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Supreme Problems in Pakistan

Prepared by: Carin Zissis
May 16, 2007

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Multiple assassination attempts have failed to remove President Pervez Musharraf from power, yet unrest caused by his suspension of the Supreme Court’s chief justice threatens his authority. Protesters say that Iftikhar Chaudhry, handpicked by Musharraf, was removed over concern he would question the president’s hold on the army chief post in fall 2007 presidential elections. The chief justice has refused to go quietly. Highlighting tensions, a court official was murdered in his home (Australian) hours before a pivotal Supreme Court hearing on the matter. A BBC backgrounder examines the judicial crisis.

Since the March suspension, lawyers and opposition supporters have staged protests across the country. In this podcast, CFR’s Manjeet N. Kripalani says the protests serve as a rallying cry for civil liberties. The demonstrations turned violent (Telegraph) in Karachi, where dozens died in clashes between opposition party members and government supporters when Chaudhry was prevented from delivering a speech. But the International Crisis Group says the violence exposed longstanding ethnic tensions with pro-government Muhajirs attacking Pashtuns and Punjabis.

Also this week, opposition strikes paralyzed (Daily Times) several Pakistani cities, including Lahore in the province of Punjab, where the president holds a large support base. Musharraf seized control in a 1999 coup and won an election in 2002 amid charges of vote rigging. Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a Lahore-based political science professor, writes in the Daily Times that Musharraf and cohorts believe they can hold power in a state of “manufactured legitimacy.”

Pakistan’s path toward democracy remains tenuous, as this Backgrounder explains. In an article for OpenDemocracy, journalist Maruf Khwaja says the failed nature of the Pakistani state has Musharraf “badly cornered.” No viable opposition candidates have emerged to challenge the president, CFR's Daniel Markey tells Bernard Gwertzman in an interview, but there are “familiar faces who could come back and serve that role.”

One much-discussed solution is a political partnership between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, the exiled former prime minister. However, such an alliance appears increasingly slim given Musharraf’s political woes, says Hassan Abbas, a research fellow at Harvard University, in a new CFR.org podcast. Bhutto has resisted partnering with Musharraf while he remains army chief. A Financial Times editorial suggests that, given the economic gains made during his tenure, Musharraf could remain president if he relinquishes the uniform and orchestrates a return to democracy.

Yet the support of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies has proven crucial to his authority. The United States made an ally out of Islamabad following 9/11, when concern grew over terrorists seeking safe haven in the tribal areas near Afghanistan. Musharraf followed by deploying eighty thousand troops to the region. After the army incurred large-scale casualties, the government shifted tactics and signed agreements with leaders in three tribal agencies. Abbas expresses cautious optimism about this approach in a Jamestown Foundation profile of Mullah Nazir, a Taliban leader in the South Waziristantribal area who has led violent challenges to Uzbek militants operating there. But violence still troubles the region: A U.S. soldier died in a gunfight (Times of London) this week on the Pakistan side of the border, and a suicide bomber killed twenty-five people (AP) in a Peshawar hotel in retaliation for the recent killing of Taliban leader Mullah Dadullah.

More on This Topic

Backgrounder

Pakistanís Political Future

Authors: Carin Zissis and Greg Bruno

Pakistanís Pervez Musharraf faces growing opposition at home and abroad, but what form of government might replace his military rule remains...