‘With Musharraf, a Scapegoat Leaves the World Stage’

Pakistan is without Musharraf for the first time in nine years. German commentators on Tuesday asks whether the fractious coalition government will be any better at dealing with the country’s daunting problems, including a floundering economy and militant Islamists. And will the West be able to help keep the nuclear state stable?

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf after his resignation on Monday.

When Pervez Musharraf finally decided to call it a day on Monday and resigned after nine years in power, much of Pakistan sighed with relief, glad to see the back of a leader many had come to regard as a US puppet and a man desperate to cling on to power at all costs. Now, however, they are left with a fractious coalition government that has to face up to the problems it has until now been able blame on the former general: ongoing Islamist militancy and violence, as well as a floundering economy.

Musharraf announced his resignation to avoid impeachment but there was no indication that he will get immunity from prosecution. On Tuesday Pakistan’s Law Minister Farooq Naek said that there had been “no deal” with Musharraf and that the coalition leaders had yet to make a decision on “accountability.” The smaller of the two coalition parties, led by Nawaz Sharif, who Musharraf ousted in a putsch back in 1999, have called for him to be tried for treason. According to the Associated Press, however, reports in the Pakistani media suggest he could leave the country for security reasons.

The government, headed by the party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, is meeting on Tuesday to discuss a replacement for Musharraf. The chairman of the Senate, Mohammedmian Soomro, is to be acting president until a new one is elected by parliament within 30 days. Traditionally the president had been a figurehead in Pakistan, although the office had gained much more power under Musharraf.

The coalition is also expected to tackle the issue of whether to reinstate the judges that Musharraf purged last year in a bid to hinder legal challenges to his presidency. Musharraf’s decision to sack the judges and impose emergency rule last year caused his popularity plummet to new lows.

The West is hoping that Pakistan will not be plunged into further political instability now that its key ally Musharraf has left the political stage. The former general’s position had weakened considerably since his rivals won elections in February. US officials have since sought to strengthen relations both with the new Army Chief of Staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, and the new government.

There has been some disappointment in Washington with Pakistan’s efforts to tackle the resurgence of the Taliban in the tribal areas along with border with Afghanistan. It is assumed that the region is providing a safe haven for insurgents launching attacks across the border in Afghanistan and that al-Qaida may also have regrouped there.

The civilian government in Islamabad has opted to negotiate with tribal leaders. In exchange for keeping the Pakistani military out of the areas, tribal leaders have pledged to take on militant Islamists tehmselves. With the power struggle with Musharraf out of the way, some hope the government will soon have greater resources at its disposal to fight Islamic militancy and terrorism.

On Tuesday the German press not only writes Musharraf’s political obituary but also assesses the impact of his resignation on Pakistan and the region. Many call on the West to increase its efforts to help Pakistan find its feet economically so that militant Islamism can be rooted out and warn that the country’s rivalry with India poses real dangers.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

“Musharraf’s participation in the war on terror and the cooperation of the intelligence agency with the United States were, to put it mildly, never popular in the country. Moreover he was only ever half-hearted in his fight against the militant Islamists — sometimes ruthless, sometimes conciliatory. The coalition government is strategically unsure of itself, and seems to want to secure an end to domestic terror through deals — something that the increasingly bold Islamists won’t thank them for but will simply use to increase the areas they control. In light of this situation, the West in general and the US in particular, must do more about Pakistan than before. … It must prevent the nuclear nightmare of Islamists gaining access to atomic weapons.”

“It needs to become clear to the Pakistani leadership that when they take on militant Islamists, they are not just doing the West a favor — they are also helping to develop their own country. The belief that the fall of the Kabul government and the return of the Taliban would be a strategic victory over India is a fantasy from previous centuries. Allowing Islamism to flourish politically, militarily, socially and ideologically cannot be in the interests of most Pakistanis. Their interests lie in achieving economic stability. And the West can do more here too.”

“The West should take the opportunity of Musharraf’s resignation to encourage a policy in Islamabad that combines international dependability with development and democracy — the preconditions for long-term stability.”

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

“The assessment of the American intelligence agencies is that the risk of an Islamist take-over is very low. The US government never saw the promotion of democracy in Pakistan as the main task. Washington depended on the army to keep the country under control. Ashfaq Kayani, the new US-trained head of the army since January, has Musharraf to thank for his career: He first made him head of the ISI intelligence agency and then his successor as the head of the army. He now determines the scope within which the parties and democracy can operate.”

“Nevertheless, with Musharraf going a scapegoat is disappearing from the stage — one whom Afghan President Hamid Karzai and, when required, the Americans, could blame everything on. They could claim that Pakistan and Musharraf in particular were responsible for the instable situation in Afghanistan and the resurgence of the Taliban (more…).”

“Karzai and his backers will soon need a replacement for Musharraf. His resignation does not mean that the Pakistan army will go on the offensive against the Pashtun tribes in the border regions. The problems there, anyway, cannot be solved by military means. They can only be fixed with dialogue and development aid.”

“In addition the Pakistanis — civilians and soldiers — have no interest in a stable Afghanistan, in which its archenemy India is increasing its influence, encouraged by Karzai. Every conflict in this region that Pakistan is involved in has to be seen through the prism of its enmity toward India.”

The conservative Die Welt writes:

“Musharraf had a vision: he wanted to put his country on the path toward the Turkish, secular model and saw himself as the Pakistani Atatürk. … However, the dream of a secular Pakistan is probably dead.”

“He failed because of the country’s poverty, the fatally high birth rate, the boom in the price of natural resources, the divide between the Islamists and the secular part of society, the politicians’ ambition and his inability as president to find a consensus across the board, and to step down at the right time. By the time he took off his uniform, his ‘second skin,’ it was already too late.”

“Pakistan is more important than it seems: a nuclear-armed state, not tied in to arms control, with conflicts on both sides, fragile internally, on the new frontline between the East and the West. Pakistan after Musharraf is the cause for much worry in global politics.”

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

“The fact that the dictator is finally stepping down presents Pakistan with a unique opportunity. Now the democratic structures can grow in those regions and parts of society that had been left in a vacuum by repeated dictatorships. And it is only in these political vacuums that fanaticism can take hold.”

Business friendly Handelsblatt writes:

“Pakistan is now facing a period of political instability, perhaps even a period of chaos on the streets. It is doubtful if the divided coalition, which was so busy in its efforts to have the president impeached that it forgot about the really urgent problems facing the country, will now be able to find the necessary unity to prevent a power struggle. Pakistan is ill-prepared for life after Musharraf.”

“The fight against the Taliban must be taken as seriously as reviving the economy. It is only if Pakistan’s government and future president apply themselves to solving these problems and manage to fight against corruption and inefficiency, that the country can free itself from the vacuum that is looming and achieve a fresh political start.”

“The West absolutely has to contribute to this. Musharraf’s close ties to the US may not have pleased many people in the country. However, without the Americans’ help the country would have been left helplessly in the grasp of the Islamists. The best thing the US administration could do now is to use its influence to make sure that democracy in Pakistan is not smashed in a power struggle. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal must never be allowed to fall into the hands of extremists.”

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

“The developments in Pakistan affect important Western interests. One is the question of what policy the country will pursue with regards to the Taliban, which is launching its war in neighboring Afghanistan from Pakistan. Another is the issue of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, which must not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. And then there is the potentially extremely dangerous ongoing conflict with its larger neighbor India, which also has nuclear weapons.”

“After Sept. 11, 2001, Musharraf decided — admittedly under extreme pressure from Washington — to allow the fall of the Taliban, which had been long been backed by his own foreign intelligence agency. Since then Pakistan has been a part of the international alliance against Islamist terrorism. Musharraf also disempowered Abdul Quadeer Kahn (more…), ‘the father of the Islamic nuclear bomb,’ who had been secretly selling nuclear know-how and technology to dubious regimes around the world.”

“These strategic decisions were and remain extremely important to the West. With the dictator’s departure there is now at least a theoretical chance that the democratic forces in the country will come to an arrangement with the army, which will put a stop to the rise of the Islamists in the border regions. A return to the times when the army was openly in cahoots with the Islamists would be disastrous.”

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“After Musharraf’s departure the West can now prove that it wants to bring lasting peace to the region. The governments in Berlin, London, Paris and Washington, however, will have to try to encourage development in a country in which the majority of people try to live on less than a dollar a day and parents send their children to radical Koran schools because they at least provide for their accommodation and care. ”

“More commitment on the part of the West would not just be a humanitarian gesture but also in its own interests. A half-way stable Afghanistan would only be possible if its neighbor Pakistan receives the same kind of attention. In the face of the desolate situation, this is a task the will take decades, not just a few years.”

“The new Western strategy must start with the choice of words: They should make it clear to Pakistanis that their hardships have been noticed and that the West is fully aware that only a minority of the 160 million people support the militants. That may seem like just a small step but it is necessary as there is great anger in Pakistan at being used and then neglected by the West. Rhetoric, however, is not enough. In the future, economic support should at the very least match the military support.”

— Siobhán Dowling, 1:20 p.m. CET



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