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Mother of All Deals

02 August, 2007

By Yasar Khalid


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Benazir Bhutto has already started giving the looks of a Prime Minister. The freshness and shine has returned to her face. Her statements, though extremely confusing indicating little which way she is going, have Prime Minister’s House written all over it. The arrogance of Bhuttos is back. And all this has been possible because she has struck the mother of all deals with General Pervez Musharraf, one politician said.

The fine tuning of the political deal between Musharraf and Bhutto in Abu Dhabi is being kept secret. At least half a dozen different versions of the deal have been reported in the media. The details of the deal, as reported by the media, range from Musharraf doffing his uniform prior to presidential elections to amending the constitution to pave way for Bhutto to return as Prime Minister for a third time. Rashid Qureshi, the presidential spokesman denied the meeting took place, while Bhutto has refused to accept or deny the existence of such an event. Parliamentary affairs minister Sher Afgan confirmed the meeting took place and that Musharraf will quit as the army chief before presidential polls. Railways minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said this was second meeting between the two since January this year and the deal has been finalized with Musharraf’s uniform being a non-issue. Such has been the confusion emanating from Musharraf’s visit to the UAE.

Yet, both the stakeholders, including Bhutto and Musharraf, have avoided to confirm the meeting or existence of the deal, though both sides have accepted indirect contacts between them. Off the record, people close to Bhutto and Musharraf say the meeting did take place with the UAE Sheikhs acting as brokers. What transpired in the meeting, or what deal did they formally agreed to isn’t known. But rumor mills have started churning out several versions of the meeting.

Whatever the fine details of the deal, one thing is clear that Bhutto-Musharraf alliance is the future political scenario of the country. Musharraf needed an exit from the present turbulent times. Bhutto required a return to politics. Both had their own personal interests for which they agreed to move the goal posts and set new rules of the game. The U.S. appears to be the sole and biggest winner in this game of chess, while the Pakistani general public and voters are the biggest losers. The general elections, due in less than six months, are likely to be manipulated again to suit the action plan of the deal. The script has been written again with the lead and supporting roles already been decided. National polls, therefore, like always will be an eye-wash.

For those who claimed that Pakistan’s strong establishment was defeated as a result of restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry have had to eat their words. They had claimed that for the first time in sixty years, the few strong men in Pakistani establishment lost to the people’s power. Little did they realize that the establishment doesn’t accept defeat so easily. It hit back with vengeance scripting a new political drama sans the people and putting in doubt the transparency and fairness of the forthcoming general elections into question. If the deal has already been done, and the post-election power structure has already been formulated, how and who will guarantee the fairness of elections.

The reports of secret talks between Bhutto and Musharraf for a political deal had started appearing in the local and foreign media since the start of 2007. So much so the media had reported that the deal was in final stages at that time. It was delayed because of unforeseen events of such as Chief Justice removal and the Lal Masjid issue. The media at that time carried reports that Musharraf had called Bhutto at least three times and that his aide Tariq Aziz met Bhutto secretly in Dubai. Yet, both the sides do not have the moral courage to admit that the deal is done or not done. They are only admitting to having contacts at lower levels. One source close to Musharraf said that the president was extremely disappointed at the ruling party Pakistan Muslim League (Q), which he believed had failed to deliver in testing times and its leadership did not support the president’s camp on Chief Justice and Lal Masjid issue. Musharraf, after losing support from the people, needed a back up and the best available choice was the PPP, which had the backing of the U.S.

The president’s spokesman, at least five days after the purported meeting issued a brief statement admitting of “indirect contacts” with political parties including the PPP to discuss the war on terrorism and holding of free and fair elections. The statement didn’t say more than what the people already know, yet it was quite meaningful in the sense that it indicated the interest of United States in seeing a Bhutto-Musharraf alliance. And for those who think that Musharraf “fell to his knees’’ finally to strike a deal with Bhutto, about whom he had said in past that she wont be allowed to return to the country, they should also try to see the other side of the story. Bhutto’s mother of all compromises. She is also risking the anger and disappointment of her voters and supporters by providing an exit to a military dictator at the behest of the Americans. And questions are being asked whether Bhutto will accept Musharraf as the army chief and the president at the same time or just the president. The issue of Musharraf in uniform is extremely sensitive for both.

Bhutto seems to lose her popularity if she accepts Musharraf as the army chief as well as the president on grounds that the PPP has consistently maintained a stance that no conciliation was possible with a military dictator.Meanwhile, if Musharraf quits as the army chief he is set to lose his clout in the army, the country’s strongest institution backing him at the moment.

While, the media keeps on speculating on the Musharraf-Bhutto deal, the fate of other politicians, particularly, Nawaz Sharif is in doldrums. He appears a frustrated man left alone to tackle the military rule. That is why recently he has directed his tirade not only against Musharraf but also against Benazir Bhutto. The alliance for Restoration of Democracy is virtually non-existence and new alliances have started emerging. Friends are becoming foes and vice-versa.

And finally what happens to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz? People involved in the political wheeling-dealing say he was already a `nobody’ in the power game. He has nothing to lose as he had nothing at stake. Because of his corporate background and the fact that he spent major part of his life out of Pakistan, he will return back to his corporate world. After all, the Musharraf camp needed a scapegoat in the Chief Justice case. Somebody had to take the responsibility for formulating frivolous and unfounded charges against the Chief Justice and accept the defeat. The best choice is Aziz in this case, while the ruling PML(Q) can be sacrificed for not providing enough support during the judicial crisis, these people say.

In August and September, the future political scene will become more clear as old alliances break and new alliances emerge. The establishment and the army will emerge as a much stronger party on the political scene with the backing of the United States, while the people’s power, which had stamped authority only for a while, will be shoved back to oblivion.

 

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