Despite the defeat of President Pervez Musharraf’s party in the Pakistani parliamentary elections, the Bush administration is still trying to “construct a coalition that will keep Mr. Musharraf in power as president.” Officials admit that Musharraf “remains the administration’s preferred Pakistani leader.”AP:
Let me interrupt the article to point out the supportive threat ... statement Georgie makes:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- Pakistan's president will not step down as head of state and intends to serve out his five-year term, his spokesman said, despite a sweeping victory by his opponents in an election that President Bush on Wednesday judged to be fair.
But with the vote count nearly complete, two opposition parties have won enough seats to form a new government, though they will likely fall short of the two-thirds needed to impeach the president.
The result is seen as a major political setback for Musharraf, a key ally of Washington in fighting Taliban and al-Qaida, whose popularity has plummeted over the past year. The victors were secular political parties; Islamic hard-liners fared badly.
Bush, the Pakistani leader's chief foreign backer, declared Wednesday that the elections were a "victory in the war on terror."
"There were elections held that have been judged as being fair, and the people have spoken," Bush said in Ghana during his current trip to Africa.
"It's now time for the newly elected folks to show up and form their government," Bush said. "The question then is 'Will they be friends of the United States?' I certainly hope so.You called Osama and his band of merry men 'folks', too, George. Just saying...
So Pakistan tries to figure out what to do next:
As the fallout from Pakistan's general elections comes into focus, one enormous question mark has emerged: who will be included in the new government? Some major domestic political players have made hasty, if strategic, retreats from the government-making process and have adopted policies of wait and see.Most Pakistanis view this vote as a denial of American might:
Meanwhile, Washington has moved to mend bridges between embattled President Pervez Musharraf and the opposition camps in order to preserve its interests in the regional "war on terror". Analysts believe that if Islamabad is gripped by further political turmoil, and if Musharraf exits the corridors of power, the US-led operation could flounder.
"We shall prefer to sit in the opposition and would rather provide support for the issues of national interest instead of making any bid to be a part of any set-up," Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, secretary general of the former ruling Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q), told Asia Times Online. "I think there are a lot of issues where any future set-up needs our support, especially in the 'war on terror', and we would provide our support while sitting in the opposition benches."
Washington officially applauded the election process in Pakistan, which it termed transparent, among other praises. At the same time, however, the US has grave concerns that the vulnerability of a new government, or its unwillingness to cooperate with the US, could spell doom for the "war on terror".Amid all this, who is watching ... you know... the nukes? India is freaking out:
"I suggest that political parties should demand that until Musharraf's resignation they would not take the oath in the parliament. Because, if they take the oath, it means they legitimize Musharraf's presidency," said retired Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, who has recently played a major role in organizing Pakistani veterans' groups to demand retired general Musharraf's resignation.
Gul was optimistic that the present vote against Musharraf and his allies was a vote against American domination of the region. He expressed hope that eventually mass support would push Islamabad to abandon all military operations in tribal areas.
"Americans cannot do anything if we stop the operations in tribal areas. If they stop military aid, they are welcome to do so. We don't need military aid. All we need is economic aid and they just cannot afford to stop it. Why? Because all NATO supply lines pass through Pakistan and if they stop economic aid, Pakistan can stop supply lines which would end their regional war on terror theater once and for all. This is the biggest crime of Musharraf - that he could not understand the strategic value of Pakistan in the region and could not exploit it," said Gul.
So what will Musharraf do?:
NEW DELHI (AFP) — India should be deeply concerned about the possibility of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the hands of extremists, a top official was reported as saying.
"The nature of the dangers which nuclear weapons pose has dramatically intensified with the growing risk that such weapons may be acquired by terrorists..." Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's special envoy Shyam Saran said on Monday
"The mounting concern over the likelihood that in a situation of chaos, Pakistan's nuclear assets may fall into the hands of jihadi elements... underscores how real this danger has become," Saran was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India at a lecture in New Delhi.
The United States and other Western countries have expressed mounting concern over the security of Islamabad's estimated 50 warheads, with Pakistani forces battling a growing insurgency by Al-Qaeda-linked militants.
The remaining question is what will happen to Musharraf. Among those who have come into personal contact with him, there is a sense that he will understand the depth of his current predicament.crossposted at SteveAudio
"He is an intelligent man. He will know he is not in a position to dictate things," says Mahmood Shah, who helped coordinate Musharraf's policies in the tribal belt as former secretary of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. "Even if he tries to cling to power, it will be very difficult," Mr. Shah continues.
The coming days or weeks will be a test of whether Musharraf's legendary survival instincts have their limits, say others. "He will first try to see if he has any future working with these political parties," says Ikram Sehgal, editor of Defence Journal. "If it is not tenable, he will lay out a plan to say good-bye."
"He knows very well that the Army will not support him" if he challenges the parliament, Mr. Sehgal adds.
Should Musharraf prove confrontational, however, Zardari has said he would not rule out impeachment. This is particularly bad news for Musharraf, since Zardari's PPP has generally been more tolerant of Musharraf than Sharif's PML-N, which has categorically refused to work with Musharraf, partly because Musharraf overthrew Sharif in his 1999 coup.
The process of impeachment is relatively simple, requiring only a two-thirds vote in the general assembly and the Senate. The Senate is still filled with Musharraf's allies, since it is not up for reelection until next year. But senators might be tempted to abandon Musharraf if his situation looks untenable. The Army, however, would be loath to see its former leader humiliated in such a way and could step in to convince Musharraf to go, if it came to that point, says Sehgal.