PAKISTAN'S economy is in free fall, while terrorists are trying to
seize control of a chunk of its territory. The governing coalition's
members can't agree on a common program - with some walking out of the
government in fake protest and returning in even faker reconciliation. This is the time to start impeaching the president?
Yes, Pakistan's new government has just made impeaching Pervez
Musharraf its top priority. The absurd move could split the already
fractious parliament and antagonize the military leaders who've always
been reluctant to trust the politicians. It could encourage the
Taliban-style groups that were crushed in last February's general
election and lend credence to their claim that only they have the discipline a ruling party needs.
A protracted battle over impeachment would distract the nation from
the vital task of defeating the terrorists and consolidating the
state's democratic foundations. And it will surely fail.
To pass, impeachment needs two-thirds support in each house of
parliament. In the lower house, the parties behind it can't master more
than half of the 440 seats. In the upper, they may lack a simple
Sure, Musharraf is no choirboy. If he were, he'd never have reached
the top of Pakistan's violent, intrigue-ridden politics. His 1999 coup d'etat
was certainly illegal; his banishment of senior political leaders was
despotic. His more recent eviction of senior High Court judges pushed
the edge of illegality. And his decision last year to declare a state
of emergency (later cancelled) can surely be painted as a violation of
the spirit if not the letter of the constitution he himself wrote.
That said, Musharraf was fairly elected president by
direct (if not totally unblemished) vote. And he's done something no
other Pakistani military ruler ever did: preside over free and fair
elections that swept his political enemies to power.
Musharraf is the fifth general to rule Pakistan since its creation in 1947. He's the only one who hasn't
killed his opponents or filled his pockets with public money. He seized
power without bloodshed and didn't fill the prisons with political
He's also the only military figure to secure a political
constituency of his own. Polls put his core support at about 23 percent
- not great, but still enough to put him ahead of any other Pakistani
So why is the coalition flying the impeachment kite?
Part of it is revenge. Musharraf overthrew and exiled Prime
Minister Nawaz Sharif, now leader of the Muslim League, the governing
coalition's second-largest party. (He nationalized chunks of Sharif's
family fortune, too.) Having seethed for eight years, Sharif now longs
to humiliate his foe - even if it means wrecking the country.
Last winter, Sharif walked out of the coalition, threatening the
government with collapse, because a coalition partner, the Pakistan
People's Party, wasn't so keen on impeachment. (In fact, the PPP's
elder statesman, Amin Fahim, has publicly denounced the impeachment
move and served notice that he and his friends will vote against it.)
Sharif rejoined the coalition only when promised an impeachment drive.
PPP leader Assaf Zardari, meanwhile, may see impeachment as a way
to end claims that his party won power thanks to a US-mediated deal
between his wife (the assassinated Benazir Bhutto) and Musharraf.
Ironically, Musharraf arranged for both Sharif and Zardari to
escape prosecution on charges of corruption, money-laundering and
embezzlement. Thanks to him, the two won't face any further probe of
their activities while they were in power before 1999. Letting them off
the hook now looks like it was one of Musharraf's worst decisions;
maybe he deserves impeachment for that.
Having made their point, the coalition should put impeachment on
the backburner. It'd be foolish to divert attention from far more vital
issues. For now, they can set up a commission of inquiry into
Musharraf's record, set to report in a year or two. If they don't want
him as president, they should try to prevent his reelection in four