Analysis: Pervez Musharraf's Resignation and the Impact on Pakistan
August 19, 2008
Author: Hassan Abbas, Former Senior Advisor, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Hassan Abbas, a research fellow at the Belfer Center's Project on Managing the Atom, offers commentary on the resignation of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf.
Abbas is a former Pakistani government official who served in the administrations of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (1995-1996) and President Pervez Musharraf (1999-2000). He is author of "Pakistan's Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America's War."
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Hassan Abbas, a research fellow at the Belfer Center's Project on Managing the Atom, is a former Pakistani government official who served in the administrations of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (1995-1996) and President Pervez Musharraf (1999-2000). He is author of Pakistan's Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America's War.
What does Pervez Musharraf;s resignation mean and what steps led to his decision?
I think this latest development of Musharraf's resignation, in fact, means victory for democracy in Pakistan. The background is that in 2007, March 2007, Musharraf decided to get rid of the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and that led to a lawyers' movement. The judge was ultimately restored by the Supreme Court, but there was an overall feeling in the country that Musharraf, after eight or nine years of governance, was trying to sideline all the other institutions of the state, and there was a major mobilization of civil society, lawyers' movement, educated people, and political parties in the country. This led to an overall feeling or overall environment in the country in which the people stood against a military dictator. And Musharraf continued to commit blunders in terms of taking autocratic dictatorial decisions. This time around — this was the fourth Pakistani military dictator — but on this occasion the people rose and the political forces got their act together. And in the February 18 elections in Pakistan this year, there was a vote against Musharraf. All those political forces, who were against Musharraf, got a major vote back. And the political parties, which were supporting Musharraf, were ousted, basically. So these were the events: getting rid of judiciary; Benazir Bhutto's assassination also played a major role because people believed that Musharraf was responsible for providing security to Benazir Bhutto and when he failed, he miserably failed in that endeavor, that also led to a downfall in his support base. So these were the major events that led to his resignation.
How will Musharraf's resignation impact Pakistan's political stability?
I think contrary to some of the suspense in the media, international media, this will actually lead to stability in Pakistan. Because at this moment, Musharraf was standing on one side and all the mainstream, progressive political forces were standing on the other side of the divide. So this should bring more stability because the political forces, which won the elections on February 18, 2008, they are now at the helm of affairs. They are the ones who have to strategize and have to come up with an effective counterterrorism strategy. They are the ones who will be responsible to the ordinary people — to their aspirations, demands, dreams of the Pakistanis — and they are the real representative forces. So this should take Pakistan toward stability. I must add it will not be immediate. It will not be very quick. These forces will take time to develop consensus. They will take some time to develop strategies and policies for the benefit of the people. And in the short term, we may see some problems. But in the long run, I think this will bring more stability to Pakistan. And in any case, Musharraf had lost support.... The polls indicate that Musharraf's support base was hardly in double digits. So Musharraf was, by any means, no option for Pakistan, or for United States.
What kind of repercussions will this have for the region?
I think... we must give credit to Musharraf that he had started a peace process with India since 2004, at the least. Pakistan also, Pakistan's relations with other neighbors had improved, except in the case of Afghanistan, which is a major bone of contention — the Pakistani tribal areas where insurgents, militants, or terrorists are now in a strong position. Musharraf's departure will also bring Pakistan to a situation where democratic forces would like to engage the other political governments. Indian democracy should feel more comfortable with the Pakistani democracy. In case of political leadership, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz al-Sharif — the major two political forces, two major political individuals, who are at the helm of affairs in Pakistan — they have shown some interest in improving relations with Afghanistan, also. So in these two major cases, the indicators are that the political leaders will reach out to Indians and to Afghans to develop some kind of consensus or a better arrangement to fight the war on terror and to improve bilateral relations.
How will Musharraf's resignation impact the U.S.'s relationship with Pakistan, specifically in terms of the war on terror?
I think United States had a good relationship with Musharraf all these years. To begin with, after the tragedy of 9/11, Musharraf had taken a U-turn of sorts — stop of support for Taliban, stopping the support of militant groups in Indian-controlled Kashmir — but in the second phase of Musharraf, from 2004-2008, Musharraf's relationship with United States had seen many ups and downs. It has something to do with loss of support for Musharraf within the country. I mean, the United States engaging with a military ruler who has little support within the country was a faulty policy. The United States had little options because the United States had to deal with the leader who is in control in Pakistan. But now, I see very clearly, that the United States had developed a partnership with democratic forces. In fact, U.S. did push Pakistan to hold free and fair elections in February 2008. United States had been involved in some arrangement with Musharraf and late Benazir Bhutto so that she could go back to Pakistan and participate in elections; unfortunately, she lost her life before that, but her political party did very well and is now in a leading role in the country. So U.S. has opted to develop relationships with democratic forces in the country. And that arrangement or relationship can be built upon in the months to come. So, Musharraf's departure should not be seen as something that will necessarily create instability or which will necessarily create any problems with Pakistan's relationship with United States. Very recently, a bill introduced in the United States Congress, introduced by Senator Biden and Lugar, calls for support: non-military aid to Pakistan. They are doubling, or perhaps tripling, the aid that is given to Pakistan. That is a good omen. That will be seen very positively in Pakistan. And in Pakistan there is a view that wherever there is a military ruler, United States supports that ruler. I think this support for democratic forces, this aid for development works in the country, will dispel this impression and be seen as support for democracy in Pakistan.
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