Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Pakistan's Military Brass: Is It Distancing From Musharraf?

General Kayani's Orders
Pakistan's Army Chief Gen. Kayani has initiated a number of changes that establish a divide between the uniformed army and Mr. Musharraf, say senior Pakistani officers. Last month, Gen. Kayani, 55 years old, issued an order barring officers from any unauthorized meetings with Pakistani politicians, including the president. The army commander also said the military wouldn't play any role in staging next week's parliamentary elections, outside of providing security, according to the Wall Street Journal.

ISI Political Cell
The moves, say senior Pakistani officers, stand as a clear signal to Mr. Musharraf that he can't rely on his former allies in the military to get "desirable results" from the vote, says an active Pakistani general. "We don't want the army to be seen as involved in political affairs in any way," he says, a move the army hopes will inoculate it from being tarnished by any potential electoral improprieties.

If these reports are credible, then the ISI's political cell can no longer to be used to manipulate the results of the February 18 elections this year. It was former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who issued the executive order creating this political cell within the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) with the purpose of influencing political processes in Pakistan. This fateful decision eventually brought ZA Bhutto's own downfall when he used this cell to unnecessarily rig the 1977 elections and was overthrown and executed by General Zia-ul-Haq. It was also this cell that helped Nawaz Sharif , a protege of General Zia-ul-Haq, get elected as Prime Minister of Pakistan after the General's death in a mysterious air crash followed by a brief term in office by Benazir Bhutto. In 1990 the ISI received 140m rupees (US$2.2m at current values) to rig national elections, according to supreme court testimony by the then chief of army staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg.
As recently as two weeks ago Chaudhry Shujaat Husain of PML-Q argued that this cell should continue working. It seems that General Kayani disagrees and has decided to not allow the use of the cell for influencing the upcoming vote.

Fair Polls
There have been a number of specific allegations of poll rigging such as ghost polling stations, ballot stuffing, and counting irregularities made by the opposition. Each of these allegations have been rebutted quite well by Staffan Darnolf, Pakistan Country Director of IFES in his responses to a blog post by Barnett Ruben. However, the one issue that hung over the elections was the acknowledged existence of the ISI political cell. These latest reports of Gen Kayani's orders, if true, should eliminate this issue as well.

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