Pakistan’s political pandemonium

December 18, 2009

sharifzardaridubaiA Supreme Court ruling striking down an amnesty given to politicians and officials by former president Pervez Musharraf has created havoc in Pakistani politics.  Among those affected on a list of 8,000 politicians and bureaucrats who were protected by the amnesty are the interior and defence ministers, who are now no longer allowed to leave the country until they clear their names in court.

“Pakistan’s interior minister today found himself in the unusual position of being asked to bar himself from leaving the country,” wrote Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

The defence minister abruptly cancelled plans to fly to China on an official visit after his name was included on the so-called Exit Control List,  according to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper.

Indeed such was the drama of a defence minister being refused permission to leave his own country that Twitter was briefly abuzz with talk of a coup, followed later by one comment which pretty much summed up the prevailing uncertainty:  “a bad sign when CNN is reporting ‘no coup’ in Pakistan”.

poster of benazir bhuttoPresident Asif Ali Zardari had also been covered by the amnesty, or National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), pushed through by Musharraf in an American-backed plan to allow Zardari’s late wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, to return to Pakistan in what had been supposed to be a power-sharing agreement to provide both stability and democracy. While he is expected to come under pressure to step down, he remains protected by presidential immunity.

The Pakistan blog Deadpan Thoughts captured the immediate reaction to Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling, talking of  people in Karachi closing down their shops, racing home, and swapping notes on the phone as “vicious rumors circulated of a coup”. 

“The legislative branch of our government has right now with this judgment directed the executive branch to prosecute itself,” it said.  “After all is said and done and we have torn apart this government, gone to mid term elections and arrived at the same crossroads in say another year or two at most, we must ask ourselves is democracy the best system for Pakistan? If it is then why does it never work for us?”

But beyond the drama, and the uncertainty of a situation where a democratic government is being asked effectively to turn on its own, what is the actual outlook for Pakistan?

gilani kayaniThe Pakistan Army will continue to call the shots when it comes to security and foreign policy but has shown no inclination to take over the running of the country. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who is considered to be close to the army, has established himself in a strong position in recent months, often overshadowing Zardari.

Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif could, in theory, take advantage of the political chaos to force a mid-term election. But with bomb attacks spreading through Punjab, Sharif’s own political stamping ground, it may not be the easiest of times to take over a national government committed to fighting Pakistan’s Taliban militants.

So the situation is perhaps less unstable than it might appear.

 The Daily Times calls in an editorial for “patience with the ways of democracy”.

“The logic of the verdict points in the direction of the culture of accountability having been strengthened, and the possibility of this momentum carrying on towards across-the-board accountability.”

Wishful thinking? Or the growing pains of a country trying to establish itself as a democracy?

(File photos: President Zardari and former prime minister Sharif; the late Benazir Bhutto; Pakistan army chief salutes the prime minister)


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The overall control has always remained in the hands of the God almighty. I only hope that the human right violation charges would also be brought against the interior and defence ministers.

Posted by rexminor | Report as abusive

I agree with the patience with democracy theme. Think Zardari was a disaster and of the three, I would put my money on Gilani.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

Democracy does not come easily, but it clearly needs strong leadership. Chaos seems to be the current stand in Pakistan. Who are the leaders? When will they take control? Is Musharraf the answer?

Posted by jackegan | Report as abusive

Pakistani Politics is a circus!! The politicians act so dumb that there is nothing the army can do and there is nothing they can learn from so its back to dejavu.
Musharraf is the best bet for Pakistan. We need a committed person who can speak about things and have certain authority not characterized by Mr 10% label!The PPP should never have tried to impeach Musharraf as the NRO would still have been in place if he were there.
The political parties can’t govern Pakistan nor can the army now. The only answer lays in making the country a confederation and giving the provinces their due rights. Then it will be upto the provinces to decide who runs and the politicians role would be marginalized so would the military’s.

Posted by verboseguy | Report as abusive


I think this in general is normal for a democracy. I do not yet agree with full democracy as in control of civilian govt over the country.

I agree with you on:

@The Pakistan Army will continue to call the shots when it comes to security and foreign policy but has shown no inclination to take over the running of the country.:

On your
@Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who is considered to be close to the army, has established himself in a strong position in recent months, often overshadowing Zardari.”

-Is not Gilani the head of the govt and supposed to overshadow Zardari. There is not a clarity with who is supposed to be #1. In India and Britain, it is PM.

In Pakistan both PM and President belong to political parties. In Pakistan PM Gilani is supposed to have more control but then media talks about overshadowing.

In India, the President is the commander of the Armed Forces.
In pakistan, we know armed forces is under its own control.

What is President doing there?

Can anyone—Myra or Pakistani—comment?

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

I think the road is being paved for some technocratic type of government, perhaps Bangladesh type of setup which was inducted under the COAS of that country. But here our Chief Justice says that he is “Peoples Chief Justice” and one of the petitioner in this case Dr. Mubasher has openly said in a TV talk show that he would love to see the present Chief Justice as Ruler of this country etc…It is also true that no government can move here or there without taking our Armed Forces in confidence ….this might be the reason of rift between the President and those forces which matter the most. Full Democracy can not be expected in our country. The best solution to run this country is to give full role to the 3 Senior Most Judges of the Supreme Court and the Corps Commanders including COAS on all important issues so that Pulling and Pushing can be stopped until the population gets matured enough to know the Fruits of Democracy. We still have Opportunists and Riders of Two Horses At a Time in waiting for any New Set Up.

Posted by Aftab68 | Report as abusive

In the December 18th New York Times publication, an article Pakistan Ministers Are Called Before the Courts was written by Jane Perlez and Salman Masood. Though the article does state the annulment of the National Reconciliation Ordinance and the repercussions of the decision taken by the Pakistan Supreme Court, it has given an image portraying the Pakistan Army as an anti-democratic institution. Understandably the Pakistan Army is going through a turbulent phase. The army is currently engaged in a battle against militants who are adamant in bringing down the current democratic set up in Pakistan. However, one must not forget that many of these militants have grown up in the same neighborhood as the army soldiers, and regardless of allegiance, it is always difficult to take up arms against a childhood acquaintance. he-pakistan-government/

Posted by AHR | Report as abusive

There are some basic rules which the democratically elected PM or the President has to observe;
@ You must not authorise the use of the military agaist your citizens, nor should you become the vasal of a foreign power.
@ Both Mr zardari and Mr Gillani have violated this principle.
@ Both of them should now take the back seat and let other leaders to take control.
@ Pakistan mlitary do not have the stomach to go for a coup as they are also now a party to the crimes against their own people. Pakistan military have always been reluctant in the past to take over the helms of the Govt.
and have always messed it up. East Pakistan was lost and now there is no reason why the Pushtoon people should hang on to the lawless country.
@ It is time that both India and Pakistan say good bye to their colonial inhereted system, reform their military to become national armies and improve their relations with the neighbouring countries as well as work for the good of their own people and not against their people.

Posted by rexminor | Report as abusive


@The army is currently engaged in a battle against militants who are adamant in bringing down the current democratic set up in Pakistan. However, one must not forget that many of these militants have grown up in the same neighborhood as the army soldiers, and regardless of allegiance, it is always difficult to take up arms against a childhood acquaintance.”
—posted by AHR

AHR: I admire your views in general. while I understand the difficulties in taking up arms against one’s childhood acquaintance but then this should not be left at this point–as some sort of justification for reluctance of PA to take action. How do police–which acts against local criminals work?

Couple of solutions: PA should start learning the lessons of GEETA, the Hindu holy book, which tells that at times one is justified to pick arms against one’s own for all the right reasons. Can there be any better justification than the existential threat to Pakistan by childhood acquaintance of the soldiers?

If that is not to be done, use Pushtoon troops against Punjabi militants and Punjabi troops against FATA/Pushtoon militants (I admit not knowing the structure of PA at this moment).

But I do not buy this “it is always difficult to take up arms against a childhood acquaintance” theory.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

Although Pakiastan military is not a national army it is not meant to be an expeditionary army for the UN to save American lives. They are also not meant to do the policing within the country and suppress their own citizens in order to receive cash aid from foreign powers. They are to defend Pakistan territorial integrety and their record in this vein has been hopeless. They have never won a war and were responsible for loosing the east wing of the country. I cannot admire an army which instead of putting up a fight agaist the enemy simply surrenders to save their skin. Their intrusion into the Pushtoon wazir territory and the use of air and artillery weaponary against ordinary civilians is as classic example unmatched in any other part of the world. Anyone who understands the Psyche of the Pushtoons would know that after this debacle Pakistan military is furthe weakened and would no longer be able to defend their own headquarter or major cities against the vengence of the Pushtoons. Long term one can well imagine that both parts of the Pushtoon land would sooner or later become one. Pakistan needs to replace the current civilian leadership and replace all those who received amnesty from the former military ruler. Their first task should be to reform the army, eliminate any remaining Turks who favoured Musharaf take over and put up the former military President himself on trial. This is the only recipe to stop future army take overs in the country.

Posted by rexminor | Report as abusive

Timing is important in everything. One has to utilize the window of opportunity when it presents itself. If he fails to do so, then the window closes and another opportunity rarely happens because things change all the time. For a young nation, such opportunities should not be missed. Leaders should be aware of this and jump in to make use of the conditions for the future stability.

One does not sow seeds or plant trees in the middle of harsh winter or summer. Early Spring or Fall seasons are the best for such purposes. In the case of countries, this season comes once and rarely comes again. Pakistan missed the sowing season for healthy democracy and stable nation. It is not enough if one just did sowing or planting. One has to nurture the seedlings and take proper care for them against diseases and insects. And one will not plant anything that becomes a pathway. Seedlings will get trampled more often than not.

If one looks at India, its leaders knew the importance of sowing and planting seasons and the window of opportunity. India was lucky in this regard. For almost twenty years after independence, India’s leaders worked hard on setting up the foundations of a strong democracy in the future, infrastructure for education, agriculture and industrial growth. Of course India was affected by internal disease in the form of corrupt politicians and leaders and external viruses in the form of cold war politics. But India stayed non-aligned for a reason. It was too early to align itself with any power groups. Until one is able to stand on his own feet, it is important not to play big roles. India was pushed towards a leftist tilt because the cold war polarity. If you were not a friend of the Americans, you were pushed to the other side no matter how neutral one tried to be. But that apart, India, despite the odds against it in terms of massive levels of diversity, backwardness, poverty etc has managed to gain strength. India did not miss the window of opportunity when it presented itself.

In the case of Pakistan, they had no agenda to start with, other than create a nation for Muslim interests so that they do not live under the Hindus. The agenda was pushed hard and Jinnah got what he fought for. The mission was accomplished. Beyond that they had no careful plans or thoughts on what to do next. This is like fighting your family tooth and nail to get your share of the land. Fighting was easy. But all the time was spent just doing that. Once the family gave up and the land was given, there was no plan on how to continue with farming and what to farm. Jinnah was a political leader. But he was no administrator. He was more like a figure head who gets a group to the next destination. Nehru could govern. And Jinnah left a power vacuum as soon as he got what he fought for. The season was still ripe for sowing and planting. But Pakistan missed it. Impatience led to digging up the soil frequently to see why the seed had not sprouted. And in the end, the seedling did not come out healthy. It was on the pathway of cold war and was trampled over and over again. Its military saw the opportunity to take over power and has turned a would be farmland into a cantonment.

Pakistan needs another fifty years of uninterrupted democratic and economic growth. But it has allowed Islamic radicalism and militancy to take root in its belly. This like adding the weed killer to the plant instead of a nutrient fertilizer. So the political scenario for Pakistan does not look promising as far as democracy is concerned. The military’s ambitions depend upon who the current general is. Tomorrow Kayani might be replaced by a Musharraf or Yahya Khan. In this situation, Pakistan is now facing a huge question mark on its very future as a nation.

If Pakistan fails to survive, its history must be taught in schools so that people know the repercussions of short sighted vision, violent means to achieve ends and radical religious inclinations. Let us still wish Pakistanis the very best because they are people like everyone else and deserve a good life. Hopefully a miracle can save them.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

Both India and Pakistan, though split into two countries appear to be travelling in the same boat! Not a very bright outlook for bozh in the next century. Admittedly Pakistan is worst off for having lost the eastern wing but not taken a lesson from the set back.
1. Both countries do not have national armies but instead the colonial days military who were trained to control the insurgents opposing the Brits.
2. Both are trained to surrender against the enemy who has better weapons or a numeric superiority.
3. Both countries are using naked force against their proclaimed citizens, kashmiris in India and Pashtoons in Pakistan.
4. Both countries have nuclear arsenal as a deterent against the perceived enemy, but are unlikely to use them if they come under attack.

My advise: Reform your armies and civil institutions to shake off the colonial inflence, alternatively they will cease to exist as soverign states.
Good luck.

Posted by rexminor | Report as abusive