Rumours of “regime change” choke Pakistani airwaves

September 20, 2010

PAKISTAN-FLOODS/

Few in Pakistan believe that the army is going to make a grab for power at this time, but it hasn’t stopped speculation over the fate of the civilian government, widely seen to have to failed to mount an effective response to the nation’s worst floods since its creation. 

The powerful military which is fighting a full-blown insurgency by Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda has raised its standing in the eyes of Pakistanis by spearheading relief efforts. It is unlikely to exploit the vulnerability of the weak civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari to itself get bogged down in Pakistan’s enormous problems by staging a coup. 

But rumours abound that the military, which ruled the country for better part of its 63 years as a nation, and has always exerted vital influence over state affairs such as security and foreign policy, is weighing its options to “save the nation”  through an indirect intervention, the weekly Friday Times wrote in its latest edition.

Some conspiracy theories suggest the present government could be toppled by causing dissentions in the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and a new government made up of turncoats and smaller parties could be installed. Others say a new government comprising “technocrats” could be appointed by getting the present regime disqualified from the increasingly assertive Supreme Court on charges of ineptness and massive corruption.

Rumours of change in the government were set into motion last month after a coalition partner of Zardari and self-exiled head of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Altaf Hussain, called on “patriotic generals” to take revolutionary steps against corrupt politicians.

Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister and main opposition leader, strongly opposed Hussain’s suggestion but recently said a “change” could be brought out through constitutional means if the present government did not rectify its wrongdoings.

Rumours of “regime change” are so strong  that even the soft-spoken Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani , who is also vice chairman of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) headed by Zardari, had to address “change-mongers: at a public function.

“PM warns against cornering PPP government,” read the main headline of daily The News on Sunday.

Speaking to businessmen in the eastern city of Lahore on Saturday evening, Gilani said “any unconstitutional act against the democratically elected government will be tantamount to hatching a conspiracy against the federation.”

“The largest party of the federation should not be cornered. We are committed to safeguarding the constitution,” he said.

Gilani’s remarks came a day after Zardari ruled out any “abrupt change” of government at a high-level meeting of the ruling party.

“Water cannot flow over us and we know how to defend our democratic position that we have earned through long struggle and invaluable sacrifices,” daily The Nation quoted Zardari as telling the meeting.

“Those who are talking about technocratic setup were perhaps living in a fool’s paradise as they do not know the PPP.”

At a time when the United States needs its ally’s crucial help to stabilize Afghanistan ahead of its planned troops withdrawal from next year,  any political turmoil in Pakistan would be cause of a major concern for Washington.

“Are you concerned about political situation in Pakistan,” was the question posed to Richard Haolbrooke, U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, during a roundtable with journalists in Islamabad last week. 

Holbrooke said he would not speculate on things which he had no answer as “it’s journalists who focus on this issue and to some extent create this issue”.

“This is a democracy now with a very strong military, with tremendous number of problems that you all aware of and we are going to do whatever we can to help them.”

The News quoted him as saying that Zardari’s government was not “drowning in the floods”.

The Dawn newspaper in a recent editorial said media should be partly blamed for triggering the debate of “vague change” in the country.

“For a country that has flirted with and embraced military interventions so many times in the past, only for these to inevitably lead to disastrous consequences, the media’s sometimes barely concealed cheerleading for extra-constitutional measures is astonishing,” the paper said.

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