Musharraf Re-Elected: What's Next
Amid significant protest, Musharraf won Parliamentary re-election on October 6 to a new 5-year term as Pakistan's president. Only 252 votes were cast among the National Parliament and the four provincial assemblies in the provinces of Punjab (Lahore), Balochistan (Quetta), Sindh (Kirachi), and the North West Frontier Province (Peshawar). Most of the missing votes were due to opposition mass resignations. These resignations were symbolic, as they would not have had enough votes to defeat a Musharraf candidacy. Also missing were the votes from former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistani Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) after they abstained from voting rather than resign along with other opposition parties.
The opposition parties are expected to gain a parliamentary majority as a result of the upcoming national elections in January. It is for this reason that Musharraf asked for and received an early presidential election ahead of the January national vote from a still-friendly parliament. Had he waited, he most likely would have had no chance at winning another presidential term.Going forward, there are several key dates within the next 45 days to keep an eye on as they approach.
- October 13-17 - While several legal petitions challenging the legality Musharraf's candidacy (due to his concurrent service in the military as the Army Chief of Staff) have been dismissed, several still remain on the Pakistani Supreme Court's docket. They have promised to rule by October 17. They are expected to rule in favor of Musharraf, and can also likely be expected to rule as late as possible.
- October 18 - Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto announced that she will return to Pakistan from exile on this date. In self-exile to avoid prosecution on charges of corruption, Pervez Musharraf granted her immunity several days ago in as part of efforts to reach a power-sharing agreement.
- November 15 - This is the day that Musharraf said that he will retire from the military and cede his post as Army Chief of Staff if he is re-elected and confirmed as Pakistan's president. The election was won in parliament. It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will dismiss the challenges to his candidacy.
- January ?? - The national elections for selecting a new parliament were announced by Musharraf to take place in January. Perhaps not coincidentally, he also announced that there will be no Pakistani Army troop deployments in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) by January as well. These duties in the area largely controlled by the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance will be handled exclusively by the Interior Ministry's Frontier Corps and constabularies' less-capable and less professional paramilitaries.
Regardless of unforeseen events unfolding between now and January, Musharraf's decision to disengage his most professional forces from increasingly more dangerous and capable al-Qaeda and Taliban within their FATA havens looks to accelerate direct US action against them in one form or another - be it via airstrikes, covert actions including the use of potential proxies, or (not at all likely in the near to mid-term) overt US military ground operations.
In a nutshell, even with Musharraf remaining Pakistan's president, the al-Qaeda problem inside Pakistan grows and must be dealt with one way or the other. One of the only things that remains clear is that the defeat of al-Qaeda inside Pakistan will not come at the hands of the Pakistani military. It certainly will not come at the hands of paramilitary Interior Ministry forces who are out-manned, out-gunned and out-classed by a fighting force of terrorists who maintain superior motivation.