Musharraf resigns; future of Pakistan uncertain

“Long live Pakistan!” said Pervez Musharraf at the close of his resignation speech on August 18. This date marked the end of Musharraf’s nine-year stint as the head of Pakistani government, having seized power in 1999 through a bloodless military coup and officially appointing himself president in 2001.

Musharraf resigned under a black cloud of impeachment charges submitted by the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League. The next day he would have been formally ousted from the presidency.

The charges included misconduct and violation of the constitution.

“His biggest mistake? Canning the Supreme Court,” said Ken Gilmore, associate professor of political science.

During the 2007 presidential elections, the Supreme Court deliberated Musharraf’s eligibility to run for office as the chief of the army. Before the court reached a decision, however, Musharraf abruptly declared a state of emergency in Pakistan, meaning the country’s constitution was invalid.

Under this protection, he jailed several Supreme Court justices and filled the vacated spots with persons more sympathetic to his cause.

This was only one of a series of steps taken during the state of emergency to suppress dissent; others included seizing control of the television networks and employing troops to arrest those who expressed negative sentiments towards their president.

A new president will be elected by Sept. 17.

It is uncertain what effect the election will have on U.S. diplomatic relations. Though Pakistan lent the United States the use of three major airbases during America’s invasion of Iraq, the relationship is, in the words of political science professor Robert Duncan, “dicey.” This is due in large part to Pakistan’s recent acquisition of a nuclear arsenal, currently estimated by The New York Times to be at around 50-100 weapons.

In a country fraught with civil strife, nuclear weapons pose a dangerous temptation. Pakistan has long had conflict at the border it shares with India, where Muslim Indians, in accord with Pakistani Muslims, battle their Hindu counterparts.

“We’d better hope they don’t get their noses out of joint,” Duncan said. “It’s just a nuclear tinderbox.”

Pakistan also possesses a rising contingent of Taliban members, none of whom have a pleasant history with the United States.

The new president will have the unenviable job of balancing Pakistan’s political factions, a situation requiring a delicate diplomatic approach. Current possible candidates include Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan People’s Party, a socialist and the widower of Benazir Bhutto, Aftab Shaban Mirani, former Chief Minister of Sindh, and Fehmida Mirza, speaker for the National Assembly.

“It’s going to fall apart,” said Gilmore. “The country’s just not ready for democracy.”

Mohammad Zafar Bhatti, a former citizen of Pakistan whose daughter Madiha Bhatti is a freshman at Guilford, is more optimistic.

“I see a strong democracy in Pakistan’s future, even though thieves and thugs are running the nation. The public will not put up with their nonsense.