Who really is in control of Pakistan ?

August 5, 2008

One of the questions that repeatedly came up during Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s rather eventful trip to the U.S. last month was who was in charge of the Inter-Services Intelligence , especially after the botched attempt to bring the powerful spy agency - that critics see as a state within a state – under the interior ministry.

Prime Minister Gilani with President George W.Bush

But at home, Pakistanis are asking an even more fundamental question: Who really is in control of  their country ? A very rough poll conducted by All Things Pakistan among people who visit the blog found that nearly 40 percent thought nobody was in control of the nuclear-armed Muslim nation of 160 million and from where at least the Americans are convinced the next major militant attack is coming.

About 28 percent said Pakistan People’s Party chairman Asif Ali Zardari was in control while 18  percent saw President Pervez Musharraf still calling the shots. But nobody, not one person, thought Gilani who, by all accounts was given a rather blunt message by his American hosts about his government’s failure to fight militants and their allies within, was in charge.

For Pakistan’s transition to democracy after nine years of military rule this is hardly inspiring. “The image of a prime minister who noone thinks has any power is sad and disturbing,” ATP notes in a later post and asks whether he is on his way out. Or, it asks, is the poll a broader warning of a country sliding further into chaos?

Gilani’s government is faced with Islamist militancy across Pakistan’s northwest and an America that is breathing hard down its neck asking for action. On top of that tensions with India on the eastern borders have suddenly and inexplicably risen, which doubtless increases the pressure on an army already overstretched on the Afghan frontier

 A protest against a U.S. military strike in PakistanGilani’s four-month-old coalition is fractured following the withdrawal of ministers belonging to Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League over the issue of reinstatement of judges fired by Musharraf. On Tuesday, the two sides were meeting to break the stalemate.

Adding to the sense of crisis, is an economy at risk of meltdown with acute power shortages, and higher fuel and food prices that have hit hard the poor majority.

Time magazine called Gilani an “accidental” prime minister leading a government too weak to act on any front including the faltering campaign against militancy or even the economy. Pakistan’s respected Dawn newspaper has gone to the extent of questioning Gilani’s authority in promising Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh an investigation into allegations that the ISI helped plan the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul last month. How could he have done that without taking the country  into his confidence, the newspaper asked.

Not surprising then, that the Daily Times reports that Gilani may quit if he is not allowed to function as a chief executive with a definite say in government.

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