Sunday, August 10, 2008

Will He Stay Or Will He Go Now? Impeachment Proceedings Set To Kick Off Tomorrow

So impeachment proceedings against Pervez Musharraf are set to get underway this week. I have to say that when the news first broke, I was highly skeptical of anything substantive actually materializing. It is not as if we had not heard this song and dance before, and I interpreted it as merely another step in the seemingly endless political two-step that Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have been treating us to since February this year.

It appears that things are different this time. While Sherry Rehman's claims of having 350 votes for the impeachment, with more coming "every hour", are almost certainly exaggerated, it is clear that one way or the other, the political impasse that has plagued Pakistan - centering on the judiciary and Musharraf questions - has come to a head. For the first time in six months, the main players in Pakistan have important decisions to make.

Let's start with Musharraf. Broadly speaking, he has two options. The first option is to resign, negotiate a golden handshake almost invariably involving amnesty, and figure out where he wants to live - according to this report, he'd like to retire in Pakistan because he can't afford to live abroad. The second option is to take this challenge head on, and hope that the PML-Q, MQM, and pissed off dissidents and their sympathizers from the impeaching parties can somehow cobble together enough votes to obviate his removal from office. I have maintained for a while now that I would like to see Musharraf take the first option, if for no other reason than the fact that his presence is a political millstone and does not allow normal and regular governance to proceed (or as normal and regular as governance can be in Pakistan). He's too much of a distraction, and it would serve the greater good if he would simply leave of his volition. Given his commando-type personality, however, I fear that he will not see it that way, and go ahead with the second option: roll the dice, and see what happens.

Nawaz Sharif too has important decisions to make. The most critical of these, for his party's electoral and political future anyway, is whether or not he would be willing to trade Musharraf for Iftikhar Chaudhry. Put differently, will he accept a watering down of his hitherto unyielding position on the PCO and pre-November 3 judiciary for the PPP's finally climbing on board with respect to moving against Musharraf? Right of center and anti-Musharraf political forces (not always the same thing) like the PML-N, the Jamaat-e-Islami and Imran Khan have up to this point held the judiciary and Musharraf questions as two sides of the same coin - by hoping to get the judiciary restored, they wished for Iftikhar Chaudhry and the rest of the judges to take care of their Musharraf problem. Now it appears that there is a disjunct between the Musharraf question and the judiciary question, and that one might compromise the other. The lawyers and Imran Khan have made clear which side they feel is more important: the restoration of the judiciary. But Nawaz Sharif seems to have placed his bets the other way. It certainly seems plausible that the Nawaz-Zardari marathon talks a couple of days ago featured some sort of quid pro quo: Zardari finally agrees to move against Musharraf if Nawaz finally agrees to stop yammering about an independent judiciary.

Finally, Asif Zardari too has things to think about. Most important among these is how sure he is of having that magic number of 295 votes in the assemblies. Impeaching the President is kind of like asking a girl out - you better be damn sure beforehand unless you want to feel like a complete idiot later. In this case, the worst possible outcome for Zardari is to proceed with the impeachment process and then lose, horse-trading and all. For one thing, such an outcome would instantly confer upon Musharraf a degree of legitimacy that he has not enjoyed since March 9, 2007 (admittedly not a high standard, but you know what I mean). Furthermore, Zardari and the PPP would feel considerable embarrassment if the impeachment measure were defeated with the help of certain high-profile members of the PPP. Finally, failure to impeach Musharraf will raise concerned and angry voices among the public by providing a symbolic rallying point against a government which, in its extremely short time in office, has failed to meaningfully address any of the problems facing Pakistan. Under such circumstances, it is easy to imagine an emboldened Musharraf squeezing the PPP on one hand and Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N pressuring it on the other, making its government ineffective and rudderless (or even more so than it is now).


Anonymous said...

I love the analogy of Zardari impeaching Musharraf to asking a girl out.

Nahai said...

Mush this time will have to go... That's how i see it.