, by contrast, is deeply distrusted by the US for being ‘too Islamic' and insufficiently responsive to American interests. Having been humiliated by the Clinton administration in 1999 over the Kargil fighting with India, and then kept from power by the Bush White House, Nawaz is understandably cool on the United States.

The best thing Musharraf could do right now for Pakistan is to pack his bags and go into exile. That would at least partially make up for his disastrous rule and reaffirm Pakistan's democracy.

Eric S Margolis is a veteran US journalist who has reported from the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan for several years

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