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Pakistan and the 'minus 2 formula'

By Hamid Mir
September 05, 2007 16:30 IST
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Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's top advisers have seriously suggested applying Bangladesh's 'minus 2 formula' in Pakistani politics.

Growing political uncertainty and deteriorating law and order situation may force the Musharraf regime to follow in the footsteps of the interim government in Bangladesh.

The army-backed interim government in Bangladesh suspended general elections for one year and imposed emergency in early 2007. The Bangladeshi army also attempted to banish two former prime ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina from politics by force (hence 'minus 2').

Initially the interim government tried to expel Bangladesh Nationalist Party head Khaleda Zia from the country but she refused to bow down. Awami League head Sheikh Hasina was in the UK at the time and she was asked to stay away from Bangladesh. All the efforts of the establishment to stop her failed and she finally landed in Dhaka on May 7. A big welcome for Sheikh Hasina at Dhaka airport never discouraged the Bengali establishment and she was arrested on July 16 on corruption charges. She got some relief from the courts but she was again booked in new cases. Her old political rival Khaleda Zia faced the same kind of charges and was also arrested few days ago. The Bangladeshi establishment is determined not to allow the two women to contest the next elections.

The Pakistani establishment seems quite impressed by the performance of the interim government in Bangladesh. President Musharraf tried his best to strike a political deal with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto under US pressure and delayed the 'minus 2 formula' for a while but this formula is again under discussion in Islamabad's corridors of power after some serious problems emerged during the negotiations with the 'daughter of the east'.

Top government officials claim they are relaxed now because the US can understand the ground reality. Musharraf was serious about sharing power with Bhutto but her demands exposed her real intentions; she actually overestimated her importance and tried to grab everything from Musharraf through negotiations. She got nothing out of them but Musharraf was at least able to break the alliance between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif by engaging one of them. Both of them were thinking of returning to Pakistan by the same plane but now they are coming separately.

General Musharraf has turned down a proposal to meet Benazir Bhutto again in Abu Dhabi to push for a deal. Former British high commissioner in Pakistan Mark Loyal Grant and some influential Arab personalities are still trying their best to bridge the gap between Bhutto and Musharraf but they face many problems.

Highly placed diplomatic sources have revealed that it is not only the uniform of the President, article 58-2B of the constitution and bar on third-time prime ministership which are still unresolved, but there are many other differences yet to be resolved.

Bhutto is demanding that local bodies must be dissolved before the general elections but both the Pakistan Muslim League-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussein and Muttahida Quami Movement's Altaf Hussein refused to accept this demand. Shujaat met an MQM delegation the other day in Karachi and both sides decided to set aside all their differences to save the local bodies. Many observers believe that Bhutto underestimated the 'sick man' and his party; in fact, Shujaat proved that he is more influential than the director general of the ISI and National Security Adviser Tariq Aziz who were trying to negotiate a deal with the Pakistan People's Party.

Shujaat dismissed any possibility of his meeting with Bhutto in Dubai to facilitate a deal. He said Benazir Bhutto doesn't believe in 'give and take', she actually believes in 'take and take and take' which is not acceptable to the PML-Q as well as President Musharraf.

Top government officials have also confided to this scribe that a caretaker set-up before the general elections was also discussed with Bhutto. The government wants to appoint former governor of the State Bank Dr Ishrat Hussein as caretaker PM but Bhutto has yet to agree on his name.

A source very close to Bhutto said, "Dr Ishrat Hussein served Musharraf from six years, he is their man, he is not independent and we cannot accept him as caretaker prime minister."

Surprisingly, there are many similarities between the interim head of Bangladesh Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed and Dr Ishrat Hussein. Both served in the World Bank. Both served as the heads of the central banks in their countries. Dr Fakhruddin was governor of the Bangladesh Central Bank from 2001 to 2005 and Dr Ishrat was governor of the State Bank of Pakistan from 1999 to 2005.

Some other names are also under consideration as caretaker prime minister but Dr Ishrat is still on top. The main task for the interim government would be to hold free and fair elections but the dangerous security situation may become a reason to delay the elections. Some observers still fear the threat of martial law.

General Musharraf also wants to avoid martial law but if the Supreme Court does not allow him to be elect again in army uniform he may take some extreme steps on the Bangladeshi model. Elections could be delayed with the imposition of emergency. The establishment may also arrest Sharif and Bhutto on their arrival in old corruption cases.

A big question will still be there. Can the 'minus 2 formula' bring political stability in Pakistan? This formula has yet not given any stability to Bangladesh. There is a big difference. The Army in Bangladesh is using the civilian face of Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed and not directly calling the shots. Pakistan is different where a sitting army chief is the real face of the government and army personnel are facing suicide attacks from South Waziristan to Rawalpindi.

The minus 2 formula may not deliver in Pakistan. Pakistan needs an 'all-encompassing formula' for stability. Every important political force should be onboard for a fair and free election in Pakistan.

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Hamid Mir