U.S. Is Prodding Pakistan Leader to Share Power

The Bush administration, struggling to find a way to keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf in power amid a deepening political crisis in Pakistan, is quietly prodding him to share authority with a longtime rival as a way of broadening his base, according to American and Pakistani officials.

General Musharraf, an important ally since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has lost so much domestic support in recent months that American officials have gotten behind the idea that an alliance with Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister, would be his best chance of remaining president.

The two met in an unannounced session in Abu Dhabi on July 27, but neither has publicly admitted to the meeting. Since then, many in Pakistan have heard the rumors and voiced their doubts about the workability and political wisdom of such a deal, and American officials concede that the proposed power-sharing could come with problems as well as benefits.

But after weeks of unrest in Pakistan, the American officials say a power-sharing agreement that might install Ms. Bhutto as prime minister could help defuse a confrontation in which General Musharraf has already flirted with invoking emergency powers. Administration officials have said they fear that General Musharraf could eventually be toppled and replaced by a leader who might be less reliable as a guardian of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and as an ally against terrorism.

Even if General Musharraf were to insist on remaining as the country’s military leader, American officials say that sharing power could bring a more democratic spirit to Pakistan, which has been a quasi-military dictatorship since 1999, when General Musharraf seized power and ousted Ms. Bhutto’s successor, Nawaz Sharif.

Even in supporting a power-sharing agreement, the American officials say they worried that any diminution of General Musharraf’s power could only complicate American counterterrorism efforts at a time when Al Qaeda is believed to be rebuilding in Pakistan’s tribal areas. They also say that Ms. Bhutto’s return could fuel Pakistani nationalism and kindle new calls for Pakistan to distance itself from Washington.

Ms. Bhutto has been holding talks in recent weeks with senior Bush administration officials, including Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, with whom she met privately late last week. Administration officials have taken pains not to endorse a power-sharing agreement publicly, so as not to seem as if the United States is trying to influence Pakistani politics.

But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did discuss the idea of a power-sharing arrangement when she called General Musharraf last week at 2 a.m. in Pakistan to warn him not to declare emergency powers, American and Pakistani officials said.

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2 Replies to “U.S. Is Prodding Pakistan Leader to Share Power”

  1. Musharraf faces new roadblock in re-election bid
    By Carlotta Gall
    Thursday, August 16, 2007

    ISLAMABAD: As President Pervez Musharraf began his campaign for re-election for another five-year term this week, senior figures of the ruling party that backs him are warning that the newly independent Supreme Court will almost certainly block his nomination for president and declare it unconstitutional.

    New U.S. efforts to prod Musharraf into a power sharing arrangement with the exiled opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, as a way for him to continue as president would run into the same difficulty, the politicians said.

    The court has a new-found independence since Musharraf, a general who is also chief of staff of the army, tried to dismiss Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry this year, the politicians said. Chaudhry won reinstatement on July 20.

    The chief justice has made clear in speeches his determination to uphold the Constitution and see an end to autocratic government, and he now represents the biggest obstacle to Musharraf’s efforts to stay on.

    “I think it is very difficult for him to get through the question of eligibility,” Ishaq Khan Khakwani, the minister of state for information technology and telecommunication, said. “I would wish that he get through, but there are too many ifs and buts.”

    The unusually blunt comments from the general’s own supporters, including a former prime minister and the vice president of the ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League, are an indication of what they see as a strong shift in society against Musharraf’s continued military rule.

    Opposition parties have raised at least five objections against Musharraf’s nomination as president, and since most of them touch on the Constitution, the objections will go to the Supreme Court for a decision, Khakwani said.

    Among the thorniest of problems is the question whether Musharraf, 64, who seized power in a coup in 1999 and then was voted president by referendum in 2002, can be considered to have already served the maximum two consecutive terms in office.

    Then there is the fact that he holds two official posts, as president and army chief of staff, which is not allowed in the Constitution. If he resigns his army post, then by law he should allow two years to lapse before running for elected office.

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  2. Bhutto warned against Musharraf alliance

    Fred Attewill and agencies
    Friday August 17, 2007
    Guardian Unlimited

    The former Pakistani prime minister ousted by General Pervez Musharraf in a military coup has warned Benazir Bhutto not to do a deal with the embattled leader.

    Nawaz Sharif likened Gen Musharraf – whose position is now believed to be at its weakest since he seized power in 1999 – to a “sinking ship” and told Ms Bhutto that any alliance would damage her credibility.

    Gen Musharraf met Ms Bhutto, his chief rival, in Abu Dhabi last month. The talks came amid claims the US was secretly pushing for a deal between the two to bolster the president, who is a key Washington ally in the “war on terror”.

    Article continues
    “Musharraf is a drowning man at this stage – he has no options left,” Mr Sharif said. “I hate to say this, but I think he is like a sinking ship.

    “Anybody who cuts a deal with Musharraf at this stage would damage his own credibility and I don’t want to damage my credibility,” he said in Dubai, where he is in exile.

    Gen Musharraf, who remains chief of the army, has been badly damaged by his failed attempt to fire Pakistan’s chief justice.

    Many Pakistanis see him as being too pro-US, and Islamist extremists have launched repeated attacks on the security forces.

    An alliance with Ms Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s party – generally regarded as the country’s leading party – would broaden his support and help him win subsequent presidential elections.

    For her part, Ms Bhutto would probably need Gen Musharraf’s support to overturn a law prohibiting former prime ministers from returning to that office.

    Since Gen Musharraf’s rise to power, Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto, who have both been living in exile, have formed an alliance of their own.

    The former prime ministers, who both held power in the 80s and 90s, joined forces in the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy to press for the end of military rule.

    However, the alliance has appeared to wither since Ms Bhutto established contacts with the government. Mr Sharif called on her to stop talking to the government and return to opposition.

    “She must come back and join the struggle for restoration of democracy, join the struggle for pushing the army back into the barracks and join the struggle for banning the entry of generals into politics, because this has done great harm,” he said.

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