Jun 9, 2007

After Musharraf ??

President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf has a crisis on his hands. Since sacking Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in March, opposition to Pakistan’s military president has flared out of control. With protests turning ugly, dozens dead in Karachi, and strikes convulsing the country, many wonder if Musharraf can maintain his grip on power. For this week’s List, FP takes a look at the candidates gunning for control of Pakistan.

Benazir Bhutto

Who is she? Exiled leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and prime minister from 1988 to 1990 and 1993 to 1996.

Why she’ll get the job: She’s the face of civilian politics. Even from exile, Bhutto has been the fiercest critic of Musharraf’s clumsy military rule. More importantly, she remains the vital figure in civilian politics despite years out of the country. If the people of Pakistan decide that now is the time for the government to return to civilian hands, they will turn to Bhutto and the PPP.

Why she won’t: She’s hated by the right people. Bhutto’s two stints as prime minister both ended in acrimony and accusations of all-pervasive corruption. Moreover, conservative forces within the religious establishment and the powerful intelligence services are horrified by the idea of any woman, let alone one as controversial as Bhutto, leading the country. They will go to any lengths—including, but not limited to, throwing the elections—to keep her out of power.

The odds: She’s the top contender. For all her demonstrated failings and unique ability to divide, she has countrywide support and is poised to ride the wave of antimilitary sentiment.

Nawaz Sharif

Who is he? Along with Bhutto, one of the two figures who have monopolized civilian politics for the last decade. As leader of his Pakistan Muslim League party, he served as prime minister between 1990 and 1993 and again from 1997 to 1999. His last term ended miserably, with a forced departure for Saudi Arabia.

Why he’ll get the job: He’s the palatable civilian politician. With bloody protests against military rule, the Army may reconsider its tactics and withdraw to behind-the-scenes power. If so, they’ll want a stooge to handle the day-to-day business of government, freeing up the generals to focus on their core issues of national security, foreign policy, and atomic weapons. Sharif fits the bill perfectly: experienced, inoffensive, and an undemanding ally.

Why he won’t: Tepid support. Sharif’s reputation is no more pristine than that of his rival Bhutto. But where she has fiery charisma and countrywide backing, Sharif’s following is limited to the Punjab region, and he has never been anything more than a competent administrator. Before he made his exit for Saudi Arabia, the Army dragged his reputation through the mud, and his Pakistan Muslim League party tore itself apart.

The odds: Slim. In such turbulent times, it’s unlikely that the high passions ripping through Pakistan will settle on everyone’s second choice. His promotion would lead to further protests and prolong instability.

General Ahsan Saleem Hayat

Who is he? Vice chief of staff of the Army. After President Musharraf, he is Pakistan’s top military official: an important man in a nation where the military is crucial to all things political.

Why he’ll get the job: The chain of command. If the situation in Pakistan escalates, with more deaths and protests, the military will feel obliged to restore order, even if that means moving against Musharraf, one of their own. In that case, the man on point to take over as president will have to come from within the armed forces. Hayat will have no choice but to assume power and take steps to suppress the opposition.

Why he won’t: He’s on his way out. The vice chiefs of staff serve three-year terms, and Hayat began his over 2½ years ago. Musharraf originally scheduled elections for October. They’ve since been indefinitely postponed, and the outgoing parliament will likely elect the next president in any case. And by the time the moment of truth comes around, Hayat’s chance may well have passed.

The odds: Negligible. Assuming he plays by the rules—always questionable in a country where political promises are routinely broken—Hayat will not be able to get within touching distance of the top job.

Pervez Musharraf

Who is he? Army chief of staff and president of Pakistan. Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 and has survived protests about his dual roles ever since.

Why he’ll get the job: Canny politics and foreign support. Musharraf has never been overly concerned by popular opinion, and he knows how to manipulate the political process. He is more than capable of staging elections to defuse tension, and rigging the results to ensure he comes out on top. And with the United States heavily invested in the anti-Taliban campaign raging in Pakistan’s tribal territories, Musharraf will have few problems getting international blessing.

Why he won’t: Military concerns. Musharraf serves at the pleasure of the military. If they decide that Musharraf now creates more security problems than he solves, the armed forces won’t hesitate to oust him as their chief of staff. Theoretically, he would remain as president of the nation. But a president that has been rejected by the military would have decidedly bleak prospects—and Musharraf knows it.

The odds: Very good. Musharraf is in a tight spot—he’s never faced such bitter and determined opposition despite years of domestic and international criticism. Even so, as long as he still dominates civilian and military politics, he’s the man holding the cards.

From : Quantum Information Stream

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