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Last Updated: Monday, 12 November 2007, 12:37 GMT
Diplomatic game plan to settle Pakistan crisis
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent BBC News website

President Musharraf
President Musharraf: under pressure to unwind decisions

By announcing that elections will be held by 9 January, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf is fulfilling one of the demands made on him by the United States and Britain - but not all of them.

A diplomatic game plan is unfolding under which General Musharraf is coming under pressure to unwind the decisions he has taken. The hope is that this will enable Pakistan to emerge into a more democratic future.

All political guns are being brought up - from the big one of a phone call from President Bush to the Pakistani leader to smaller ones like the threat of suspending Pakistan from the Commonwealth (again). Commonwealth heads of government meet in Uganda next week.

The plan

The key elements of the plan are: the validation by a new Supreme Court of President's Musharraf's election as president, Musharraf's resignation as head of the army (thereby separating the posts of army chief and head of state), the release of political prisoners, the restoration of media freedoms and the lifting of the state of emergency, all of this leading to the elections in January.

The implicit bargain that Washington and London have offered General Musharraf is that they will support him but in a reduced role and only in a constitutional framework.

There is a mutuality of interest here. The US and UK believe that the general is essential to their purposes of containing the Taleban insurgency in Afghanistan and clamping down on the Islamic radicals in Pakistan itself. However, President Musharraf is not regarded as an effective enough figure on his own and not credible without a democratic framework.

The implicit bargain that Washington and London have offered General Musharraf is that they will support him but only in a reduced role and only in a constitutional framework.
That was why the British and Americans supported the return of the opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and that is why they are working so hard to stitch the whole thing together.

It is possible, some diplomats believe, that this is what the general had in mind all along. His mistake, they think, was not to announce a timetable immediately. That might have defused some of the opposition. The British and American policy therefore has been to get him to be clear on a timetable and stick to it.

One interesting feature is how relaxed Washington and London seem to be about the fate of the removed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who remains under house arrest. It seems that they would accept new judges, who, according to the game plan, would give legitimacy to the election by the parliament of General Musharraf as president.

Benazir Bhutto is now having to distance herself from the general, though few diplomats doubt that she would negotiate if and when the moment came. In the meantime she has to build up her street credibility while not provoking an even harsher clampdown, even a military coup which could come if there is chaos. Coups have come before in Pakistani history.

Nuclear weapons

One aspect of the crisis that has caused concern in Washington is the prospect of a "Talebanised" government in Pakistan with its finger on Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

There is less worry about this among British diplomats, who seem confident that Pakistan's military would retain control, whoever ran the government.

As for aid, it is unlikely that British assistance (480m for the next three years) will be cut significantly, since this is largely aimed at poverty and counterterrorism. Some aid not designed for these purposes might be reviewed if the situation gets worse (eg a military takeover).

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk

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