Reprinted from

Ex-Ambassador Predicts Political Turmoil in Pakistan

Kenneth R. Timmerman
Friday, Aug. 10, 2007

 A prominent political commentator in Pakistan came to Washington, D.C., this week to deliver a stark message.

No matter what happens with the much-rumored "deal" to form a civilian-military government between Gen. Perviz Musharraf and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, now living in exile, Pakistan faces a period of extended political turmoil that could dramatically impact the U.S.-led global war on terror, former Pakistani Ambassador Tariq Fatemi told an audience in Washington on Thursday.

News reports in recent days out of the Pakistani capitol, Islamabad, revealed that Musharraf has asked INTERPOL, the international criminal police organization, to withdraw outstanding arrest warrants against Bhutto and her husband based on indictments in Pakistani courts.

The arrest warrants are known as "red notices." Bhutto and her husband have been accused by the government of Pakistan of corruption.

A separate complaint against the two on money-laundering charges by a court in Switzerland may not have been affected by Musharraf's request.

Musharraf was forced "to eat humble pie" by meeting with Bhutto, an avowed political enemy, last week in Dubai, Fatemi said.

While Musharraf's request to INTERPOL signaled his intent to allow Bhutto to return to Pakistan, leaders of her People's Party now feel they have the upper hand against Musharraf and are demanding that he give up his military commission if he wants to stand for re-election as Pakistan's president, Fatemi added.

 Under Pakistani law, Musharraf must stand for re-election by Parliament in September or October, or impose a state of emergency and martial law.

If he invokes emergency powers under Pakistan's constitution, Musharraf could dissolve parliament and rule by decree for one year.

Alternatively, he could keep the current Parliament, which he controls, and ask them to re-elect him as president, a scenario Fatemi felt was less likely to occur.

"The president's re-election in uniform is now out of the question," Fatemi said, "because all parties oppose it."

As Pakistan's ambassador to Washington until the civilian government of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was overthrown in October 1999 in Musharraf's military coup, Fatemi has long navigated the inner circles of successive Pakistani governments.

 He was personally present when Sharif held a historic first meeting with his Indian counterpart, Atal Bahaji Vajpayee, in July 1998 to discuss the decades-long conflict between the two giants of South Asia.

Both countries had just conducted nuclear weapons tests, and tensions between them were high. Musharraf, who was Pakistan's army chief of staff at the time, "didn't want to be seen" anywhere near the Indian leader, Fatemi said.

Progress in resolving Indian-Pakistan differences came to a halt when Islamic extremists, believed to have the support of Musharraf and the Pakistani army, seized the town of Cargill in the Indian sector of disputed Kashmir in late 1998.

Since his military coup against Sharif one year later, Musharraf has walked a fine line between supporting Islamic extremists and fighting them.

After unleashing the Pakistani security forces against extremists who had seized control of the Red Mosque in Islamabad last month, Musharraf appears to be "lost, confused, and unsure of himself," Fatemi said.

That uncertainty has caused him to reach out to his former political enemies.

The Pakistani Supreme Court is expected to rule later this week in favor of allowing Sharif to return to Pakistan. Fatemi said his return would lead to "further turmoil" in Pakistan's troubled domestic politics.

While Fatemi and his hosts at the Washington, D.C., Carnegie Endowment for International Peace favored a return to civilian rule in Pakistan, he made clear that any successor civilian government to Musharraf would make significant changes in its handling of the war on terror.

"There is growing skepticism in Pakistan on the long-term objectives of the war on terror," he said.

Politicians see "the endless saga of American demands, and feel this is less Pakistan's war, and more America's war," he added.

Any future civilian leader who comes to power through legitimate elections "will have to convince people that engagement in the global war on terror is to their advantage." Winning that support will be "the greatest challenge for the next government," he said.

Fatemi predicted that a future civilian government would require the Pakistani army to "abandon any involvement in domestic politics, including counter-insurgency operations" now underway against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Waziristan and the NorthWest Frontier Province, bordering Afghanistan.

The former ambassador tried unsuccessfully to convince his audience that the Taliban was "not all bad," and that some of the extremist madrassas – Islamic schools – in the tribal areas were providing useful social services, not just indoctrination into jihad.

"What he is saying is that the army will abandon the NorthWest Frontier province to the Islamists," commented Steven Cohen, a prominent expert on SouthWest Asia with the Brookings Institution. "The army hasn't realized how deep a problem it has," Cohen said.

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