"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

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Pakistan opposition parties win over independents to tighten grip on parliament

From Dawn.

Parties opposed to President Musharraf have won the allegiance of 11 lawmakers who contested last month's elections as independents, the election commission said Friday. Seven independents have joined Pakistan People’s Party while four have lined up with Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz, according to a breakdown provided by the commission. No lawmakers have joined pro-Musharraf parties. The election commission said 18 parliamentarians will remain independent after Thursday's deadline to sign up for a party. The cutoff also triggered the allocation of additional seats reserved for women and non-Muslims. PPP now has 120 lawmakers in the 342-seat National Assembly, the commission said. The PML-N has 90, while the PML-Q has 51. The election commission said 11 seats in the National Assembly remain vacant. The results in seven constituencies are in litigation, while voting in three places has been delayed by either security concerns or the death of a candidate. One seat reserved for a woman will be decided by drawing lots because two parties - the PML-Q and an alliance of religious parties - have an equal claim on it.

What is significant here is a PPP and PML-Q coalition now has a majority of the seats in a new coalition. Take this together with the Army's backing of Musharraf and the fact that the PML-Q still maintains a majority in the senate, a coalition between the PPP and PML-Q is a likely prospect as is Musharraf's continuation of the Presidency. Musharraf announced the parliament will be convened within 10 days. The next ten days will see interesting political maneuvering in Pakistan.

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PPP, PML (Q) working towards national consensus government

From South East Asia News.

A national consensus government involving the Musharraf-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) appears to be in the making in Pakistan's Punjab province, if the results of the over two-hour long talks between PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and PML (Q) leader Hamid Nasir Chattha on Saturday are anything to go by.

The Daily Times quoted sources privy to the meeting as saying that a thaw in relations between the two parties is in the offing."

The PPP is keeping all its options open. However, it is difficult to say at this time whether it will take the PML-Q on board," the sources added.

A coaltion between the PPP, the PML-Q and the PML-F would give this coalition 187 of the 186 seats needed to form a coalition government. One would ask why would the PPP form a coalition with the PML-Q and not the PML-N. A couple of factors are at work here.

1. The PML-N is supportive of Al Qaeda's/Taliban's presence in Pakistan. If the Pakistani elections tell anything, it is the population is growing less supportive of militants noticed by the loss of several seats by the MMA garnering only 3% of the vote compared to 11% in the last election. While the PML-Q also lost significant seats, it managed to maintain 15% of the electorate.

2. A little know fact is the PML-N's Sharif put Zardari, the PPP Co-chairman, in prison for in 1994. He gained his release from Musharraf in 2004.

3. PML-Q has a majority in the Senate and senatorial elections are two years off. This fact and the lack of a 2/3 majority will prevent the PPP from impeaching Musharraf. In addition, a lot can change in two years and Zardari does not want to burn more bridges after spending 11 years in jail for one thing or another.

4. The PML-Q won a majority in Balochistan Province where the new Gwandar port is becoming fully operational which will allow international trade and access to proposed oil pipelines from Iran and India.

5. The PML-Q threatened to file money laundering charges against Zardari last month. Forming a coalition with the PML-Q will make these charges go away.

6. Mr 10% (Zardari) would have no issue focusing on the economy while letting Musharraf battle militants. In many respects, it is a marriage made in heaven.

7. Musharraf recently delivered an olive branch to the PPP offering to reinstate expelled justices.

8. Maintaining Musharraf in power will ensure continued military support and financial aid from the US.

All of these factirs gives the PPP good incentive to form a coalition with the PML-Q.

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‘Zardari, Fahim and Rashid on terrorist hit list’

From the Daily Times in Pakistan.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, Vice Chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim, and former federal minister Sheikh Rashid are among the politicians placed on the terrorists’ hit list, according to a letter issued by the National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC).

A few interesting items come out of this article.

1. While Bhutto was expressly anti-Taliban, Zardari and Fahim have not been so expressive as Bhutto in this regard. In fact, they are forming a coalition with the PML-N which seeks to establish peace with the Taliban vice war in the tribal regions.

2. The PPP was not seeking an alliance with Musharraf's PML-Q which is currently battling the Pakistani Taliban and has assocations with the US. In addition, there is an effort possibly in the future impeach Musharraf once the coalition gains strength.

Given the above, why would the Taliban/Al Qaeda put these members on a hit list? It must be something being worked under the table with the PML-Q and the PPP.

It will be interesting to see how the PPP reacts to being on the Taliban's hit list. Their reaction may very well determine how Pakistan deals with the Taliban in the future. This situation is worth watching.

For a full read, click here.

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Forming Pakistan's coalition government

From Dawn.

Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, the leaders of Pakistan's two main parties, have decided in principle to forge a coalition government following their resounding election victory. If they succeed, it will be the first time the two main parties in Pakistan have come together. As the two parties and their leadership work out the modalities of the coalition arrangement, the Election Commission will be ready to formally notify the election results which is expected by March 1. This will be followed by President Musharraf summoning the inaugural session of the National Assembly. How soon after depends on whether there is a government ready. In 2002, Musharraf convened the assembly session more than a month after the election, to give time to political parties to agree on a coalition. The president will thereafter invite a member of the National Assembly who commands the confidence of the majority of the members to become prime minister and form the government. Before the formal election of the leader of the house/prime minister, the newly elected members will be sworn in, and they will elect the Speaker and his deputy.

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Musharraf's cards and the future of Pakistan

Steve Schippert reports from Threats Watch that representatives of Musharraf engaged in talks with Shahzad Sharif, the PML-N in an effort to become a large part in any future Pakistani government.

Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) head Shahbaz Sharif dashed to Islamabad on Saturday and returned to Lahore in the evening after holding separate meetings with an aide of President Pervez Musharraf, the Saudi ambassador and a former bureaucrat, sources told Dawn.

The sources said the PML-N president had met Brig (retd) Niaz Ahmad, who passed a message from President Musharraf on to Mr Sharif about the formation of a national government before the general election.

Sources in the PML-N said the president had suggested Shahbaz Sharif to become a part of the proposed government. The sources said the president had also proposed a “future role” for Shahbaz Sharif after the elections.

Musharraf was to have formed a Coalition with the PPP and Bhutto, but since her assassination, Zardari has not been amicable to sharing power with Musharraf, until now. Dawn reports,

Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People’s Party said Monday it may work with Pervez Musharraf after elections next month. ''Our first priority is holding free and fair elections,'' said party spokesman Farhatullah Babar. ''All other things, working with Musharraf or not working with Musharraf, these are bridges which we will cross when they come. All options are open.''

Why is Musharraf working now with the brother of the leader he took power from in a military coup? Even more interesting, why is the PPP now interested in working with Musharraf?

The answer is simple, but complex. If the PML-N and PPP garner enough votes from the 18 February elections, they may gain 2/3 of the Parliament. With 2/3 control of Parliament, they can impeach Musharraf. Hence, Musharraf is trying to ensure his reign continues while pushing Pakistan towards democracy. While certainly self-serving, Musharraf does not believe Pakistan can survive the turmoil of an impeachment while battling the Taliban and Al Qaeda at its doorstep. Hence, he stated for a recent interview in The Australian,

President Pervez Musharraf has threatened to resign rather than face impeachment should the opposition seize government in general elections next month.

Mr Musharraf, asked about opposition threats to impeach him if, as seems likely, the main opposition parties win a two-thirds majority in the new National Assembly, said: “If that (impeachment) happens, let me assure that I’d be leaving office before they would do anything.

Musharraf must gain support from either the PPP or PML-N to ensure his presidency continues. This fact is his self-serving reason for negotiating with the PPP and the PML-N. However, if he cannot, he will resign to let these parties deal with the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan to ensure the survival and integrity of Pakistan. This fact shows his support for the growth of democracy in Pakistan.

Appointing General Ashfaq Kayani, who is apolitical, believes in democracy, and is pro-Western is Musharraf's ace in case he is overthrown and turmoil commences between the PPP and PML-N.

General Kayani will step in as needed to ensure Pakistan continues on the road to democracy and simultaneously work to lessen the threat of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Having worked as the Military Secretary under Bhutto before, Kayani was instrumental in setting up Bhutto's return to Pakistan and the power sharing agreement between her and Musharraf.

Musharraf has positioned Pakistan smartly to ensure it continues to pursue democracy, whether he is a part of this transition or not. He has expertly positioned Pakistan to begin battle with the Taliban and Pakistan. While, he would prefer to deal with the PPP since they are anti-Taliban/Al Qaeda (more so now since both are complicit in her assassination), he would also work with the PML-N (who is rather pro-Taliban/Al Qaeda) to ensure his country survives its upcoming battle. Even if both parties ban together to depose him (in which he will leave willingly), democracy will prevail and be strengthened while General Kayani will continue to battle Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

All powers in Pakistan are awaiting the results of the 18 February election. They will be free and fair, Musharraf will guarantee this because democracy, above all else, is his ultimate goal for Pakistan.

The Taliban and Al Qaeda believe they have destroyed any hope for democracy in Pakistan by killing Bhutto, but Musharraf has several aces up his sleeves to ensure its continuation.

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