Asif Ali Zardari has announced his bid to run for the presidency of Pakistan a week after Pervez Musharraf stepped down from the office. Zardari is the widower of Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan and took over leadership of her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) after she was assassinated on December 27 last year.
Musharraf resigned from the presidency after Zardari and Nawaz Sharif agreed to seek the impeachment of Musharraf. Sharif was prime minister of Pakistan but was removed from office by Musharraf during a bloodless coup in 1999. He is now the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
Zardari and Sharif have clashed on the issue of reinstating judges deposed by Musharraf last year. Musharraf removed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry because the court was expected to rule that his election as president would be illegal under the constitution because he was still head of the army at the time. Musharraf later declared martial law and removed several other members of the court when they were expected to nullify his re-election.
While Sharif has argued for reinstating the justices, Zardari has opposed the move, fearing that Chaudhry might renew charges of corruption against Zardari, who spent several years in prison on such charges. The Washington Post reports that Sharif had a deal with Musharraf wherein he was essentially granted amnesty. This was part of the arrangement Bhutto had with Musharraf in which she was allowed to re-enter the country and return to the political scene. In return, she would not seek to challenge Musharraf’s election.
While their parties both agreed to impeach Musharraf prior to his resignation, Sharif has threatened to pull out of the coalition government if the judiciary is not restored. Members of both parties have said that there will soon be a resolution calling for the restoration of the judges.
The U.S. has long supported Musharraf despite his increasing unpopularity amongst Pakistanis over his perceived role as a puppet in the U.S. “war on terrorism”. Musharraf, miscalculating that it would help solidify his grip on power, actually served to create a tipping point by declaring martial law that createed more political unrest and public resolve to end his rule.
“With Mr. Musharraf out of power,” as the New York Times recently put it, “…American officials have been at a loss…to figure out who America should throw its weight behind.”
Allegations of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) involvement with terrorist groups and the Taliban continuing even after Musharraf pledged to ally himself with the U.S. after the attacks of September 11, 2001, are nothing new. But following the election of the coalition government consisting of parties opposed to Musharraf’s rule earlier this year, Washington has become increasingly critical of Pakistan and it’s role in the “war on terrorism”, going so far as to publicly accuse Pakistan’s shadowy intelligence agency of being involved in an attack on India’s embassy in Afghanistan last month.
When Indian news agencies reported in early October of 2001 that its own intelligence, working in conjunction with the FBI, had traced the 9/11 money trail to Omar Sayeed Sheikh, and from Sheikh to the head of the ISI himself, Mahmud Ahmed, Washington was silent. The ISI chief was quietly relieved from his position by Musharraf and the whole affair was hushed up.
Reports of ISI involvement with militant groups in Kashmir and Pakistan’s border regions near Afghanistan have been consistent since Pakistan joined the “war on terrorism”. But Washington has stood solidly by its man, Musharraf, and lauded Pakistan as a valuable “ally” in its war. With Musharraf gone, public allegations of ISI collusion with terrorism marks a shift in U.S. policy towards Pakistan, the message being clear that whatever occurs with the political scene there, they’d better get behind the U.S. like their man Musharraf had done.