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18 July 2024

Pakistan parliament set for Musharraf showdown

By Agencies


Pakistan's new parliament is set for a bruising confrontation with President Pervez Musharraf when it meets on Monday after the key US ally's supporters lost heavily in elections, analysts say.

Musharraf's political future will be left hanging in the balance when a hostile coalition government led by slain opposition leader Benazir Bhuto's party and the grouping of former premier Nawaz Sharif takes over.

But the former commando, who is the linchpin in Washington's "war on terror" against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, appears to be ready to fight for his grip on power over the nuclear-armed nation, analysts said.

"Parliament will meet amid fears of a confrontation between Musharraf and the parliament because Musharraf appears determined to hold on to power at any cost," political analyst Hasan Askari said.

"The political situation is uncertain," Askari, who is teaching at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC, told AFP.

Pakistan is reeling from a series of attacks by Islamic militants, including a bombing at a restaurant in the capital Islamabad on Saturday that killed a Turkish woman and wounded at least 10 foreigners.

But the biggest threat facing Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup in 1999, is the vow by the Bhutto and Sharif parties to restore some 60 judges whom Musharraf sacked in November under a state of emergency.

Musharraf deposed his arch-foe, chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, and the rest of the judiciary to ward off legal challenges to his re-election as president by the outgoing loyalist parliament in October.

But if the judges are restored, the Supreme Court could overturn Musharraf's re-election -- leaving him high and dry.

Musharraf's popularity has slumped in recent opinion polls and his power has been weakened by his resignation as army chief in November. His successor as military supremo has vowed to keep the army out of politics.

Another bone of contention is the coalition parties' declared intention to scrap presidential powers to dissolve parliament and to undo a raft of other amendments that Musharraf had inserted into the country's constitution.

Meanwhile, Sharif, the man Musharraf ousted in 1999, has hinted that parliament could pursue impeachment of the president.

Political analyst and newspaper columnist Shafqat Mahmood said Musharraf would find it almost impossible to weather the storm and would be out of office within months.

"In the end he will lose and will have to go," he said.

But other analysts predicted a messy transition with Musharraf pulling out all the stops to retain power.

"Musharraf will be a nuisance, an interventionist and hang heavily over the parliament as a threat," said Rasul Baksh Rais, a political scientist at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

But Mahmood said Musharraf would try to create a split in Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party -- which is now headed by her widower, Asif Ali Zardari -- by fuelling a dispute over who will be the next prime minister.

Bhutto loyalist and PPP vice-president Makhdoom Amin Fahim looked a shoo-in for the job, but party officials say Zardari now wants the post himself -- a development that could prey on fissures in the party.

"His hope is that the political leaders would not be able to hold together and that his loyalists would further fragment them, thereby compromising their capacity to pressure Musharraf," Hasan Askari said.

In the end, Rais said Musharraf's best course was for a graceful exit since he "has no chance to survive a confrontation with an assertive parliament, especially after taking off the army uniform that he once called his second skin."

"The people and political parties want to reclaim sovereignty of the parliament," he added. (AFP)