American forces are stretched thin as they fight both in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there is increasing evidence of a possible new third front situation on the border area that connects Afghanistan and Pakistan. Three congressmen recently visited Pakistan where they met with President Musharraf and discussed American concerns about what was happening in tribal areas of Pakistan. Congressmen Gene Green, Michael McCaul, and Henry Cuellar, told the Houston Chronicle, US commandos are prepared to stage raids into Pakistan’s volatile tribal areas if Pakistan does not not action to halt Taliban and al-Qaeda militancy. They told President Musharraf failure to disrupt terrorist attacks which have led to a rise in US casualties in Afganistan will require new American military action in the border region. Musharraf has so far rejected resumption of joint operations with the American military that ended in 2003.
There is little doubt comments by the Congressmen were cleared with the Bush administration. McCaul openly said Pakistan’s failure to contain militancy makes it “imperative that US forces be allowed to pursue the Taliban and al-Qaeda inside Pakistan.” Even as they spoke, General David McKiernan was complaining of the growing number of militant actions that arise from their ability to cross over into Afghanistan.
There is no doubt militancy is growing in Afghanistan. However, US strikes into Pakistan will only create a new front which must be manned and will undoubtedly become a permanent center of new American military action. Is this a possible reality in light of growing concerns by the American public for continued fighting in Asia?
Abdul Oadeer Khan, the master mind behind nuclear development in Pakistan told the AP in a telephone interview that President Musharraf was involved in the sale of used centrifuges to North Korea in 2000. Many experts for years have doubted Khan alone could have masterminded and carried through alone an operation requiring extensive cooperation from Pakistan security forces. He claims Musharraf had “complete knowledge of the shipment. “It was a North Korean plane and he(Musharraf) had complete knowledge about it and thee equipment.”
The use of planes and the complexity in getting the centrifuges onto them suggests some involvement of Pakistan security personnel in the sale of the equipment to North Korea. It was the same Pakistan Intelligence forces who created the Taliban and aided their initial conquest of Afghanistan. Musharraf is now placed in an awkward position given his constant cries his country must cooperate with the United States.
The “long march” of Pakistan’s lawyers which seeks to force President Musharraf to resign and to compel judges appointed by him to join the exit has now reached the capital in Islamabad where speeches will greet the marchers. It is estimated the final march will witness about 40,000 people including lawyers, political workers and civil servants. In an editorial in the Lahore Times, the newspaper took to task the entire episode claiming its original purpose for political change has become transformed into a vehicle for political opportunists who are using the lawyers in order to win an election. Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, will be on the platform when marchers arrive to deliver another of his angry speeches insisting Musharraf must go along with judges he appointed. The editors support the current focus of Pakistan People Party leader Zardari who is trying to avoid a constitutional crisis for the newly formed government. He prefers to curb Musharraf’s power and make him ineffective in order to persuade the president to finally resign of his own accord.
There is no question Sharif is using the long march to help him gain political victories in the upcoming elections. The old powerful Musharraf no longer exists. There is sense in Zardari’s approach of restoring old judges while allowing the new ones to remain for the present in order to avoid more turmoil in the nation. Pakistan has numerous problems that require attention without being distracted by the presence of Musharraf. He has already been condemned to the dustbin of history, let him slumber for a period. He will be gone within a year, but Pakistan must focus on its immediate needs.
The legacy of President Musharraf’s actions last fall when he fired most members of the Pakistan Supreme Court continue to divide Pakistan political leaders. Nawaz Sharif, head of the PML-N party insists he told Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party that he would not join the coalition government unless there was agreement all judges sacked by Musharraf would be restored by May 12. Failure on the part of Zardari to take this step led to Nawaz resigning from the coalition government.
Esentially, Zardari argues the original sacking was illegal and an attempt to now fire judges appointed by Musharraf would also be illegal. He wants the present group of judges to remain even as the sacked judges are restored to their positions. He fears creating a constitutional crisis since the government is working to end conflict in the northwest region with Islamic militants.
There is no question this is a critical moment in Pakistan history and there is need for a coalition government which can resolve conflicts in the northwest and end militant attacks. Perhaps, at the back of his mind is a hope that President Musharraf in the coming months will resign and allow resolution of the judge issues.
Pakistani leaders meeting in London in an effort to resolve the conflict regarding the positon of judges fired by President Musharraf have yet to come to an agreement on how to handle the situation. Musharraf sacked judges last fall who opposed him including the head of the Pakistan Supreme Court. Asif Ali Zardari, widow of the slain Benazir Bhutto, is willing to allow the issue to dominate the current situation confronting his nation but Nawaz Sharif, who heads a key political party in the governing coalition, has made return of the judges a key issue. His goal is removal of Musharraf from the presidency and he believes restoring the judges to power will asisst in gaining that goal.
Zardari is no great supporter of Musharraf was wants to avoid a constitutional crisis that might result if the judges are returned to their former positions and attempts are made by Nawaz Sharif to use the power of the judiciiary to remove the president. At this point, Zardari is willing to allow judges appointed by Musharraf to replace those fired to be allowed to continue in office.
As many Democrats today urge Senator Clinton to step down, so do many Pakistanis urge Musharraf to step down and allow their nation to escape a constituional crisis. We suspect neither will walk away from power.