Islamabad, Sept. 17 (Reuters): Pakistan’s religious right today threatened to disrupt parliament if the President refused to give up sweeping powers, portents of another showdown between the Islamic alliance and the pro-military government.
The six-party conservative Islamic alliance that made huge gains in an October election met Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali late yesterday and said early today it had given a Friday deadline for President Pervez Musharraf to agree.
Musharraf extended his rule by five years in a controversial referendum last year, gave himself the power to dissolve parliament and holds the post of chief of army staff.
So far he has ignored demands by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) to hang up his uniform and put the widely criticised constitutional amendments before parliament for approval. But the MMA is also using the row to question Musharraf’s democratic credentials, embarrassing his allies in the war on terror, including the US.
“We are in a phase of transition from a military dictatorship to a standard democracy,” said Prof. Khursheed Ahmed, a member of the upper parliamentary chamber and deputy head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party which is an influential faction in the MMA. “Let us hope that President Musharraf realises he has to accept the sovereignty of the parliament.”
Ahmed said the MMA had the right to disrupt or boycott parliamentary sessions and organise street protests, a tactic it has used in the past with only limited success. The US will be watching carefully for any hardening in the MMA’s position on Musharraf and the constitution.
The alliance organised mass protests during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has sought to Islamise society in the two provinces bordering Afghanistan where it has a share of power and issued a religious decree barring Pakistani troops going to Iraq. Its rise to power along the Afghan frontier has also raised concerns over Pakistan’s ongoing commitment to hunting remnants of the Taliban regime and the al Qaida network, including its leader Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding in the region.
Ahmed said the MMA was demanding that Musharraf cede his military title by the end of 2004 at the latest, although the President said in a weekend interview that he would decide himself.
On the issue of constitutional changes adopted in 2002, political analysts said the MMA’s position was one which had popular support in Pakistan.
“As a matter of principle, the constitution should only be amended by parliament and no one person should be permitted to amend the constitution,” said commentator Anis Jilani.
But he played down the long-term implications of the row between the MMA and Jamali’s pro-military government, saying traditionally close ties between the military and Islamists, who sent fighters to Afghanistan and Kashmir, would be maintained.
“There may be a break up of the MMA, and the government will be able to grab a sizeable number (of MMA members) who support the LFO,” he added, referring to the Legal Framework Order which formalised the constitutional changes.