Musharraf said on Verge of Resigning

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will likely resign before Monday.

Musharraf could only have stayed in power in one of three ways. He would have had to be able to block a 2/3s impeachment vote against him in the senate, where his Muslim League (Q) still holds a plurality of seats. Or he would have had to be able to convince the military to declare martial law. Or he would have had to get Bush to intervene somehow.

But the Muslim League (Q) senators and MPs have deserted Musharraf in droves since it became clear that substantial documentation would come out on his corrupt and repressive actions in the course of his impeachment. The provincial assemblies have been passing resolutions against him one by one. He obviously will be impeached if the proceedings go forward beginning Monday.

The officers are said to have refused to intervene on his behalf. A long period of military dictatorship is actually well known in history to worry professional officers, since it promotes corruption, diverts the army’s energies into the civil bureaucracy, and makes it a less disciplined and effective force. (It also comes to be blamed for all the country’s problems by the public). Given the challenges the military faces in the tribal areas, and with Kashmir heating up, the officer corps has enough ot its plate and seems to be willing to let the civilian politicians take back over politics. (Similar developments occurred in 1988 when Gen. Zia ul-Haq died in a mysterious airplane crash, ushering in a decade of civilian rule).

As for Bush, well, he is said not to be taking Musharraf’s calls. After making such a big deal about democratization in the Muslim world, he can hardly intervene to overturn the proceedings of an elected parliament on behalf of a military dictator.

Musharraf seems to have therefore decided to bargain his resignation for immunity from further prosecution and for permission to reside in the country rather than being forced into exile abroad.

Musharraf, who came to power in a military coup in 1999, had been strongly backed by US VP Richard Bruce Cheney and by George W. Bush, as a key ally in “the war on terror.” This despite Musharraf having supported the Taliban in 1999, having cancelled a plan for Pakistani special ops forces to go in and get Bin Laden in Afghanistan, and having taken his country to the brink of nuclear war with India. A dictator who will say the right things and make sure key policies are implemented can be forgiven a multitude of other sins by Washington, apparently.

Musharraf began his current troubles in spring of 2007, when he arbitrarily dismissed the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Pakistan’s legal establishment and the middle classes fought back with demonstrations. He dismissed the entire supreme court last November on learning that it would likely bar him from being elected president because, contrary to the constitution, he had not resigned from the military. The Bush administration feared that Musharraf might provoke an Iran style revolution, and sent out opposition leader Benazir Bhutto to become his prime minister. Musharraf threatened her security if she became too outspoken against him. She was assassinated in late December, shaking the entire country and further undermining confidence in Musharraf. (He went from a 60% approval rating in polls to 25 percent in the course of 2007, as I remember). Nawaz Sharif, the PM he had deposed, also came back to lead his branch of the Muslim League, and was determined to see Musharraf removed.

Musharraf lost the parliamentary elections of February, 2008, big time. The Pakistan People’s Party and the Muslim League (N) were able to put together a supermajority with two thirds of the seats (along with small allies) in the lower house. Musharraf also lost all three most populous provinces.

Musharraf had been forced to step down as military chief of staff in order to have any credibility as president at all, but that step deprived him of a key power base. His successor as chief of staff, Ashfaq Kiyani, had been military secretary to Benazir Bhutto and seems to have correct relations with the left of center, secular PPP.

Aljazeera International reports on the immediate background of the current speculation.