Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Report: Washington Arranged Musharraf-Bhutto Alliance

A civilian president with the power to handle national security and foreign affairs and a prime minister as chief executive is the new Washington and London formula for regime change in Pakistan.

This has been agreed to in principle by President General Pervez Musharraf and former premier Benazir Bhutto, Asia Times Online has confirmed. The arrangement for the United States' key ally in the "war on terror" is intended to lead to a jacking up of the fight against terror with zero tolerance.

Musharraf and Bhutto met last week in the United Arab Emirates - where Bhutto lives in exile - and agreed on the most important issues for a new political setup. This includes lifting a ban on a person serving a third term as premier (Bhutto has served twice - 1988-90 and 1993-96) and allowing her to return to Pakistan without threat of legal action - she faces corruption charges.

After eight years in power since his bloodless military coup in 1999, Musharraf finally appears to have been convinced that the time has come for him to shed his uniform and return the country to a semblance of democratic normalcy. ...

The talks between Musharraf and Bhutto were the result of a prolonged process in which Washington played a pivotal role. Nevertheless, the direct involvement of a British Foreign Office official, who had served in Pakistan, played an important role in resolving some of the terms of the agreement.

The deal has been finalized at a critical juncture of the "war on terror" as Pakistan is under immense pressure to carry out a powerful military assault against al-Qaeda and Taliban bases in Pakistani territory.

New US legislation aims to tie aid for Pakistan to its performance in fighting terrorism. Pakistan has received more than US$10 billion in US aid since 2001. The administration of President George W Bush has also made it clear that it will take matters into its own hands if necessary and conduct its own raids inside Pakistan to tackle militants. ...

Pakistani analysts speculate that Musharraf might appoint the present director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lieutenant-General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kiyani, to replace him as chief of army staff. Musharraf would then become a civilian president. There might be a legal issue here, though. Currently, government servants need a two-year break before they can participate in politics.

Another problem is the army itself. A significant section of the military resents Musharraf for siding with the US in the "war on terror", as this meant initially the severing of ties with the Taliban, whom Pakistan nurtured into power in Afghanistan in 1996. Subsequently, the military has been forced to launch highly unpopular offensives in the tribal areas, and has alienated the jihadist groups it had previously courted. ...

Some doubt ... that the Musharraf-Bhutto tango will work.

"This idea of a civilian president coordinating with a chief of army staff is not possible. Once Musharraf steps down as military chief, no chief of army staff would listen to him," retired Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul, former Multan corps commander and director general of the ISI, told Asia Times Online.

Pakistan might get its regime change - but not exactly as planned in the corridors of power in Washington.


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