WSN Editor Pakistan Sahabzada Abdus-Samad Khan: "Vacuum created by death of Benazir Bhutto difficult to fill in PPP"

Posted in Broader Middle East , Pakistan | 29-Jan-08 | Author: Dieter Farwick

"There would be less tolerance for radical elements owing to the suicide bombing"

- Exclusive Interview with WSN Editor Pakistan Sahabzada Abdus-Samad Khan conducted by Global Editor-in-Chief Dieter Farwick -

WSN: What are the most important consequences?

Sahabzada Abdus-Samad Khan: Short term: (i) the vacuum created by Ms. Bhutto's death in a highly centralized PPP party structure will be difficult to fill even if her son becomes a figurehead leader. If her husband Asif Zardari is involved (even behind the scenes) it may lead to fragmentation in the party. If the elections are held and the party remains intact there is a good chance that they may get a majority in any election, as the vote bank will be bolstered by the "sympathy factor" amongst the electorate. As a result a divided Parliament was expected to emerge with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) sharing power following the January elections. This would have been to the advantage of the Musharraf leadership as it would presumably be more malleable and easy to control, may now be an unlikely eventuality. One scenario to redress the situation would be for Musharraf to allow Nawaz or his brother Shabaz to run for election (they are presently barred on corruption charges and the Constitutional ban on a third term; the latter only applies to ex-PM Nawaz Sharif, not his brother). If there is general political fragmentation owing to the removal of the single strongest national opposition leader from the scene (seeing that the PML-N's power base is largely limited to central and northern Punjab) the crisis of governance seen in the NWFP could well spread to other provinces (ii) the lack of law and order across the country and the consequent deployment of most of the second line forces for internal security duties strengthens the hand of radical Islamist elements who may try and destabilize the political process further and/or go on the offensive in the NWFP and Tribal areas.

Dieter Farwick- Is martial law a tool to stabilize the situation and what role does the military play?

Sahabzada Abdus-Samad Khan: Martial Law is definitely seen as a potential tool to stabilize the country. At least in the short term, if the law and order situation worsens. This is all the more true if a the Army cannot work out a modus operandi with the political parties. In the longer term this will weaken civilian institutions further. Even in the short term martial law is likely to be problematic, as the Army has become very unpopular in the eyes of many.

WSN:Does the murder strengthen the radical Islamists ?

Sahabzada Abdus-Samad Khan: This is likely in the short term if indeed the military has fewer resources focused on fighting insurgency and radical elements owing to internal security duties.

WSN: What are the consequences for Afghanistan and will Pakistan remain a safe haven for the Taliban?

Sahabzada Abdus-Samad Khan: Owing to the above mentioned, there could be further cross border activity by the Taliban.

WSN: Could the murder be a kind of wake-up call to enforce the fight against the radicals?

Sahabzada Abdus-Samad Khan: Difficult to say. Conventional wisdom would have it that there would be less tolerance for radical elements owing to the suicide bombing, but then it is often the case in Pakistan (as a "knee jerk" reaction) that the US and/or the military establishment are blamed instead for one reason or another (e.g. some claim that rogue or other elements with in the establishment secretly sympathize with and/or actively support Islamists; the establishment is also blamed for not providing adequate security to politicians; even though the latter were warned against holding mass rallies in such a highly threatening environment).

WSN: What are the chances of President Musharraf surviving in power?

Sahabzada Abdus-Samad Khan: If there is a divided Parliament his chances of survival could be improved. But there are too many uncertainties involved to make an accurate prediction (e.g., constitutional issues/sacking of supreme court judges etc). In the end his chances of remaining at the helm come down to the degree of support he continues to receive from the Army.