Musharraf Agrees to a Change of Clothes

It looks like Pervez Musharraf is planning to step down as army chief before the upcoming elections in Pakistan. He’s also going to allow former leaders who have corruption charges hanging over their heads — namely Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif — to return and context in those elections.

Today, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Pakistan’s minister for railways, said at a news conference: “There is no more uniform issue. It has been settled and the president will make an announcement.” The news conference was reported by the state-run news agency reported.

Sheikh Mansoor Ahmed, the deputy secretary general of Ms. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples’ Party, said he believed that the agreement had been made. ”My personal information is that President Musharraf has agreed to take off his military uniform before the presidential elections,” he said. “An announcement in this regard will be made very soon. Within the next 72 hours, everything will be clear.”

In an apparent confirmation, Ms Bhutto told the independent Aaj television channel: “Eighty to ninety percent of the issues have been settled. Ten to 20 percent have yet to be decided,”

“Some matters relating to a balance of power between the parliament and presidency are still pending,” Ms Bhutto said in the television interview. (link)

Obviously, this story could change dramatically in the next few days as the details are announced. There will then probably be another gap to see if Musharraf really does what he promises, and then again as we watch and see how the elections go. In the meanwhile, it’s never too early to start gossiping and speculating wildly. Here are my early, completely wild speculations:

1) This agreement could easily fall apart. The language in these early reports is very sketchy. Wait until it comes out of the horse’s mouth directly.

2) Or perhaps, the agreement is for real. Musharraf realizes that neither Sharif nor Bhutto are likely to beat him in an open election, especially if he pits one against the other and the opposition parties are divided. By seeming to give away power, he stands to gain the stamp of democratic respectability on the world stage. That would mean at least five more years in power, and no more whining from Benazir Bhutto about this and that.

3) The agreement is for real, but it might not be as good as it sounds; small matters such as the balance of power between the parliament and the presidency might not be so small. If he throws in a “nuclear” option, the idea of “power sharing” might turn out to be merely a tease.

4) Musharraf has a very friendly cousin who can step in to run the army. The name will be announced the day after elections are held.

5) He’s giving up the uniform, but his business suit is khaki-colored and comes with a gun holster. It’s also made of 100% kevlar, and in large block print on the back it says, “IFTIKAR CHAUDHURY CAN BITE ME.”

Feel free to add your own reasoned analysis and/or wild speculations as to what it means.

23 thoughts on “Musharraf Agrees to a Change of Clothes

  1. Bringing in Nawaz Sharif makes him look good. Sharif was strengthening Sharia prior to his departure and in a recent interview with BBC in London was evasive when asked if he would continue where he left off if returned to power. So now we get the fundamentalist, albeit one with designs that don’t go beyond India & Afghanistan, that we were promised if Musharaff were to restore democracy.

  2. My wild speculation ( before this article came out ) was: - Sooner or later,Benazir would be installed as the puppet Premier.Nawaz Sharif not so much because of his past animus with Mush

    -Mush would continue to wield the power behind the throne.I expected him to give up the Presidency and not the role of Army Chief

    • Benazir would agree in return for having all charges against her husband dropped
    • This would have quelled any move to criticize him as a military ruler + would have ensure continued US support

    Guess I was off – or maybe not ! Let’s see …

  3. the likely winner is going to be……..nawaz sharif. mushy cannot play benazir and sharif against each other, since he so publicly has made an alliance with lady bhutto. as a matter of fact, sharif is already portraying himself as the true democrat, by claiming that, he did not comprimise with the [much disliked in pakistan] dicktator.

  4. Are there any examples in history where a military dictator yielded power to his opponents partially and peacefully?

    There were tensions/fights between civilian President and PM in 90s. So chances of this arrangement succeeding are very low.

  5. comprimise with the [much disliked in pakistan] dicktator

    anecdote, is he universally disliked by all Pakistanis, or more by the fundamentalists? Just wondering.

  6. amit, according to some polls, majority of pakistanis disapprove of mushy. now it is for you to deduce, whether the majority is fundamentalist or not. p.s. in my book, a monotheist is a fundamentalist.

  7. amit, according to some polls, majority of pakistanis disapprove of mushy.

    Amit, I would be curious to know which polls you’re referring to.

  8. Anecdote, thanks, I hadn’t seen that poll. It’s not that recent, but the sample size is good, and the numbers seem solid.

    Again, this is just speculation, but I have a feeling that the numbers may shift once Sharif and Bhutto return — and people start to remember how bad both leaders were during their time in office! The sense of frustration with Musharraf will also go down now that he’s taking off the uniform.

  9. no more whining from Benazir Bhutto about this and that.

    i doubt that will ever happen in the long-run, unless she stays in power until she dies. i swear she has the entire tv and print media on speed-dial – i don’t even know why they think she’s such a reliable source on current pakistani politics – anything she says clearly has a self-serving political motive behind it.

    i don’t have enough detailed knowledge about pakistani politics to comment on the predictions, but i’m very interested to see how this whole thing plays out. amardeep, thanks for posting on this developing situation.

  10. that’s right, amardeep–folks may be tired of musharraf, but they’re not so impressed with the bb/nawaz alternatives, either. the shame of all this is no new leadership has ever been cultivated or nurtured, and neither bb nor nawaz is willing to let go. re: your point #4: well, there are some promotions/retirements expected in the army’s upper echelons in the coming weeks.

  11. amardeep -”… and people start to remember how bad both leaders were during their time in office!”

    if only the sub-continent remembered!

  12. Musharraf realizes that neither Sharif nor Bhutto are likely to beat him in an open election, especially if he pits one against the other and the opposition parties are divided.

    i think this is the most right on prediction of all. from me talking to pakistani friends, they love musharraf. but just don’t want another fidel wannabe as their leader.

    i think musharraf realizes so and,

    he stands to gain the stamp of democratic respectability on the world stage
  13. I think Benazir has damaged herself very badly by being seen to negotiate with Musharraf, and so openly at that. If the NYT can print that the ISI chief Gen Kiyani is himself involved in the negotiations, you can bet her opponents will use it to claim that she is now a complete puppet, and what is more, that will probably be both credible and true. She will also have had Musharraf drop the corruption cases against her, and that will damn her further, perhaps compromise her irretrievably in the eyes of the public. She will be helped, on the other hand, by the fact that Aitzaz Ahsan, who acted as the lawyer for Chief Justice Chaudhry, in the case arising from the ‘reference’ issue and emerged with enhanced public stature – is in her party, the Pakistan People’s Party.

    Sharif looks good (literally, with a new toupe) for being seen as having stood up to Mushy. The sad fact is, however, that both he and BB will be controlled by the ISI, if either makes it back. It’s all a bit too much, for the country’s intelligence agency to literally be kingmaker like this. And whether it’s a puppet government by a mafia of feudal barons or a mafia of industrial robber barons – that’s the choice Pakistanis will have, while the military and the ISI continue to be the puppet masters.

  14. Chachaji, you appear to have a case of blame-the-ISI-for-everything-itis. But anyway:

    Sharif looks good (literally, with a new toupe).

    I thought the same thing. In fact, he looks a little like Al Gore in some of the pictures.

  15. I wonder when and under what circumstanbces Zia Ul Haq gave up his uniform? I was a kid in the 80s growing up in India and never recall seeing him in military uniform. It would be interesting to draw parallels between Zia’s reign and that of and Musharaff’s… Let’s see… Zia had the Soviets, Musharaff has Al Qaeda. Zia hanged Bhutto, Musharaff banished Sharif and Benazir. Zia held a referendum, as did Musharraf.. to legitimize themselves. Zia appointed Junejo as the puppet PM, Musharaff appointed Jamali. I’m sure the constitutional machinations were similar but don’t know enough about these in either era.

  16. General Zia-ul-Haq often was seen in full military uniform, even after 1984 referendrum.

    So it seems… he never had to give it up. So has the law changed now that they’re saying he can’t be president and be in uniform? If Zia appeared in uniform, presumably he was still army chief?

  17. There may have been a change in the law about whether Army chiefs can be President, but the main thing is the need for legitimacy. I think Musharraf himself feels the need for it at a personal level more than Zia ever did. And, mainly from that feeling, he had promised to retire from the Army at the end of 2004, while continuing in his current term as President. Then he ‘changed his mind’, and continued in both offices. However, while Zia was Army chief, the Pakistan Army had just one 4-star general, Zia himself. Now the Pakistan Army has 3 generals of 4-star rank, including Musharraf and the two Generals Ahsan and Ehsan. The day-to-day Army stuff is handled by these two generals.

    So the impetus for Musharraf to retire from the Army comes mainly from the imperative of ‘keeping his word’. But don’t expect things to change too much just because he retires from the Army, the influence of the Army on Pakistan is very deep, and in some ways, he is only its most visible face.

    There is one complication, though. As the Pakistan Constitution currently stands – he can’t run for public office within two years of retiring. Yet, somehow, perhaps from what was called the ‘Legal Framework Order’, a ruling from the Supreme Court allowed him to be President while he was Army Chief. So ‘one way out’ would be for him to get himself elected President (the propriety of an election whose results are known beforehand seems occasionally lost on the people who suggest this) and then immediately resign as Army Chief, and continue as President.

    On a different note – and to correct the impression I left in my earlier comment regarding Aitzaz Ahsan and BB – they appear to be moving apart – he expressed himself on BBC Urdu last night against the idea of any deal with Musharraf, and when BB was asked to react to it today by the same outlet – she said she was making the deal ‘for democracy’, not for herself, and that she enjoyed the support of her party, while anyone who disagreed was free to go their own way!

  18. Every time I hear about this, I shudder at the thought of one of those incompetent, corrupt, self-serving, slimy, thieving assholes coming back into power. I’m going to vote for Imran Khan.