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Musharraf’s Faltering Grip

Prepared by: Carin Zissis
March 27, 2007

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A few weeks after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf suspended Iftikar Chaudhry, Pakistan’s chief justice, demonstrations boil on around the country. Protesters accuse the president of violating the constitution (al-Jazeera) in order to silence the judge who questioned his authority, though Gen. Musharraf denies (Rediff) the claims, saying “there is a conspiracy against me”. At the same time, the Supreme Court demanded (Reuters) the government provide information about some four hundred people who’ve vanished into police custody since Pakistan allied itself with the United States in 2001. CFR Fellow Manjeet Kripalani discusses Pakistan’s domestic unrest in this new podcast.

While protests related to the judicial crisis continue across Pakistan, Gen. Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 bloodless coup, also finds himself under increasing U.S. pressure to resolve growing extremism in the country’s semi-autonomous tribal areas near Afghanistan. In February, Vice President Cheney dropped by to warn Musharraf he risks cuts by Democratic Congress to the $300 million in military aid proposed by the Bush administration if his forces fail to control militants seeking haven within Pakistan’s borders.  

Despite the warning, Musharraf’s government recently entered a controversial agreement (AP) with the tribal area of Bajaur whose leaders pledged not to shelter foreign militants. Critics decried two previous deals in North and South Waziristan as tantamount to surrender because they were made with Taliban leaders. Zahid Hussain, a senior editor for Pakistan’s Newsline, says the initial North Waziristan deal of 2005 “relieved the pressure on the army, and so, on Musharraf” while empowering local Taliban leaders. In a Weekly Standard article about al-Qaeda’s presence in the tribal lands, journalist Bill Roggio calls the Bajaur agreement “another pact with the devil.” A report by the International Crisis Group describes how al-Qaeda sympathizers and the Taliban gain shelter in the tribal areas and concludes that the Pakistani government’s ambivalence contributes to instability in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani government stands by the peace agreements, saying the pacts helped win the support (Australian) of tribesmen in South Waziristan, who recently staged attacks on foreign militants—mostly from Uzbekistan—that left some 160 people dead. The South Asia Analysis Group has a report about attacks on Uzbek militants in the South Waziristan. Some suggest the peace deals may play a limited role in the clash between tribal militants and the Uzbeks. In an interview with Radio Australia, Marvin Weinbaum of the Middle East Institute questions why the tribesmen, who are likely Taliban, targeted the Uzbek fighters now when the foreigners have been in Pakistan for at least five years. “Is this simply a falling out between the tribesmen and this group here, very possibly over inter-personal reasons?” asks Weinbaum, who says the Uzbeks “may have links to al-Qaeda but they're not al-Qaeda.”

Craig Cohen and Derek Chollet of the Center for Strategic and International Studies write in the spring issue of the Washington Quarterly that “Washington's close alliance with Musharraf may now have run its course.” Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid makes a similar call for policy change in a New York Times op-ed about the recent domestic unrest over the chief justice’s suspension. “The time has come for [Musharraf] to begin thinking of a transition, and for Americans to realize that, scare stories notwithstanding, a more democratic Pakistan might be better not just for Pakistanis but for Americans as well,” writes Hamid.

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