Former President and General Pervez Musharraf.
President Pervez Musharraf, the longtime military leader of Pakistan and erstwhile ally of the US in the war against Islamic extremists, announced his resignation after months of political battles with the recently elected government of Pakistan. Musharraf’s resignation pre-empted an expected impeachment battle that was to begin this week.
Musharraf appeared on Pakistani television announcing his resignation. “After viewing the situation and consulting legal advisers and political allies, with their advice I have decided to resign,” he said. “I leave my future in the hands of the people.”
Rumors of Musharraf’s resignation appeared late last week after senior members of the military and his political advisers floated the idea to the press. The Army is believed to have asked Musharraf to step down. Musharraf’s aides were in negotiations with the Pakistan’s coalition government last week. Theses talks were facilitated by the US, Britain, and Saudi Arabia, and it is believed Musharraf received immunity in exchange for stepping down.
Musharraf made numerous political enemies since taking power in a military coup in 1999. He overthrew the government of Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N). Sharif went in exile, along with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
After the al Qaeda attacks on the US on Sept. 11, 2001, Musharraf was issued an ultimatum by then Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage to target al Qaeda’s support network. Armitage said the US would bomb Pakistan “back to the stone age” if the country did not support US actions in Afghanistan and dismantle al Qaeda’s safe havens in Pakistan.
Musharraf’s cooperation with the US infuriated Pakistan’s Islamists political parties as well as supporters of the Taliban and jihadi groups in the military and the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s shadowy spy agency. Pakistan has used the Taliban and various al Qaeda-linked jihadi groups as “strategic depth” against India, Pakistan’s enemy to the east.
Pakistan’s security and intelligence services rounded up hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda foot soldiers and scores of senior leaders, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks. Pakistan often claims more than 700 al Qaeda operatives have been captured over the past seven years.
But Pakistan has had a spotty record in keeping al Qaeda and Taliban operatives and leaders in custody. Senior Taliban commanders such as Mullah Obaidullah have been exchanged for captured Pakistani military and governmental officials. Sufi Mohammed, a senior extremist leader who sent more than 10,000 fighters into Afghanistan, was released in exchange for settling a “peace deal” in Bajaur and Malakand. The government dropped charges against radical Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz and 450 students after they participated in an armed uprising in the capital of Islamabad. And al Qaeda operatives, such as Rashid Rauf, have escaped capture under very unusual circumstances.
Musharraf sealed his fate after declaring martial law in November 2007. Done under the auspices of fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda, Musharraf instead used his power to dismiss the justices of the Supreme Court and pack the court with his supporters. Parliamentary and provincial elections were suspended. He modified the constitution to allow him to remain in power and rounded up his political enemies in the PPP and PML-N. Benazir Bhutto was placed under house arrest just weeks after triumphantly returning from exile.
Musharraf lifted martial law in January and parliamentary and provincial elections were held in late February. The PPP won the most seats, followed by the PML-N. The Pakistan Muslim League – Qaid, Musharraf’s political party, took a distant fourth. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amil, or MMA, the pro-Taliban Islamist party, was also routed. Talks of impeachment and the removal of Musharraf began immediately.
Pakistan and the future fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban
The resignation of Musharraf now calls into question Pakistan’s role in the Long War and the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Musharraf, for all of his faults, has long been seen as an ally of the US against the rise of Islamic extremists in Pakistan’s border areas.
The United States has invested its political capital in supporting Musharraf while transitioning power to a secular government, presumed to have been led by Bhutto, that is capable of fighting the Taliban. Musharraf, who was Chief of Staff of the Army, was to remain as president while the Army would be led by General Ashfaq Kiyani, a protege of Musharraf and the former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence. But Bhutto was killed by the Taliban in December 2007, and now Musharraf has been removed from the picture, leaving Pakistan’s political parties fighting over control of the government.
The Pakistani coalition government of the PPP and the PML-N has focused enormous energy in the efforts to eject Musharraf from the presidency, while the security situation in the Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal agencies has deteriorated rapidly. The federal government has largely deferred to the Awami National Party, a secular Pashtun party that won elections in the Northwest Frontier Province, to make policy with respect to the Taliban.
The provincial government, with the backing of the federal government, has signed multiple peace agreements with the Taliban in the tribal areas and in the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. The Taliban have responded by increasing attacks and consolidating power in the region. The government then launched ineffective offensives that purported to oust the Taliban from power but only ceded more regions to the extremists. These policies are only likely to continue now that Musharraf is out of power.
The PPP and the PML-N are now likely to jockey for power in Pakistan, as the office of the presidency is now up for grabs. Nawaz and Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the PPP and the husband of Bhutto, are believed to be eying the office.
“Sharif, Zardari, and [Prime Minister Yousuf Raza] Gilani are the most powerful figures in Pakistani politics now,” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, the vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Long War Journal.
Sharif has long been considered a sympathizer of the Taliban and is rumored to have accepted bribe money from al Qaeda. Sharif has also advocated an end to military operations in the Northwest Frontier Province.
“Gilani will try to strengthen the office of prime minister,” Gartenstein-Ross said, noting that prior to Musharraf’s coup, the office of the prime minister was the seat of power in Pakistan.
While machinations of Pakistan’s’ political parties play out over the next weeks and months, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and allied terror groups are likely to continue to metastasize in the Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal areas. There are 157 training camps and more than 400 support locations in the region, senior US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. Last month, Prime Minister Gilani was told more than 8,000 foreign fighters are present in the tribal areas.
For background on Pakistan’s political crisis, see:
• Musharraf, pro-Taliban party routed in Pakistan’s election, Feb. 19, 2008
• Descent into Appeasement, May 31, 2008
• Pakistan: A Dangerous Neighbor, Aug. 6, 2008
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