The resignation of Gen.(retd) Pervez Musharraf's from the post of the President of Pakistan became effective on the evening of August 18,2008. As per the Constitution, Mohammedmian Soomroo, the Chairman of the Senate, the upper House of the Parliament, will be acting as the President till the new President is elected. The election has to take place within 30 days of Musharraf's resignation.
2. All eyes will now be on the members of the National Assembly, the lower House, who were considered the loyalists of Musharraf. Will they continue to maintain their independent identity or will they go back to their mother parties from which the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) engineered their split before the elections of 2002?
3. The present composition of the National Assembly is as follows:
The Pakistan People's Party of Asif Zardari --- 121 seats.
The Pakistan Muslim League (N) of Nawaz Sharif-- 91
The Pakistan Muslim League (Qaide Azam), who were Musharraf loyalists--- 54 The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which supported Zardari's Party in the Sindh provincial Assembly, but Musharraf in the National Assembly--- 25 The Awami National Party--- 13
The Jamiat-ul- Ulema-e-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rahman---6
The Pakistan Muslim League (Functional) of the Pir of Pagaro-- 5 The Pakistan People's Party of Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao --1
The National People's Party --- 1
The Balochistan National Party (Awami)--- 1
4. If the PML (QA) goes back to the PML (N) from which it was split by the ISI in 2002, the two PMLs together will have a total of 145 seats. They may also be able to count on the support of the five members from the PML (F), thus making a total of 150 seats in the Assembly with a total strength of 336 seats. If Zardari, who already enjoys the support of the Awami National Party and Fazlur Rahman's party and other one-seat parties, manages to win the support of the MQM and all the 18 independents, he will have the support of 186 members. Thus numerically, Zardari and his PPP will continue to be in a strong position. However, this could change if the MQM takes an independent position and all the independents do not support him.
5. The question of the reinstatement of the former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury and other Judges sacked by Musharraf last year for refusing to take a new oath after he imposed a State of Emergency will be tricky. Previously, Nawaz Sharif was insisting on the reinstatement of all of them through an executive order whereas Zardari wanted the Constitution to be amended to achieve this objective.He wanted the amendment for two reasons. Firstly, he did not want the Chief Justice and other Judges appointed by Musharraf after sacking Chaudhury and others to lose their jobs. Second, he wanted to re-fix the tenure of the Chief Justice in such a manner that shortly after being reinstated as the Chief Justice to vindicate his honour, Chaudhury will retire. Neither Benazir nor Zardari liked Chaudhury because they felt he might overthrow the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) issued by Musharraf under which the criminal cases pending against them were withdrawn to enable them to return to Pakistan and resume their political activities.
6. When he was the Chief Justice before being sacked by Musharraf for the first time in March,2007, Chaudhury had started emulating the Indian judiciary by encouraging what in India has come to be known as public interest litigation---- that is entertainment of petitions from private individuals on matters of public interest and enquiring into them. It was his entertainment of a petition on the large number of missing persons picked up by the intelligence agencies as Al Qaeda suspects and handed over to the US informally for interrogation without following the due process of the law, which caused the initial break between him and Musharraf and uneasiness in the US. Fears that he might set aside the re-election of Musharraf as the President while holding charge as the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) made Musharraf impose the State of Emergency and sack him for a second time after having reinstated him under the pressure of the lawyers' community. Zardari's fears that Chaudhury might entrtain a petition against the NRO is responsible for his lack of enthusiam for his reinstatement. Even today, neither Zardari nor the US is comfortable with the idea of his reinstatement.
7. Nawaz was insisting on his immediate reinstatement through an executive order in the hope that he would entertain a petition on the re-election of Musharraf and declare it unconstitutional. Till a few weeks ago, Nawaz was not confident that an impeachment motion against Musharraf would get the required two-thirds majority. Hence, his repeated insistence on the reinstatement. To delay his reinstatement, Zardari managed to win two-thirds support for the impeachment proposal and forced Musharraf to resign. He will now be hoping that with the resignation of Musharraf ,Nawaz will not attach the same urgency to the reinstatement of Chaudhury.If Nawaz continues to insist on it, fresh friction could arise.
8. Both Zardari and Nawaz have releatedly expressed themselves in favour of abolishing all constitutional amendments introduced by Musharraf through executive orders and restoring the 1973 Constitution introduced under Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto. Under the 1973 Constitution, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto had made the President a figurehead with all powers concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister. Gen.Zia-ul-Haq amended the Constitution through an executive order and inserted a provision enabling the President to dismiss the Prime Minister and dissolve the elected National Assembly. Zia used this provision in 1988 to dismiss Mohammed Khan Junejo, his Prime Minister, and dissolve the National Assembly when Junejo developed differences with Zia over the Afghanistan peace talks then under way in Geneva and over the enquiry into the explosion at the arms storage depot at Ojehri near Islamabad in which the arms and ammunition given by the US for issue to the Afghan Mujahideen were kept. There were allegations that the Army deliberately caused the explosion to destroy the records before the visit of an US inspection team. It was alleged to have done this in order to conceal the issue by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of some of these arms and ammunition meant for use against Afghan and Soviet troops to Khalistani and other terrorists in India.
9. Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who succeeded Zia as the President, used this provision to dismiss Benazir in August 1990 and dissolve the National Assembly. In 1996, Nawaz Sharif, then the leader of the opposition, instigated Farooq Leghari, the then President, to dismiss Benazir and dissolve the Assembly. Leghari, once a close confidante of Benazir, had developed differences with her and Zardari and obliged Nawaz. The PML of Nawaz won a two-thirds majority in the elections that followed. Nawaz used this majority to remove from the Constitution the provision for dismissal. He then forced Leghari to quit and had Mohammad Rafique Tarar, an associate of his father and a member of the Tablighi Jamaat, elected as the President. Musharraf re-introduced the provision in the Constitution.
10. Another amendment introduced by Musharraf, which added to the powers of the President, related to the appointment of a National Security Council (NSC), to be chaired by the President, to discuss and approve national security policies and decisions. He also laid down that the power for the dismissal of the Prime Minister and the dissolution of the Assembly could be exercised by the President only on the recommendation of the NSC. The suggestion for an NSC was first made in a public speech by Gen.Jehangir Karamat, Musharraf's predecessor as the COAS. Nawaz strongly disapproved of his speech and disagreed with the idea. Following this, Karamat took premature retirement and Musharraf succeeded him.
11. Nawaz has been critical of Musharraf's action in introducing the NSC. He has been of the view that all such decisions should be taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security chaired by the Prime Minister and that there was no need for an NSC for this purpose. While Zardari and Nawaz agree on the need to abolish the power of the President to dismiss the Prime Minister and dissolve the National Assembly, there are differences on their approach to the NSC. Zardari wants the NSC mechanism to continue, but under the supervision of the Prime Minister, but Nawaz wants it to be abolished. However, this should not pose an insurmountable obstacle. If the powers of the President over the NSC are transferred to the Prime Minister, Nawaz might reconcile himself to its continued existence.
12. The abolition of the power of the President to dismiss and the removal of the NSC from his control will once again make the Prime Minister the most powerful part of the Executive and reduce the President to being a mere figurehead. Neither Zardari nor Nawaz would like to be just a figurehead. They would be interested more in the powerful post of the Prime Minister.
13. Zardari seems to be contemplating two options----make Yousef Raza Gilani, the present Prime Minister, as the figurehead President and himself (Zardari) take over as the Prime Minister after getting himself elected to the National Assembly or propose one of his nominees as the President. Nawaz is opposed to this and wants that the PPP nominees should not hold both the posts of the President and the Prime Minister.He would have no objection to Gilani taking over as the President, provided he (Nawaz) is made the Prime Minister. To enable him to contest the election to the Assembly, his conviction in 2000 by an anti-terrorism court appointed by Musharraf on a charge of terrorism has to be set aside. For this purpose, he would need the assistance of a reinstated Chief Justice Chaudhury. If he is reinstated, there would thus be the danger of his facilitating the election of Nawaz by setting aside his conviction and coming in the way of Zardari's election by entertaining a petition against the NRO and staying it. If there are irreconcilable differences between Zardari and Nawaz on this issue, there could be a deadlock.
14. The other issue on which there is not yet much convergence between Zardari and Nawaz is over the co-operation with the US in the war against terrorism. Nawaz wants major modifications, if not a complete break, with the policies followed by Musharraf. He does not regard the Taliban as a terrorist organisation. He looks upon it as a national resistance movement like the Afghan Mujahideen of the 1980s. He is, therefore, against any association of Pakistan with the NATO operations in Afghanistan. He wants the use of the Karachi port and Pakistani territory by the NATO forces for the transport of logistic supplies to Afghanistan to be re-considered. He favours continued co-operation with the US against Al Qaeda in the form of intelligence sharing and Pakistani operations in the Pakistani territory on the basis of intelligence given by the US. He is against any joint operations with the US or any unilateral operations by the US in Pakistani territory. He wants a review of the reported presence of a large number of US intelligence personnel in Pakistani territory for collecting intelligence. He is of the view that intelligence collection in Pakistani territory should be done by the Pakistani intelligence agencies. As regards action against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Pakistani organisations in the tribal belt, he holds the view that the nature of these operations should be decided by Pakistan in accordance with its national interests and that there should be no dictation by the US on this issue. Like Musharraf, he does not accept US allegations that Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are based in Pakistani territory. He is totally against the practice of Pakistani agencies informally picking up suspects named by the US and handing them over to the US agencies without following the due process of law. Zardari favours the continuance of the mechanism for co-operation laid down by Musharraf. However, he agrees with Nawaz that the practice of informally picking up suspects named by the US and handing them over to the US should stop. Ultimately, the advice of Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the COAS, as to the co-operation mechanism with the US, which would suit Pakistan's national interests ,will have considerable impact on the changes, if any, to be introduced in the policies inherited from Musharraf.
15. As regards India, both Zardari and Nawaz are agreed on the desirability of gradually delinking th question of promoting bilateral trade from the Kashmir issue. They are also in favour of pushing ahead with the project for the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. They are unlikely to act against the anti-India terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory Terrorist activities in Indian territory, backed by the Inter-Services Intelligence, will continue at the present level. So too the ISI operations against Indian nationals and interests in Afghanistan. Though not immediately, the civilian Government may be amenable to having a second look at Pakistan's present policy of not allowing transit trade to Afghanistan from India through Pakistani territory. A re-organisation of the ISI will be undertaken in order to reduce its role in internal security matters without damaging its capability in external security matters. A greater role for the Intelligence Bureau in internal security matters is likely. The policy of militarisation of the IB introduced by Musharraf will be reversed. A reversion to the past practice of the ISI remaining a largely military organisation and the IB a largely police organisation is likely.
16. This is the second time that Pakistan will be reverting from military to civilian rule since it became a nuclear power. When the first transition took place in 1988 after the election of Benazir, the US Embassy in Islamabad had played an active role in deciding the lines of responsibility in nuclear matters. Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, the then COAS, agreed to her taking over as the Prime Minister only after she agreed that she would have no role in nuclear decision-making which will be totally in the hands of the COAS. Zia was not driven out by a revolt against him. He was killed in a plane crash. The Army was in a strong position then. It was able to dictate matters. Now, the Army will be on the defensive vis-a-vis the political class after the humiliating exit of Musharraf. Will it be able to impose its will in nuclear matters and deny any responsibility to the civilian Prime Minister as Beg did in 1988? What role will the US play? There was no Al Qaeda in 1988. There is now an Al Qaeda looking for nuclear material. The question of effective control over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal has assumed greater importance.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )