Monday, 19 November 2007

Bibi, Kayani, Sharif, Mush and Bush: Round and Round They Go...

Over the weekend the recently engineered deal between Musharraf and Bhutto seemed to fall apart - apparently because Bhutto had taken to gleeful grandstanding while the anti-Emergency agitation was at its peak. Musharraf, a man with a legendary stubborn streak that does not respond well to pressure tactics, shoved right back. The deal brokered by the United States in an attempt to engineer a political solution to Musharraf's domestic woes and counter internal criticism that the Bush government was pandering to dictators while touting its "freedom agenda" elsewhere in the Muslim world was apparently under threat of collapsing altogether.

But it was essential to cobble some kind of deal together. Hence, the following sequence of events...

13th Nov: General Kayani's name starts being dropped in the American press as "a man widely admired within the Pakistani military and by members of Pakistani civil society." I'm not certain which members of Pakistani civil society they are talking about.

14th Nov: An article in the NYT, citing unnamed administration officials, says that the United States is looking at other options in Pakistan. The article not so casually name drops General Kayani.

14th Nov (Night-time) : Musharraf immediately amends the PCO to remove the power to lift the Emergency from the post of Military chief to that of President. It looks like transferring power from himself to himself. But it highlights and suggests a fear of the next Military Chief (Kayani) when he himself retires and becomes a civilian President.

15th Nov: State Department says that Negroponte will be going to Pakistan to "get Pakistan back on the road to constitutional democratic rule."

15th Nov (Night-time): The detention order for house-arrest of Benazir Bhutto is lifted hours before Negroponte arrives.

15th Nov: Analysts debate whether the United States is actually switching to support Kayani, or whether these leaks are orchestrated by the anti-Musharaf group in the Republican administration that has formed around Zalmay Khalizdad, trying to build pressure on the Bush administration to stop supporting Musharraf and switch to another power configuration in Pakistan.

16th Nov: Negroponte arrives in Pakistan for talks. He shuttles between various officials, meeting Musharraf and Kayani (twice) and talks to Benazir Bhutto as well.

16th Nov (Night-time): Nawaz Sharif calls on BB to "clarify her position" with regards to talks with Musharraf.

17th Nov: After a meeting with Negroponte, Musharraf agrees that all parties will be able to take part in elections, but that the Emergency will have to stay for the time being. Afterwards he flies to Karachi. Rumours of a prospective meeting between BB and Negroponte are dashed when BB also leaves for Karachi. Negroponte ignores a request for a meeting with lawyers.

17th or 18th Nov: Musharraf meets Benazir on Saturday night or Sunday.

18th Nov: Negroponte issues a statement from Pakistan calling for: elections, removal of uniform, release of political detainees and lifting of curbs on the media. No mention of the judiciary. In a pointed remark to BB, he calls for an end to political 'brinkmanship'.

18th Nov: Benazir gives an interview to CNN where she softens her stance and states that Musharraf is an honest man, and that she is 'waiting for' Musharraf to respond to Negroponte's message from Washington. She also says she was 'satisfied' by the U.S.'s message to Musharraf.

18th Nov: After the announcement that Musharraf intends to visit Saudi Arabia, speculation is rife that Nawaz Sharif may finally be willing to meet with Musharraf, something he apparently has refused to do previously.

19th Nov: In an article in the LA Times that boldly states that Musharraf resisted U.S. calls to end the Emergency is buried this little statement: "U.S. officials in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity out of deference to Negroponte's diplomatic efforts, said that although Musharraf didn't make any commitments Saturday, they believed he might in time yield."

19th Nov: Supreme Court kicks out 5 of 6 challenges to Musharraf's election as President. The case filed by the PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim is withdrawn voluntarily, underlining the de-escalation in the war of words between Bhutto and Musharraf.

And so the road to Musharraf's assuming the Presidency, removing his uniform, and reforming some kind of modus operandi with the PPP has been cleared, thanks to the efforts of the United States. What's interesting is that in an interview with a reporter for the Sunday Times, Musharraf's Attorney General had also threatened to revoke the NRO that granted Bhutto immunity from corruption charges. This was, obviously, reported on Sunday (18th Nov) but the article doesn't specify when in the previous week he made this threat. I'm guessing around the 15th, when BB was still in captivity.

Whats interesting is that in the same article, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain claims that the immunity for Bhutto is a ploy to divide the opposition. I reckon the PML(Q) will continue to campaign on an anti-Bhutto agenda, presenting her as a depraved, corrupt agent of America (not far wrong), out to destroy Islam and Pakistan, with the only hope being the PML(Q). Having said that, if Nawaz were to return, that would be a serious blow to the PML(Q). Much of Punjab is united in its dislike of Bhutto, but in a fair fight, the PML(N) may still give Q a run for its money.

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