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Pakistani President's Resignation Raises New Questions

Can Nawaz Sharif (left) and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari get along without a common foe?
Can Nawaz Sharif (left) and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari get along without a common foe?
After nine tumultuous years in power, 64-year-old former commando General Pervez Musharraf has resigned as president instead of battling an impeachment process in parliament.

It is not clear whether Musharraf resigned as part a deal with the ruling coalition or whether he resigned as a result of mounting domestic political pressure.

International and Pakistani media have speculated for many days that Saudi Arabia and some Western countries were brokering a deal between Musharraf and the ruling coalition, whereby Musharraf would be granted immunity from prosecution in return for his resignation. There were also reports that he may go into exile.

But author and journalist Ahmed Rashid says that Musharraf's fate is unclear. He says that although Musharraf has indicated he wants to stay in the country, the major coalition party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), would like to see him in exile so he doesn't become a center of opposition to the government.

Rashid says no country seems willing to welcome him into exile, as thus far the United States, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and some Persian Gulf states have indicated an unwillingness to allow him to live on their territory.

Although Musharraf's resignation resolved one political problem, it has created many others, Rashid says. He says that there is disagreement between the two parties in the coalition government, and that former Prime Minister and diehard Musharraf foe Nawaz Sharif "wants a much tougher punishment for Musharraf, which the [Pakistan] People's Party is trying to avoid." Rashid says there is also some disagreement over the next president.

Disputes On Fighting Terrorism

"There is also continuing disagreement over the war on terror and how to pursue it, especially with the militant factions expanding in Pakistan," Rashid continues.

"So the first dispute is going to be between the coalition partners. The second dispute is really going to be between the army and the civilian government," he adds. "The army will want to have a say in all these issues. Thirdly, it will be very important to see that the public demand that the government become more effective is met by the government. How the government manages to achieve that, we don't yet know."

Pakistan's new government under Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani took power in March and quickly announced a new approach to fighting terrorists. The three-pronged strategy consists of negotiating with militants; economic development and political reform in the border areas; and maintaining a military deterrent against those insurgents deemed irreconcilable. But that moderate policy has thus far delivered little, and was followed by an upsurge attacks by the insurgents.

A peace deal with the Taliban in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) ultimately failed, and ongoing clashes between the Taliban and the Pakistani military in the NWFP and tribal areas are resulting in an accelerating humanitarian crisis as the fighting has reportedly displaced some 250,000 civilians.

Afghanistan, India, the United States, and NATO continue to blame a spike in Taliban attacks inside Afghanistan and recent bombings in India on the prevalence of safe havens in Pakistan for the militants.

Rashid says that for a comprehensive antiterror strategy to work, Pakistan's powerful military and the civilian government need to coordinate "and really talk from the same page" so that they have a strategic understanding about how to deal with the insurgency on their border with Afghanistan.

"Now the American pressure on the civilian government to get tough with the Taliban and with terrorists is going to be much harsher, much sharper," Rashid says.

"And the American government is going to expect that its support to the civilian government [in getting rid] of Musharraf is now rewarded by a more firm policy by the civilian government [toward] the extremists. And that the army and the civilian government work much more closely together. [But] there is serious doubt if that is really going to be achievable in the short term."

Rashid added that continued disagreements between the coalition parties in Pakistan's government might result in a splitting of the ruling coalition in the near future.

He says that a rift between the military and the civilian leadership is expected to continue as the military is unlikely to trust India, which it views as undermining Pakistani interests in Kashmir and Afghanistan. But the government is likely to want a more flexible and friendly approach toward India.

"Afghanistan is also an area where both the army and the civilian government don't see eye to eye," Rashid says. He says the government's recent attempt to bring the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency under civilian control "backfired very badly." And Western accusations that some ISI leaders aid and abet militant insurgents continue. "The army is very defensive of the ISI [while] the civilian government is very critical of the ISI. So, again, on both these fronts it's going to be a very long haul before the army and the civilian government really come together and work together."

The critical question for the mostly jubilant Pakistani public celebrating Musharraf's ouster is whether the country's political and military leadership will be capable of steering this volatile, nuclear-weapon-armed country of 160 million people clear of the myriad security, political, and economic challenges that Pakistan is steeped in.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.