Pakistan’s political crisis

January 3, 2011

gilani kayaniNever in the history of Pakistan has a democratically elected civilian government served out its full term and then been replaced by another one, also through democratic elections. It is that context that makes the latest political crisis in Pakistan so important.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is scrambling to save his PPP-led government after it lost its parliamentary majority when its coalition partner, the  Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), announced it would go into opposition.  A smaller religious party, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), already quit the coalition last month.  If the government falls and elections are held ahead of schedule in 2013, the opportunity for Pakistan to have a government which serves its full term will be lost. 

The prevailing view among political analysts appears to be that the government is now less likely to last until 2013, even if it manages to survive in the short term. But given the peculiar nature of Pakistani politics, where the military exerts a powerful role behind the scenes, no one is predicting anything with any certainty.

The main opposition leader, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has shown little enthusiasm for forcing an early election which could propel his Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) into power at a time when the country faces huge economic and security problems. Better to wait it out until an election in 2013 that his PML-N is seen as likely to win. Having been ousted in a coup in 1999, Sharif also remains deeply suspicious of the army, and he has ruled out supporting any moves against the government that might be orchestrated by the military. Giving democracy time to bed down, by allowing the government led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to serve its full term, could set a useful precedent for a future PML-N administration. 

The army itself has shown no inclination to run the country directly, and it already controls the issues that matter most to it – foreign and security policy.  It has barely disguised its frustration with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari — who also leads the PPP — particularly after he travelled to France and Britain last summer while the country suffered from devastating floods.  But that does not translate into wanting to see Sharif back in power. According to a U.S. embassy cable released by WikiLeaks,  army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani made it clear to U.S. officials that “regardless of how much he disliked Zardari, he distrusted Nawaz (Sharif) even more”.

Another option, possibly more palatable to the army, would be an alternative coalition of smaller political parties which might be able to challenge both Zardari and Sharif in the next election. But that will take time to fall into place, possibly right up to 2013, if at all.  Don’t rule anybody out, however unlikely they seem now, as part of an alternative coalition. That includes former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who set his sights very firmly on 2013 when he launched his political party in London in October.

A couple of final points. We don’t actually know for sure whether there is a groundswell of popular support in favour of ditching the current government, though there is, as Nadeem Paracha argued in Dawn,  a great deal of populist sloganeering on television channels about the state of the country.  “Akin to a black comedy is the fact that most TV anchors and hosts that go on spouting all these concerns – unemployment, inflation, drone attacks, ‘good governance’, Aafia ki wapsi (jailed Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui)  etc. – are sitting pretty with hefty salaries and perks, and, what some would suggest, an agenda to safeguard the interests of some of the most anti-democracy classes in this country i.e., the military, the mullah and large sections of the upper and middle-classes.”

We also don’t know for sure whether having a civilian government complete its term would necessarily be good for democracy. And to be fair there are many in  Pakistan who question whether democracy is even the right system for the country; others who complain that the PPP is not particularly democratic given its dominance by the Bhutto family dynasty and the feudal elite.  

But we can say for sure that there is rather more at stake in this political crisis than merely the survival of a government or even the implementation of policies.   It could have implications for how the country is run which will endure for many years.

 (Reuters file photo of Gilani and Kayani)


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This puts army in the power seat again.

Just a few months back the Kiyani and Gilani were jostling over increase in the defense bufget, guess a few more F16s will be ordered now to boost the economy.

Posted by Auroch78 | Report as abusive

A collapse of the ruling government does not forebode any crisis. Another election can be held and another coalition party can come to power. It is normal for democratic systems. What is important is the democratic exercise. Sometimes the public end up voting out those who engage in sabotaging governments at the center. Voters can surprise the leaders sometimes. India has seen that many times. If Geelani’s government falls, there is no need to panic. Run another election and let the people choose another set of leaders wisely. There is no need to lose hope. A stronger democracy in Pakistan is the need of the hour. If that happens and matures, Pakistan will become a good nation and its military will learn to play its role as the servant of the civilian government.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

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Posted by Analysis: Political unrest may bring U.S., Pakistan army closer – Reuters | Report as abusive

Please stop quoting Nadeem Paracha. He does not represent broader public opinion even if he represents sentiments to your taste.
The reality of situation is that economy can not be fixed while WOT is on going. PPP’s profligate ways don’t help either. WOT is very costly and PA is looking for additional funding and with poor economy it is not available.
Pakistan is a conservative society and left parties are going to have less influence when the elections are held.
Now the minority government can stay in power a few more months. The only way out is elections and if it would bring solid majority for a single party. Wait and watch.

Posted by Matrixx | Report as abusive

This is what Pakistan leaders also need to do (and Indian leaders need to do more of it) 53891120110103

Rest everything will automatically fall in place. Give youth development and jobs, peace will automatically come. Either you co exist or you do not exist at all.

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive

Who is this guy Nadeem Paracha? Who doers he represent? He writes an article and asks endless questions, why does’nt he phone the MQM guys and ask them direct questions. OPakistan should take the lead and ban the party system in their democratic system?
he complains about the lobbyists interest being represented by the parties? He is welcome to examine the western democracies, which are one hundred percent controlled by the lobbyist groups? He is against the elites of the society and yet he says very little about the have nots of the society? Education reforms are needed and the decolonization of the Govt. is required. Pakistan could learn a lot from Iran and Turkey and stop their love affairs with the yanks!!

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

Awful to hear about Salman Taseer’s assassination. I hope sanity returns to the country soon. Blasphemy laws are a symptom of religious intolerance that is consuming a society. Taseer’s crime was that he was a social liberal opposed to the blasphemy law.

[Aatish Taseer, author of “Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands” is the son of (Pakistani) Punjab governor Salman Taseer and Indian journalist Tavleen Singh.]

Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said: “The police guard who killed him says he did this because Mr Taseer recently defended the proposed amendments to the blasphemy law.”

As a Country Pakistan is going down the drain.

Posted by punjabiyaar | Report as abusive

The assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer will further exacerbate the political crisis. Immediate and robust action is needed to tackle religious extremism, long-term measures will be required to educated and pull out people from extremism. When a majority of people are deprived of economic prosperity, extremism is the answer. Pakistan needs radical reforms to get back on track.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

I watched 3-4 Pakistani Talk shows, funny but alarming thing is almost everybody is justifying the Killing of Salman Taseer.

One guy said anybody who is against blasphemy laws must be killed.

Posted by punjabiyaar | Report as abusive

I am sure there are more players involved in the murder of this liberal politician. The security guy might have executed a plan. With the support for blasphemy laws being aired in the TV, it is possible that Pakistan’s intelligence system is doing its thing and propping up support for it. Of course nothing can be traced back to the source. Even Benazir’s murder has been erased off all the evidence. Tasir is the next one. If key PPP politicians are killed off, then the military gets to bring in puppets to run the show for them. Who knows? But I wouldn’t write everything off in Pakistan. There is still a lot of hope left.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive


I agree with you. The assasination of Taseer is very disturbing & highlights the increase of extremism in Pakistan. He was the most vocal opponent of unjust blasphemy law. It seems that radical forces are out to silence the few moderate voices in Pakistan & unless radical reforms are enacted, the radicals will gain strength & sweep the entire nation. It’s a critical time for Pakistan.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

Pakistan definitely needs reforms to get back on track; which track? Those who play with people’s emotions need to be very careful what they say and how they say it. The law was not created by the assasin but he took upon himself to defend it.
I read that Mr Taseer apparently belonged to the ahmedi sect, was fond of Machiavelli, belonged to the Bhutto clan and was against the Bhutto law declaring ahmedis as non muslims? Who was this guy really, the weathy businessman, chartered accountant and on a previous occasion was sighted absent from the provincial capital without informing the Assy.Speaker?
The military brought the capital to Islamabad for their own safety, they can move back the capital to Karachi or some other town in Sindh or Balochistan so that normality can return to the towns near the Himalayas. Rawalpindi or Islamabad is the notorius place which has seen more political leaders murdered than in any other city of the world?
How come Mr Taseer became the Governor as well as the preacher against the prevailing laws. I thought Governor post is a dummy post of a non political nature, with no real power. In any case he must have taken the oath to uphold the laws of the country, not preaching against them. The legislators task is to legislate or amend current laws. In my view Pakistan cannot afford such a luxary of having governor’s post in addition to the democratically elected provincial Govt. The European democracies do not have Governor positions in their provinces and we do not miss them? My feelings tell me that Pak Generals must be in pains to see the Akbar Raj of Peoples party and the sharif Bros. in the cities of the country, while common people have to face the rising prices of basic food and American drone attacks in the North of the country.
In any case Pakistan is not the only country to face such assasintions? Indian prime Minister faced a similar fate! It has nothing to do with extremism. People just flip over and explode on issues which you and I would tackle it with a sober mind. God bless your country. Hope that the blsphamey law would be amended! Hwere is a suggestion, the one who brings the complaint about blasphemy should also be sentenced to death for tolerating it and bringing it to the attention of the authorities?

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

It is a pity that the communism is no longer popular after the fall of Soviet Union. Otherwise, Pakistan Govt. could have requested Fidel Castor to send some one like che to sart people’s revolution in Pakistan. This could solve Pakistan problems with feudal lords, millionaires, the fifth columnists journalists and peoples party elites who have Dachas in Europe and running the country affairs from their palaces. And the Army, the poot army which is watching in despair.

Rex Minor

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Having studied the article and the available comments on the article and the knowledge of the Pakistan’s Politics it is not fair to make a sweeping remark. I would suggest that the best would be to find out what is wrong with Army and the Political Leaders of Pakistan that they both failed to run the government and establish democracy in real meaning of the term.

Pakistan is in trouble no doubt but for whom the entire situation has deteriorated, the army or the politicians are the questions. Democracy is not the fruit that grows on tree.

In West, all say their country are democratic, but is that notion true in all respect. No, it is not true. Sorry to say it they too are not fully democratic as the definition of democracy: “For the People, By the People, and of the people”. How could one adjust the wrong doings of the government looting of government treasury fund by the politicians and government officials in collusion and claims it to be democratic act. So also discriminatory Justice System, racism, Religious intolerance are not democratic acts but these are until now prevalent in the country.

Are these democratic if not what is democratic and what is democracy Killing people and declaring war against sovereign state on false pretext could be the acts of a democratic country or to pursue a double standard for Christian, Muslims and Jews covertly most of the time and openly sometimes can not be the acts of a democratic country. Finally, supporting Political, military, civil forces and civilians committing crime against human rights are not fit for a democratic country, which advocates democracy.

Therefore, before pointing finger on others is it not wise to search self. Now coming to the question of nuclear arsenal safety of Pakistan because of the political instability in the country has no basis to think of that because of the assurance given by the government repeatedly. It is not enough to say this may happen, that may happen, because of the fact that many can hypothetically happen but it does not in reality.

Which country is safe having nuclear arsenals? I would say none. Do any of my friends know how many nuclear bombs Israel possess? No none knows not even US Government know, where as US finances, supplies food, gives American’s taxed paid money with which it buys latest sophisticated armaments to commit genocide recently. Is it safe to have nuclear bombs in the hands of a genocide committal country?

It is strongly believed that because J. F. Kennedy refused to allow Israel to have nuclear establishment was assassinated, leave aside the killing of Indira Ghandi, Bhutto and others.

Think of the safety of nuclear arms in the hand of the most dangerous terrorist nation. Why worry about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals falling in the hands of the terrorists. The nuclear arsenals are already in the hands of the terrorist nation. First, My friend Steve Coll should write about all countries possessing nuclear Bomb to be disarmed irrespective of countries big or small and help the US President’s endeavor to make the world totally free of nuclear arsenals instead of pin pricking a particular country without any cogent hard fact except on hypothesis of “Ifs” and “Buts”

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[…] assassination… is out of favor, and on his way out prior to the ending of his term. Mourn not… never in the history of that nation has a democratically elected civilian government served out its … as we do here in the US. Does that give you a clue as to how susceptible to influences – both […]

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[…] Looking back at 2011, it may seem somewhat hazy when recalling the world crises amidst our own country’s ongoing economic woes or political uncertainties. Meanwhile, many countries continue to resolve severe sustainability issues at the onset of 2012. Japan is still recovering from a series of devastating earthquakes and tsunamis; drought, loss of land and increased food prices are widespread issues in East Africa and the affects of political turmoil and massive flooding remain evident in Pakistan. […]

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