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Pakistan's Pathetic Impeachment Push By: Amir Taheri
New York Post | Friday, August 15, 2008

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 majority.

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 rivals.

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 politician today.

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 years.

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