Deal Struck For Government In Pakistan

Deal struck for Government in Pakistan?

Rumors are swirling in the Pakistani press (“informed sources say . . .”) that a deal has finally been struck under U.S. pressure that will allow the formation of a national unity government including both the Pakistan People’s Party and the Muslim League (QA) along with a number of smaller parties and groups. The PPP’s Amin Fahim would be prime minister, while the Muslim League (QA)’s Zafaru’llah Jamali would be Speaker of the House.

This arrangement would keep the fundamentalist United Action Council (MMA) out of power at the center (it controls the Northwest Frontier Province provincial government). The PPP had earlier been threatening to make a coalition with the MMA, which might have brought pro-Taliban figure Fazlur Rahman of the Jami`at Ulama Islam in as prime minister of the country (!).

Mayed Ali and Ziaullah Niazi of Jang/ The Nation maintain that the new coalition was announced after US Under Secretary of State Christina Rocca met with PPP leader Benazir Bhutto in Washington early this week, in which she conveyed the strong displeasure of the US with her party’s dalliance with the fundamentalists.

Bhutto clearly wanted a quid pro quo, and apparently part of it will be the release of her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, from prison (he has been in jail several years on corruption and other charges. When his wife was PM they used to call him ‘Mr. Ten Percent’ because he was alleged to take a cut of big gov’t contracts).

My guess is that the quid pro quo won’t stop there. All along, the PPP has wanted a political amnesty for Benazir herself (she is also facing corruption charges), and has wanted to bring her back to the country. It seems to me likely Gen. Musharraf will have to give in on this matter (he has been adamant in rejecting the idea of her return, representing himself as ‘cleaning house’ of the old corrupt civilian leadership).

If it is true that the US intervened, the situation reminds me of how the Italian Parliament used to go through contortions to keep the Communist Party from being in any coalition with the governing party there.

In the end, Musharraf’s attempt to permanently sideline the older, powerful parties such as the PPP has failed, since they appear likely to get the prime ministership. Whether he can retain his power and prerogatives in the face of an elected prime minister from such a party remains to be seen.

I continue to maintain that Musharraf’s high-handed amendments of the constitution last summer and the restrictions he put on campaigning had the effect of damaging the process of return to democracy, not to mention helping the fundamentalists take the Northwest Frontier. A national unity government will be extremely weak, could fall at any moment, and may well come into a fateful confrontation with Musharraf over issues like the fate of Benazir Bhutto.

Still, in the short term at least, the exclusion of the fundamentalists from a key role in the national government is a victory for the US and will help the war on terror continue to be prosecuted vigorously in the badlands and cities of Pakistan. The US, by the way, has also announced a billion dollars in debt relief for Pakistan.

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