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Page last updated at 15:46 GMT, Thursday, 7 August 2008 16:46 UK

Pakistan - the balance of forces

The ruling coalition parties in Pakistan have said they will begin impeachment proceedings against President Pervez Musharraf. The president's power has been on the wane since he stepped down as army chief last year and his allies were defeated in February's election. What is the status of the country's major players?

PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF

Pervez Musharraf came to power in a bloodless coup in 1999 and was unequivocally the most powerful man in Pakistan. That no longer appears to be the case.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf 3/11/07
Mr Musharraf assumed power in a coup in 1999

The decline in his power began last November when, under mounting pressure from the opposition, he stepped down as army chief.

This was just over a month after his controversial re-election as president by the outgoing parliament, and weeks after he imposed emergency rule to prevent the judiciary from overturning that election.

The elections in February saw the routing of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam party (PML-Q), his main political ally.

Now he faces impeachment by a parliament packed with his opponents - unless he opts for a vote of confidence from that parliament, a vote he has no hope of winning.

The major party in the ruling alliance, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), initially favoured a soft approach towards the president. But its leaders now say they cannot work with him.

The second largest party in the alliance, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), was overthrown by Mr Musharraf in a coup in 1999. It wants nothing less than his removal.

President Musharraf has indicated that he will consider his options and defend himself if necessary.

He still has the power to dissolve parliament and impose emergency rule.

But in the past he has indicated he will step down if he feels he is no longer needed.

Given the current mood, that might be the best option for the former military ruler, analysts say.

PAKISTAN PEOPLE'S PARTY

Although the PPP celebrated becoming the largest single party in February, at the same time it was trying to rebuild itself after the assassination of its leader Benazir Bhutto in December.

Given her charisma and the circumstances of her death the poll outcome was no surprise.

The party seemed to have come full circle from the time it stormed back to power after the death of former military ruler, Gen Zia ul-Haq , in 1988.

Then, as in February, there was great expectation the party would drag the country back from the brink of chaos.

Emerging from talks with Nawaz Sharif a week after the elections in February, the new leader, Ms Bhutto's widower Asif Ali Zardari, said: "We intend to strengthen Pakistan together."

But the subsequent months saw the alliance partners drift apart on questions concerning the president's impeachment and the restoration of judges sacked by Mr Musharraf under emergency rule.

The government has also been hit by major economic troubles caused by rising global fuel and food prices.

Mr Musharraf's "failed" economic policies were one of Mr Zardari's key accusations in bringing the impeachment.

The latest move at least suggests greater agreement among the coalition partners on how to proceed.

PAKISTAN MUSLIM LEAGUE - NAWAZ

After the election, the PML-N's leader, Nawaz Sharif, left no doubt as to his feelings towards President Musharraf as he announced the coalition with the PPP.

"The sooner he accepts the verdict, the better it is for him," Mr Sharif said of the man who toppled him in a coup in 1999.

Nawaz Sharif
Mr Sharif has staged a spectacular comeback

Mr Sharif returned from years of exile last year. That has revitalised his party - which surprised many by emerging as the second largest in the elections.

It enjoys strong support from Pakistan's industrial and business classes.

The resurrection of Mr Sharif and the PML-N in the elections was little short of miraculous.

In August 2007, when Mr Sharif was sent back into exile after attempting to return, many analysts believed that was the end of his political career.

But he returned soon afterwards and since then has been working to get his party, ravaged by arrests and defections, back on its feet.

The PML-N was perhaps the only party that organised its campaigns around issues rather than sloganeering.

The two main points, other than tackling inflation and improving employment, were the restoration of the judges sacked by President Musharraf.

That has since caused the most friction with its coalition partner.

However, it is now one of the key agreements should the impeachment of Mr Musharraf be successful.

PAKISTAN MUSLIM LEAGUE - QUAID-E-AZAM

The PML-Q was formed mainly from defectors from the PML-N after the 1999 coup.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain
PML-Q leaders were soundly beaten in February

Since then it has been the main parliamentary face of President Musharraf's government, together with smaller provincial allies. It was the disputed victor of elections in 2002. But now it is in tatters.

Before the elections, they were full of confident bluster.

"We will win 100 seats," said Chaudhry Pervez Illahi, one of party's senior leaders.

But as results came in, over two-thirds of the party's high command lost their seats.

Mr Musharraf's main allies have indicated they will fight the impeachment and analysts say they may stave off a two-thirds majority.

NATIONALIST AND ETHNIC PARTIES

President Musharraf's tenure has been characterised by the suppression of nationalist parties and politicians.

With the exception of the MQM in the southern province of Sindh, President Musharraf chose either to sideline them or use strong-arm tactics against them.

In the months before the elections the fire of nationalism, albeit with a religious tint, started engulfing North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

But the elections brought the nationalists storming back into the political mainstream.

The ANP's revival in NWFP is a good example of this.

ISLAMIC PARTIES and OTHERS

The right wing MMA coalition of Islamic parties, which controlled the country's NWFP, was routed in the polls.

The winners belonged to the province's old guard, the secular Pashtun Awami National Party (ANP) and the PPP.

Analysts predicted that the MMA would not do as well this time as in 2002.

Fazlur Rahman
Islamic parties also took a drubbing in the polls

The results though, may well reflect that the Islamists' triumph then was a flash in the pan.

In 2002, the right-wing political alliance won control over NWFP and a large number of national assembly seats.

But the province has since descended into chaos and anarchy, caused by extremists and Islamic militants.

Many locals blame MMA policies for this, arguing that they have only served to embolden the militants.

In addition, the region is the focus of international concern, after being named as a safe haven for al-Qaeda and Taleban militants.

Almost all the nationalist groups from the troubled province of Balochistan decided to boycott the elections.

ISLAMIC MILITANTS

The biggest concentration of militants are in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan but they have been widening their area of activity.

A militant in Swat district
Militants may not be popular, but their influence is spreading

Their main enemy is the army, but politicians, journalists, diplomats, social workers and government employees have all been targeted.

Newer militants are being drawn from all ethnic and social groups, rather than comprising mainly Pashtun tribesmen.

Intelligence and defence officials now admit privately that the militants may want nothing less than an independent Islamic state of their own.

But the strong public verdict in favour of relatively secular parties in NWFP is likely to have drastic consequences for such grandiose plans.

GEN ASHFAQ PERVEZ KAYANI - ARMY CHIEF

Gen Kayani was handpicked by President Musharraf to succeed him as army chief last year. He heads what is the most powerful institution in the country.

Pakistan army parade in Islamabad
The army remains a powerful institution

But the army has been badly demoralised by Islamic militants who have kidnapped and killed hundreds of soldiers in ambushes and suicide bombings.

Gen Kayani's response has been to get the army out of politics and back doing it primary job, ensuring security.

Army personnel have been recalled from posts in civilian institutions. Senior officers were banned from talking to politicians until after the elections.

Sources told the BBC that Gen Kayani moved to minimise interference in the polls by the intelligence services.

The key question now is how much support the army will give President Musharraf in the run-up to possible impeachment.



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