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User Name: Aqil_Sajjad
Full Name: Aqil Sajjad
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Musharraf-Benazir plan was to keep Sharifs away: ex-UK envoy
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
By Aamir Ghauri
LONDON: True that Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif have been disqualified by a controversial Supreme Court decision but there are possibilities that the
script for their political elimination was written outside Pakistan.
And one of the reasons could be their public perception as rightist politicians opposed to the American designs for South Asia. Evidence is increasingly
available in the Western writings that Washington and London “induced” former president Parvez Musharraf to facilitate the return of Benazir Bhutto in
2007 after spending over a year in secret diplomacy.
But more important part of the US-UK plan was to make sure Nawaz Sharif did not return
to Pakistan lest he jeopardised the ascendancy of Bhutto to power.
Writing in the latest edition of Survival, the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ bimonthly magazine, former British high commissioner to Pakistan
Hilary Synnott revealed that the American and British governments were concerned to protect their interests in Afghanistan and in countering terrorism,
especially after Musharraf sacked his chief justice in March 2007 and suspended some 60 judges.
“The ensuing militant protests by the judiciary, being neither religious nor party political activists, introduced a new and unusual dimension to the political
crisis. “When Musharraf rashly declared a state of emergency on 3 November, it became clear that his days are numbered.”
The US and the UK, according to Synnott hoped they could still promote democracy whilemaintaining Musharraf in power and that was why both Musharraf and
Bhutto were encouraged to come to an accommodation despite their deep mutual antipathy.
“Musharraf was induced to arrange for the criminal charges against Bhutto and her husband to be dropped so as to allow her to lead her Pakistan People’s
Party (PPP) in the general elections due in late 2007.
The plan was that, with the aid of the so-called “king’s party” (Pakistan Muslim League-Q), which backed Musharraf, the PPP would assume the prime ministership
while Musharraf remained as president, having first stood down as chief of army staff.
“Sharif, however, would not be allowed to return to Pakistan from his forced exile in Saudi Arabia, which would severely disadvantage his Pakistan Muslim
League-N, Pakistanís only other significant national political party, which might otherwise threaten Bhuttoís ascendancy.”
In his essay “What is happening in Pakistan”, the former British envoy analysed that Pakistan could experience more violence and disorder unless greater
attention was paid to its challenges but “it is unlikely that the country is on the brink of state failure”.
His reasons for optimism lie in relatively stable areas including the Punjab, which have weathered many storms in the past and are unlikely to disintegrate
into chaos.
But diplomatic sources are concerned that the present Zardari-Sharif episode can turn ugly in coming days when the lawyers march towards Islamabad with
overt support from Sharif loyalists.
But analysts like Hilary Synnott were ready for such eventualities even before the Pakistanís apex court saw the Sharifs as unfit to partake in electoral
His pre-Supreme Court decision advice for Pakistanís international friends was to avoid prescribing solutions to the mess the country is getting into. “In
the light of past experience, the friends of Pakistan would do well not to be too prescriptive in dealing with Pakistan’s complex political scene.
If Zardari’s political star will fall, the current working assumption is that his leadership, in some form or other, would be replaced by that of Nawaz
The former diplomat reasons that Nawaz Sharif of 2009 could be different from the one Pakistan experienced in the 1990s. “In view of the failings of Sharif’s
previous leadership, there are grounds for concern. Responding to popular sentiment, he may be expected to be cautious about alignment with the United
States and, as in the past, have closer relationship with religious groupings than does the centre-left PPP. Nor can there be any certainty that he has
learned from the mistakes of the past.
“But that is equally true of Zardari, about whom there are grounds for concern. For all his past and possibly present shortcomings, Sharif is no revolutionary
and may be expected to adopt a pragmatic approach. His stated priorities for the issues, which need attention and reform, exhibit a clearer focus that
in the past and offer some hope that his leadership would extend beyond mere politicking and the maximisation of power.”
The various talks on Pakistan in London’s elite think tanks do not miss mentioning that Zardari and Sharif would find it hard to work together. Synnott
also recognised. “It is too tempting to hope that the two leaders might come to recognise that the seriousness of the challenges Pakistan now faces call
for them to work round their differences.
“Even if they proved unable to re-form a coalition, it could be hugely beneficial if they were to cooperate over issues on which they have a broad measure
of agreement and make use of the totality of the talent and experience, which exists within their respective parties.
“It would indeed be a mark of statesmanship if each were to give the lie to the general assumption that Islamabad is not big enough for both of them.”
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