Pak. media reports bemoan U.S. role in ministry-making

NEW DELHI NOV. 10. Newspaper accounts in Pakistan confirm behind the scene involvement of the Musharraf regime and the generals in the current ministry-making exercises, apart from focussing on the interest taken by the U.S. and the implications of this factor.

None of those reporting or commenting on the discussions among leaders of various political formations have even an iota of doubt that the President, Pervez Musharraf, would like the Muslim League (Q) the King's party, as it is known, to head the new government or play a major significant role in it. And since the permutations and combinations, vaguely taking shape, were not to its liking, the ruling establishment postponed the inauguration of the National Assembly by "about a week". The army top brass was reported to have been terribly upset by the emergence of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), the combine of extreme religious groups, in a commanding position, with the support of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party. The misunderstandings that cropped up between them later, were stated to be the handiwork of official agencies.

Behind the delay in ministry-formation is seen the dilemma of Gen. Musharraf. He, on the one hand, accepts the MMA nominee, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, as the Prime Minister and, on the other hand, could not agree to dilution of the role of the National Security Council, which is the price, among other things, demanded by the PPP for a coalition with the PML(Q). The moves for an alliance between these two parties, it is noted, were initiated at the behest of the U.S. (which, too would not like a leading role for the MMA in the new set-up.)

Daily Dawn, in a representative editorial comment, "Stuck in groove?", had this to say on the delay in the National Assembly session and related matters: "On the face of it, the government cannot be held responsible for the delay. It can say, quite convincingly, that the demand — or pressure — for a postponement came from some, though not all, political parties, because they had failed to arrive at an understanding about government making at the Centre and in the provinces. However, there seems more to it than meets the eye.

The government is very much party to the delay because the PML(Q) has not yet been able to come to an understanding with either of the other two major contenders for power - the PPP and the MMA.

At various times, the PML(Q) leaders had claimed that they had mustered enough support from other parties and groups to be able to form a government. If it were so, the inaugural session of the National Assembly would have been held by now and a PML(Q)-led government been in place.

The postponement confirms that the PML(Q) is finding the going hard because of disagreements not only over the top slot but also about some controversial constitutional matters. Zafrullah Jamali's prime ministership, obviously, is not yet acceptable to a majority in the newly elected Assembly. That leaves the field open for the MMA and the PPP to try their own luck in the matter. The PPP has discovered its strength in the new context. The generals, it is said, are uncomfortable with the idea of a government headed by the MMA's JUI(F) faction, and that they would like the PPP to be part of the new federal set-up. However, the PPP leader in exile is apparently seeking to drive a hard bargain.''

The Urdu daily, Nawa-e-Waqt, too, saw deeper motives behind the delay in the assembly session. In its comments, it was sharply critical of the present regime as also of the U.S. In one of its editorials, — on, Saturday the birth anniversary of Iqbal — it said that the country found itself in a series of crises in the last 50 years because it departed from the poet's teachings. ''Now again, Pakistan faces a multi-dimensional crisis. The perception has grown that the country has been mortgaged to the U.S. The presence and free movement and operations by U.S. troops and FBI, apart from the arrest of prominent citizens, strengthen the view that the U.S. treats Islam and jehad at par with terrorism. So much so that these expressions have began to be used by us, too. It is now an open secret, that the MMA is sought to be blocked from assuming office because of its religious identity. One of the two parties is sought to be discouraged from allying with it lest the U.S. should be incensed.''

In another editorial, Nawa-e-Waqt noting the increase in the U.S. influence in the country's internal affairs, bemoaned that Gen. Musharraf had not risen to the hopes pinned on him. In the past, the former rulers, Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia-ul-Haq, and even Z.A.Bhutto, his daughter and Nawaz Sharif, came to grief because they looked up to the Americans. Comparing the present crisis with the 1971 crisis, it said: ''Unfortunately, Gen. Musharraf is overwhelmed by the desire to prolong his presidency and he, too, looks up to the U.S. In the last three years of his autocratic rule, he, like the military rulers of the past, did not let politics and politicians grow. He is following in Yahya Khan's footsteps (in 1971), when the country was split.... The U.S. is scared of the MMA, fearing that everything would be lost if fundamentalists come to power. Like 1971, we face a dangerous crisis. The military and civilian bureaucracy is engaged in horse-trading to strengthen the Muslim League(Q), forgetting that the strategy of splitting parties is dangerous and could lead to alarming consequences''.

In an article in Dawn, a commentator, Anwar Mooraj, giving details of the contacts by political parties, referred to the reversal of the PPP's stand (switching from move for an alliance with the MMA to a coalition with the King's party) and said: "The ink was hardly dry on the broadsheets when the public read the equally incredible news that the PPP was rethinking of striking a deal with the PML(Q), a party that had been initially rejected because of its pro-military sentiments and its support for the LFO.

"It does sound like Washington is still calling the shots. This does not augur at all well for the party, which is the only genuine political movement with significant representation in all four provinces.

"While President Musharraf must not be seen to be sabotaging the popular verdict, political leaders also owe it to the people to display a sense of maturity and realism. When will they learn that the formation of parliament is not a game or a popularity contest, and that the political future of the country is at stake''

The Nation's editorial, "Wheels within wheels", too, noted the U.S. preference for an alliance between the PPP and the Muslim League (Q) but said that Benazir Bhutto's wish list would not be acceptable to Gen. Musharraf.

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