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Friday, August 31, 2007

Financial Times Editorial Comment: The scramble for power in Pakistan

Financial Times Editorial Comment: The scramble for power in Pakistan
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: August 30 2007 19:48 | Last updated: August 30 2007 19:48

The logjam created by the current, lingering episode of military rule in Pakistan looks as though it is finally breaking up. A supreme court decision last week authorised the return of Nawaz Sharif, the exiled prime minister deposed in 1999 by General Pervez Musharraf. Benazir Bhutto, a rival former premier-in-exile, is meanwhile close to cutting a deal with the regime to enable her return, to Pakistan and to office. Ms Bhutto’s part of the bargain is to back Gen Musharraf’s continuing as president, but not as army chief of staff.

There is, in all this fevered manoeuvring, a great deal of venal opportunism, as well as an outbreak of pots calling kettles black. All concerned have reached this juncture as the result of a popular backlash against dictatorship in the streets of Pakistan that has forced supine institutions such as the judiciary and parliament to respond.

Therein lies the best and most realistic hope for rescuing Pakistan from a slide into failed statehood, marked by the spread of jihadi extremism under military tutelage.

Gen Musharraf is part of the problem, not the solution, which, furthermore, requires an open contest rather than the stitch-up he is negotiating with Ms Bhutto. Even if he surrenders his army command, if he is selected for a new term as president by the outgoing parliament – with a pro-regime majority from rigged polls in 2002 – he will have no legitimacy and neither will she.

Mr Sharif may actually hold the stronger position in this scramble home from banishment. But he and Ms Bhutto, having both twice made a mess of governing Pakistan, need to show more than a neo-feudal sense of entitlement and an ability to temporise with jihadis and generals if either is to lead Pakistan out of encroaching chaos.

The first need is for new national and provincial assemblies, freely elected. If they select Mr – not General – Musharraf as president, so be it. But they must also reform the constitution to reinstate the powers of parliament and the prime minister absorbed by the general-as-president, as well as the independence of the judiciary. That is already being vigorously asserted by the supreme court, which is the proper body to decide on Ms Bhutto’s return – not Gen Musharraf.

The struggle against Islamist extremism needs the democratic reinvigoration of Pakistan’s institutions. Rule by the generals may look neater. But by parasitically monopolising scarce resources, licensing jihadism in Kashmir and Afghanistan and clinging on to power, they are assisting in the Talibanisition of Pakistan.


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