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Fatwa issued against Pakistan President Zardari for “flirtatious” behaviour toward Sarah

From CFP.

Among his other problems, a fatwa has now been issued against “flirtatious” Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.

“The leader of the infamous Lal Masjid in Lahore, Pakistan has issued a `fatwa’ against Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari for publicly making indecent gestures towards the American Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.” (Watch), (The Times of India, Sept. 29, 2008).

During his first Western mission since his election, Zardari seems to have run afoul of the clerics, who have dubbed his act upon meeting vice presidential Sarah Palin as “un-Islamic”.

The Pakistani elections saw not only the decline of Musharraf's PML-Q party, but also Islamist parties. These two facts taken together can only mean Pakistanis were not only tired of Musharraf's dictatorial tendencies, but also extremists too. To put it simply, Pakistanis did not want a dictatorship, whether headed by Musharraf or the Islamists. They wanted a democracy and voted overwhelmingly for one.

A fatwa issued against President Zardari will only cause more Pakistanis to turn against Islamists, not to mention the full weight of the PPP controlled government too.

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan minister: govt won't negotiate with 'terrorists' in new counterterror policy

From Yahoo via AP.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Monday that Pakistan's new government will not negotiate with "terrorists" even as it seeks talks with some militant groups....

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has offered talks to militants ready to renounce violence.

But in remarks that could ease concern in the West that the new government will be softer on al-Qaida, Qureshi said that offer excluded groups that Pakistan considered terrorists.

This is the first official word from Pakistan's new government on how it will deal with terrorists. On first apparence, his policy seems similar to Musharraf's. While meeting with British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, PM Gilani stated,

In a separate meeting, Gilani told Smith that Pakistan would follow a "multi-pronged" strategy against terrorism and extremism, his office said in a statement.

Gilani urged the international community to address root causes of terrorism in "unresolved political issues" and economic disparities.

Once again, we hear the term "multi-pronged" strategy. This stategy was first introduced by President Musharraf on 17 January 2008 when addressing PTV’s weekly interactive programme ‘Aiwan-e-Sadr Sey’ on the “Challenges confronting Pakistan and the way forward.” In detailing his new strategy, Musharraf said the country currently faced three major challenges; terrorism and extremism; transition to democracy and need to sustain socio-economic growth.

It seems the new government in Pakistan may not be so different from Musharraf on their approach to terrorism. In addition, the new government may very well realize what Musharraf and the Pakistani people in general are realizing -- namely, they created the Taliban which supported and continues to support Al Qaeda in the tribal regions in Pakistan. Withdrawing support from the Taliban and Al Qaeda is bringing terrorism to directly to Pakistan, not only in the tribal areas, but in Pakistan cities as well.

I have often stated in this blog one of the best approaches Pakistan's new government could take is to lead the charge in socio-economic growth in the Pakistani tribal areas which Musharraf enacted late last year. Most significantly, the bureaucratic machinery for socio-economic growth in the tribal areas was implemented last year with the development and implementation of Tribal Agents, District Coordinaing Officers, and Regional Coordinating Officers under the leadership of the Provincial Governor. This structure would allow the tribal framework in the tribal areas to not only be included in the decision making and financing of growth in this region, but also to maintain this all important tribal alliance which this region has come to depend upon.

Musharraf guaranteed Pakistan's transition to a democracy, even at his own personal risk politically. Musharraf should be allowed to lead the charge on the military front with General Kayani.

If successful against terrorism, the new government could claim credit and reap its benefits. If unsuccessful, the new government could blame Musharraf. This situation is the best of both worlds for the new government.

It appears from the statement above from PM Gilani, he is going to pursue the same course as Musharraf developed later last year. While military action will, in the near term, potentially slow as the new government feels its way in its new position of authority, I expect to see an increase in military action shortly against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The new government will see what they can change with negotiations. The Taliban and Al Qaeda will fail to keep their ends of new agreements, just as they did with Musharraf. This time though, Pakistan has in place a "multi-pronged" strategy to deal with terrorists in the tribal regions. When military action again starts, one will see a revitalized national army ready to take the fight to terrorists.

The battle will come. Make no doubt about it. Extremists lost wholesale in the latest democratic elections. Businessmen won. Sharia law and extremism is bad for business. The two will eventually clash.

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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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PPP breather for Musharraf

From The Statesmen.

In a breather for beleaguered President Pervez Mush-arraf, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has indicated that the new government will not seek his immediate impeachment as western envoys confabulated with leaders here to shore up his position.

Asked whether the new government will move forward to impeach Musharraf, PPP leader and frontrunner for Prime Ministership Mr Makhdoom Am-in Fahim said the party did not wish “to rock the boat” at this stage.“

I think there's no need at the moment but the parliament is sovereign. Once we go to the Parliament, the Parliament will look at every issue. We should not rock the boat at this time. We must have civil transition of power from the military to the civilians,” the 68-year-old Bhutto loyalist told CNN.

More Text

More Quoted Text

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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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Pakistan's ruling party concedes defeat

From Yahoo via AP.

Pakistan's ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America's close ally in the war on terror.

The significance of this fact cannot be understated. Musharraf's party, which came to power through a coup, held free and fair elections which resulted in it losing several parlimentary seats. And it has peacefully conceded defeat.

While Sharif is calling on Musharraf to step down, there potentially is no reason for Musharraf to do so according to the numbers.

Geo TV said unofficial tallies from 229 of the 268 National Assembly seats being contested showed Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party with 33 percent and Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party with 27 percent. The PML-Q was third with 14 percent.

Thje PML-Q may align itself with the PPP to assist this party in getting a majority through a coalition with other smaller parties effectively pushing the PML-N out of a majority coalition. This idea was surfaced before the election and would allow Musharraf to continue to focus his presidency on defeating the militants while the PPP focuses on the economics of Pakistan. A major sticking point between the PPP and PML-N is that the PML-N supports the Taliban while the PPP is against Islamization of the country, especially in light of Bhutto's assassination by Baitullah Meshud.

Another fact this article brushes over, but is even more significant, is the MMA (pro-Taliban cleric, Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman) won only eight seats or about 3% of the vote. This is a significant decrease from the 11% it won during the last elections. Not only is support waning for Musharraf's party, but so has support for the Taliban.

Musharraf saw the writing on the wall prior to the elections and spoke of his multi-pronged strategy to defeat the insurgents in his country. This strategy included:

1. Countering terrorism and extremism

2. Transition to democracy

3. The need to sustain socio-economic growth

Musharraf has just helped his country make the transition to democracy in free and fair elections resulting in his party coming in third. He has appointed General Kayani head of the military. General Kayani will ensure the fight is taken to the insurgents. He has transformed Pakistan economically by opening up the country to international trade to include several lucrative oil pipeline deals. He is transforming the FATA and NWFP region with the appointments of Regional Coordinating Officers (RCOs), District Coordinating Officers (DCOs), and making the offices of the political agents below Governors.

Pakistan's transition to democracy marks the beginning of the end of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan. The PPP leading a coalition will ensure it demise. The Bhutto assassination assured this fact. Its garnering of only 3% of the vote sealed its fate.

Now it is up to the PPP to convince Pakistanis the battle against the Taliban is not just America's war, but also their own. The over 600 innocent Pakistanis murdered last year by suicide bombers helps the PPP accomplish this mission.

We will soon see if the PPP is up to this task. Aligning the PML-Q with itself will signal its intentions for not only Pakistanis, but also to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

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PAKISTAN: Jockeying For Position

From South Asia Analysis Group. A great primer on the upcoming elections.

With just a month to go before the postponed general elections to the National and Provincial Assemblies of Pakistan, which are now to be held on February 18, 2008, the election campaign is once again picking up the momentum, which it had lost after the shocking assassination of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister, on December 27, 2007. Apparently rendered wiser by the shock and grief caused by her assassination, which was in part due to her habit of flouting security regulations, the political leaders have been more restrained in their campaigning, with their public exposure restrained to the minimum unavoidable. The consequences of another assassination by the jihadi terrorists would be incalculable for the future of the country and its political stability.

For a full read, click here.

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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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Family rule is dangerous for PPP and Pakistan: Fatima

From the Daily Times of Pakistan.

Benazir Bhutto’s niece described as ‘dangerous’ the idea that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) must be led by a member of the family in an interview published on Saturday.

Fatima Bhutto, 25, is still seen by some in Pakistan as a potential heir to the family dynasty, although her cousin, Benazir’s son Bilawal, was named the PPP co-chairman after his mother’s assassination on December 27.

Fatima told the Times newspaper in London that she might be interested in a career in politics, although would not be “a symbol” for anyone, and denounced the PPP as “desperate to cash in on her (Benazir’s) blood”.

Against democracy: “It’s become in a sense the family business, like an antique shop where it’s just ‘so and so and sons’, and then grandsons and great grandsons. It just gets handed down,” she said. “The idea that it has to be a Bhutto, I think, is a dangerous one. It doesn’t benefit Pakistan. It doesn’t benefit a party that’s supposed to be run on democratic lines and it doesn’t benefit us as citizens if we think only about personalities and not about platforms,” she said. (emphasis added)

Very interesting development.

For a full read, click here.

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