Pakistan - Politics
2007: Year of Change
The year 2007 brought a massive political crisis to Pakistan. Rooted in President Musharraf's initial idea of stepping down in 2007 and his subsequent plans to stand in the long proposed 2007 elections, political crisis rapidly built up. Perhaps the most serious inciting incident came on 9 March 2007, when Musharraf suspended Iftikhar Chaudhry, Chief Justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court, who had largely been expected to rule that it would be illegal for Musharraf to stand in the upcoming elections. Suited lawyers and other took the streets in protest, leading to violent confrontations with Pakistani police and paramilitary forces. Protests continued for months, while Musharraf attempted to tout Pakistan's record in counter-terrorism operations as an indication of the success of his leadership. That these claims had been called into question publicly by high ranking US military personnel in the region did little to help Musharraf's case.
By May 2006 Pakistani security forces had been issued a shoot on sight order in Karachi in response to political violence there, showing the magnitude of the crisis. In June the Army was reported as coming out in favor of Musharraf, a reality seen as key to his immediate political survival. Musharraf caved to popular opinion in July, reinstating Chaudhry, but soon found himself embroiled in another domestic crisis. Radical Islamic opponents of his regime had taken control of a Mosque Islamabad, and for a time held hostages, before releasing them. The subsequent military operation in which most of the militants were killed, was condemned as a use of excessive force, especially in the face of the facts that many of hostages had already been released.
As the year came to a close even more dramatic changes began to occur. The reinstatement of Chaudhry led the judicial system to defy President Musharraf and order the release of Javed Hashimi, who had been held since 2003. Even more daunting was the return in August 2007 of Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan, with Benazir Bhutto suggesting that she too would likely be returning to contest elections. Sharif's supporters rallied around him and were influential in preventing his immediate arrest as had been threatened by Pakistani authorities. Musharraf attempted to strike a deal with Benazir Bhutto while she was still in exile to no avail, but did succeed in being cleared to run in the upcoming election. In November 2007 Musharraf attempting to control the political situation imposed an period of Emergency Rule, giving himself various authorities and putting Benazir Bhutto, who had returned as she planned at the end of October, under house arrest. The restrictions on her travel were lifted, only to be reinstated again before the end of November.
Until 2007, two of the country's major politicians, former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, were in self-imposed exile in the Middle East, both wanted by the government of Pervez Musharraf on charges of corruption. Bhutto's People's Party of Pakistan (PPP), under the banner of the People's Party of Pakistan Parliamentarians (PPPP), and Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) [PML (N)] were contesting elections and hope to draw upon residual support for the exiled leaders. While the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) did not have nationwide support base, it remained a major political force in the urban Sindh areas. Besides the PPPP and PML (N), key national level players include the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) [PML (Q)], a breakaway faction of the original PML, which acquired the label of the "King's Party" due to its strong government backing, the Grand National Alliance, a coalition of regional parties and senior politicians supported by the government, and the Muttahid Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of first 4 and later 6 major religious parties that recently received some government support to counter the influence of the PPPP. The Tehrik-i-Insaf, led by Imran Khan, has received considerable publicity, but continued to be considered less than a national-level force.
Indigenous and international terrorist groups continually pledged to assassinate Musharraf and other senior Pakistan government officials and remained a significant threat. International and indigenous terrorist groups continued to pose a high threat to senior Pakistani government officials, military officers and US interests. The Prime Minister and a corps commander were the targets of assassination attempts dating to the summer of 2003. President Musharraf remains at high risk of assassination, although no known attempts on his life occurred after the attacks in December 2003. Investigations into the two December 2003 attempts revealed complicity among junior officers and enlisted personnel in the Pakistani Army and Air Force. If Musharraf were to be assassinated or otherwise replaced, Pakistan's it was highly expected that the new leader would be less pro-US. It was also predicted that extremist Islamic politicians would gain greater influence.
Musharraf survived final challenges to his stand for election by finally following through on his promise to give up his military authority. He was sworn in as the civilian president of Pakistan in November 2007. He lifted his Emergency Rule provision in December 2007, and all seemed on track for the election.
On 27 December 2007 Benazir Bhutto was assassinated during a political rally. Her death drew international condemnation and various accusations and questions both inside and outside Pakistan as to the perpetrators and any complicity on the part of Pakistani security forces. No link was substantiated to the Pakistani government and elections were delayed until February from January. Musharraf vowed to apprehend the killers, a statement that drew some residual criticism as insincere.
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