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Musharraf's Removal Has Not Solved Pakistan's Problems

Sharif (left) and Zardari (center) appear to have widely divergent goals.
Sharif (left) and Zardari (center) appear to have widely divergent goals.
The struggle to remove President Pervez Musharraf from power has finally succeeded, but the problems facing the nuclear state of Pakistan are far from over.

Domestically, at this stage the primary concern is the future of the fragile coalition government formed in the wake of the February 18 parliamentary elections by historic rivals, the Pakistan Muslim League--Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People's Party--Parliamentarians (PPP-P), with the sole objective of ousting the president.

In the days since Musharraf left office, serious disagreements have emerged between those two parties over how to reinstate the judges whose dismissal by the president in November 2007 caused political turmoil.

On August 21, PML-N leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif warned that if they were not reinstated within 24 hours, his party would quit the government. But PPP-P co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, who is a close friend of Chief Justice Hamid Dogar, considers this unacceptable.

The main coalition partners are also deadlocked over the question of who should be Pakistan's next president and whether his powers should be curtailed.

Sharif appears personally uninterested in assuming the presidency, and does not wish it to be more than ceremonial. He has proposed two alternative weak political figures for the post, Baluchistani Pashtun Nationalist political leader Mahmud Achakzai and Baluch Nationalist figure Ataullah Mingal.

Zardari, by contrast, has made no secret of his own presidential ambitions, with most of Musharraf's powers preserved. It is therefore unlikely that Zardari would agree to Sharif's condition.

Musharraf's own future poses a further problem about which the two parties may have difficulty reaching consensus. Sharif, whom Musharraf toppled from the premiership in 1999 and later persecuted, sentenced, and exiled, wants Musharraf prosecuted. Zardari, however, advocates a softer approach, primarily because Musharraf turned a blind eye to court rulings suspending charges of corruption against Zardari, some of which dated back to the period of Sharif's premiership.

At the same time, smaller coalition partners like the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) are demanding that the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) be renamed Pashtun-Khuwa, (Land of Pashtuns). They also want the right to choose the governor of the province.

The religious party of Jamiyat Ulema Islam (JUI) -- the leader of which, Mevlana Fazlur-Rahman, is known to have a close relationship with the Taliban -- demands that the governorship of the Baluchistan province be given to JUI and a change in Pakistan's strategy in the "war on terror."

It is no secret that since the coalition government came to power, political clashes between it and the presidency have negatively affected the economy. Investors are pulling out of the country, the Pakistani rupee is weakening, and exports are slowing. The stock market has plunged more than 30 percent since April, a serious downturn for what was among last year's best-performing Asian markets. The government is also straining under the weight of fuel subsidies, inflation is running at around 24 percent, unemployment is rising, and energy blackouts are daily occurrences, while the coalition partners remain locked in internal political bargaining.

The poorly performing coalition partners have also failed to deal with insurgents, while the government has almost lost control over the tribal areas and Baluchistan. Suicide attacks have become daily occurrences, even in previously safe cities such as Lahore and Karachi, and the Kashmir conflict is heating up after several years of relative peace.

Against this backdrop, the continuing intense arguments over Musharraf's future, the reinstatement of judges, and the political powers of the next president only serve to compound popular dissatisfaction with a government that was unpopular. The issue of most concern to the international community -- the uprising of insurgents -- is nowhere on the coalition's agenda; nor does the coalition have a common approach to dealing with it.

Meanwhile, the human cost of the conflict is sobering. Fighting during the last 10 days alone has claimed some 400 lives, while more than 100,000 people have been internally displaced and thousands forced to seek security even in war-torn Afghanistan.

It is necessary, therefore, for Pakistani politicians to think beyond Musharref's future. They have more important things to do than settle old scores, and should instead concentrate on the two most pressing issues facing the country: how to win the fight against extremism, and, crucially, since financial hardship is the main factor feeding extremism, how to control galloping inflation and unemployment and reenergize the economy.

Muhammad Tahir, a broadcaster with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, was a correspondent for the Turkish Television News Agency (IHA) in South Asia from 1999 to 2002. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL