Twin terrorist attacks earlier this week in Rawalpindi and Islamabad underscored the troubles confronting Gen. Pervez Musharraf as he struggles to stabilize Pakistan and hang on to whatever is left of his power there. He faces unprecedented challenges to his rule from two former prime ministers, and is attempting to co-opt one while keep the other out of power. He has picked unnecessary fights with the judiciary and is now facing the wrath of a chief justice whose power he can no longer undermine. He tries to cut deals with Islamists when others won’t talk to him. When they do, he gets into even deeper trouble with his western allies. Ever the tactician and rarely the strategist, Musharraf’s end game this time seems to have no good outcome for the people of Pakistan. The state, it seems, is inching closer to failure on his watch.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, now of the ritzy Belgravia neighborhood in London, is set to return to Pakistan on Monday after a Supreme Court ruling allowed him to come home from exile. He is hardly fit to lead Pakistan — he has support neither in Washington nor within the Pakistani army. Muslim states, most importantly Saudi Arabia, have dubbed him an unwelcome visitor for abrogating agreements to stay out of Pakistani politics until 2010.
The on-again, off-again power-sharing romance with Benazir Bhutto — which now seems off again — would only bring back venal, corrupt governance to civil institutions — hardly a fix for anything. A return to a politics of greed and power is no solution to what ails this nuclear-armed state; it would serve no end but the self-perpetuation of Pakistani robber-barons.
A national unity government is needed, and its leaders need to be independently minded and well-respected men and women who are prepared to serve Pakistan in the same way Muhammad Ali Jinnah, its founder, did.
If the general, who so desperately seeks to cobble together patchwork solutions for hanging onto power, legitimately believes he should be president, he should appoint a caretaker administration and step down as both army chief and president. He should run for office like all other candidates on the merits of whatever record he has compiled while in office.
Musharraf’s first act should be to appoint Gen. Ehsan ul Haq as the new army chief for a fixed one-year term before he retires officially on October 7. Gen. Haq, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the senior most active military officer in the army, distancing others in seniority by nearly a decade. He is a moderate who believes in making peace with India over disputed Kashmir and has much firsthand experience with the outside world on matters of counterterrorism and security. He is a apolitical military officer who would firmly march the army back into the barracks and out of civilian affairs. As former director of both military intelligence and the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, his working knowledge of how these organizations can rebuild Pakistani security, rather than harming it with ill-advised adventures (such as backing Taliban forces in Afghanistan), would be a welcome change in Pakistani foreign policy and security strategy.
The general’s second act should be to appoint a caretaker government before his term ends on November 15, one that has leading members of each of the main political factions so groundwork can be prepared for free and fair elections by June 2008. He should then resign the presidency and become a candidate, and he should not block any other politician or Islamist from becoming a candidate either. He should run on his record and let others run on theirs, and then trust the Pakistani people to make a choice that is in the best interests of their country.
The caretaker government should be headed by Jehangir Karamat, former army chief and ex–ambassador to the United States, who has a reputation and knack for telling his bosses where to get off when they are wrong. Karamat would fuse together the support of Pakistan’s only two functional institutions — the judiciary and the army — and would carry the support of important ally countries, including the United States. Most important, he is genuinely committed to improving the lot of Pakistanis on the street. He has their trust, and he can rebuild confidence in civil institutions.
He could be joined on the roster by the current prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, to maintain continuity and stability of the financial markets and economy (GDP has grown at a 7-percent annual rate and national debt has been cut from 100 percent to 60 percent of GDP during Mr Aziz’s tenure). So to should senior advisers of Ms. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party join; Aitzaz Ashan would be an ideal candidate, being a close adviser and confidante of Ms. Bhutto, and having fought for and won the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry late last month. The ruling faction of Mr. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League could offer former foreign and finance minister Sartaj Aziz and former Musharraf ally Chaudhary Shujaat Hussein. Mukhtar Mai, the woman who became a national hero by standing up to her rapists and tormentors — and whom Mr. Musharraf vilified for embodying all that was wrong with Pakistan — could become the representative of the disaffected and poor to ensure their voices were brought to bear on the country’s future.
Pakistan’s political institutions are decimated by years of neglect and army rule. They are not yet ready for a prime time appearance that would be required by a Bhutto-Musharraf power-sharing arrangement, or by the reemergence of Nawaz Sharif. These leaders have tried, and failed, to govern the country. They seek power its own sake, and voters are only important to them on Election Day. The day after, they go back to plundering the country once more.
Musharraf, an Indian-born migrant to Pakistan, has spent a lifetime trying to convince Pakistanis that he has their best interests in mind. Perhaps he does, and if so, then he should selflessly execute a game plan that could make him the odds-on favorite to recapture his leadership position, but this time with the real support of Pakistanis, not via a manufactured and artificial government that has no credibility to lead Pakistan’s industrious people away from the brink of failure.
– Mansoor Ijaz, a New York financier of Pakistani ancestry, jointly authored a ceasefire plan between Muslim militants and Indian security forces in Kashmir in 2000. He is an NRO contributor.