Pakistan - Politics
The Legal Framework Order and Renewed Political Crisis
In late 2003 Pakistan's year-long political crisis came to an end with a landmark agreement between the ruling party and the opposition over controversial constitutional amendments introduced by President Pervez Musharraf. The deal came following a year of negotiations and debate between the pro-Musharraf ruling party and the leading opposition alliance of religious groups, the Mutahidda Majlis-e Amal. In exchange for the president's promise to quit his military post, the MMA agreed to support a series of constitutional changes that give sweeping powers to the office of the president. However, the opposition refused to recognize the amendments unless they were approved in the legislature by a two-thirds majority, as called for in the constitution. The political scene had been tense throughout most of 2003, which saw protests by lawmakers in the Pakistani parliament on more than one occasion and the arrest of opposition leader Javed Hashimi in October.
On 29 December 2003 the National Assembly passed the 17th Constitutional Amendment Bill, the Legal Framework Order (LFO), with a two-thirds majority, giving sweeping powers to President General Pervez Musharraf and validating the military takeover of 12 October 1999, and all subsequent acts of the military government. Two hundred and forty-eight members voted in favor of the bill and no vote cast against the amendments as the PPPP, PML-N and other opposition parties boycotted the vote. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) was the only opposition party that supported the government to further amend the Constitution. General Musharraf publicly pledged to quit as army chief by December 2004. Musharraf would remain president after removing his military uniform. He would then have to take vote of confidence from the National Assembly, Senate and four provincial assemblies within one month of giving up his military authority. Musharraf secured this political victory by striking a deal with six hard-line Islamic parties. In exchange for his pledge to step down as head of the Army in 2004, he received a promise from the parties to support the ratification of constitutional amendments. The passage of the LFO was followed by an assassination attempt in which Musharraf narrowly escaped.
Pakistan significantly increased its military operations and pacification efforts in tribal areas along the Afghanistan border in 2004. These operations affected al-Qaida, Taliban, and other threat groups by disrupting safe-havens and, in some cases, forcing them back into Afghanistan where they were vulnerable to operations conducted by the coalition of nations of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Pakistan also secured agreements with several tribes by successfully balancing military action with negotiations and rewards to encourage cooperation and limit domestic backlash. Pakistan looked to maintain and expand these operations in order to permanently disrupt insurgent and terrorist activity.
By early 2004 Pakistan seemed on the verge of political destabilization. Islamic radicals were seeking to overthrow Musharraf's regime for some time, but the beginning of the US driven Global War on Terror created further tension. Musharraf supported the United States' operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan. He also took steps to reach another reconciliation with India in the conflict over Kashmir, inciting the ire of Kashmiri militants, many of whom have been widely believed to be funded, directly or indirectly by the Pakistani intelligence services. Musharraf was also been helpful in the Americans' search for Osama Bin Laden and other al Qaida leaders said to be hiding in northern Pakistan. He was ruling a country in which over much of the population hated America, though whether that was a product of his support for US policy or US support for Pakistani government policy has been unclear. However, the General and the largely secular army command have been serious obstacles to Pakistan sliding into what many have feared would become a regime as fanatical as that of Afghanistan's Taliban or Iran's Mullahs. It is hard to imagine what would happen if Islamic radicals prevailed in Pakistan.
The Pakistani political establishment was rocked by the nuclear proliferation scandal of Abdul Qadeer Khan (more often referred to as a A.Q. Khan) during the early months of 2004. A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, had achieved an almost heroic status in Pakistan. His popularity among almost all level of society and the state of the regime ultimately led to the official pardon by President Musharraf in February 2004 following Khan's admission to transferring nuclear secrets to states like North Korea.
In July 2004 Pakistan's Prime Minister designate Shaukat Aziz survived a suicide attack aimed at him by al Qaida militants. Aziz would go on to win two by-elections in August paving the way to his assumption of the role of Prime Minister. Aziz had been Musharraf's Minister of Finance, and his assumption of the role of Prime Minister was aimed at attempting to focus energy on Pakistan's troubled economy. At the end of August Aziz became Prime Minister of Pakistan.
In another move to stabilize the political situation, the pro-Musharraf ruling party pushed a bill through parliament in November 2004 to allow the military leader to retain both portfolios until 2007, when new elections were due. Thus on 30 December 2004 Musharraf formally declared that he would retain the army chief's post, breaking his public pledge that he would give up his uniform by the end of the year. In a televised address to the nation, President Musharraf asserted that to give up his military uniform at the time would undermine Pakistan's political and economic stability. Musharraf said that lawmakers of the opposition MMA had not kept their promise to avoid what he called politics of confrontation. The MMA and other political parties strongly criticized President Musharraf for breaking his promise.
The Pakistani government attempted during the early months of 2005 to try and show that it was independent of its US supporters. In January it lodged an official protest over incursions by US forces into border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan, issuing statements in February that US forces would not be allowed into the regions, that providing security and counter-terrorism operations in these regions would be a matter for Pakistani security forces
In April 2005, after reports suggesting a partial thaw with former prime minister's in exile Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the husband of Benazir Bhutto was arrested reentering Pakistan. This particular arrest was one of a number labeled as a serious crackdown on the political opposition during the month. Protests came not only from political and religious moderates, but also from religious extremists and their political entities, who continued to challenge Musharraf's alliance with the United States and policies against Islamic oriented militants in Pakistan's tribal border regions. Political opponents were incensed at reports in May 2005 that Musharraf was contemplating staying in power after his term came up in 2007.
In October 2005 an earthquake in Pakistan killed over 80,000 people in the country's north. It provided a brief respite for the embattled regime of Pervez Musharraf as various political entities banded together to tackle the humanitarian implications of the disaster. The disaster affected relationships between various militant groups and the Pakistani government and contributed to one of what had been a number of Indo-Pakistani thaws over Kashimir, despite Musharraf's assertion earlier in the year that government policy on the disputed territory remained the same. The positive outcomes of the disaster were short lived as spurts of violence between the government and militants continued by the end of the year and into 2006.
In January 2006 Interpol issued fresh warrants, called "Red Notices" on behalf of the Pakistani government for the arrest of Benazir Bhutto and her husband, who had been arrested while in Pakistan in 2005. Bhutto denounced the charges as politically motivated and an attempt to divert attention from Pakistani policies and an errant US air strike into Pakistan that had claimed the lives of a number of innocent civilians. 2006 also saw a major clampdown on militants and political elements pushing for independence or greater autonomy for ethnic Balochis and the Pakistani province of Balochistan. On 26 August 2006 the primary leader of the movements for greater Baloch independence, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, was killed by Pakistani security forces triggering massive protests, riots, and other violence, subsequently followed by an equally harsh response from government forces. Those many believed Musharraf to have personally ordered the attack that killed him, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz publicly denied such claims suggesting that the killing had been accidental, the results of nearby fighting.
A move in a different direction came when President Musharraf signed a peace deal with tribal leaders to bring pressure to Taliban militants in Northern Pakistan. The deal was much criticized by his Western allies, and even some in his own government, who doubted whether the tribal leaders would hold their end of the bargain, and whether essentially buying off his opponents was a viable strategy. Musharraf staunchly defended the proposal in the face of rising Taliban linked violence in provinces like Waziristan, coming just years after he declared the Taliban in these regions to have been eliminated.
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