Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Never in the history of Pakistan has a democratically elected civilian government served out its full term and then been replaced by another one, also through democratic elections.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.
After the chief minister of Pakistan’s biggest province reportedly asked the Taliban to spare his region from attacks, he kicked off an uproar and earned the scorn of a woman member of a provincial parliament, who sarcastically offered him her scarf and said “the women of the frontier province” would protect him.
Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab province, on Sunday said he didn’t understand why the Taliban were targeting the Punjab when his party — the PML-N — and militants alike opposed the policies of former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, who allied with the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The militants have carried out four attacks and killed at least a dozen people since the army launched an assault on their South Waziristan stronghold, while more than 150 people were killed in a deadly spree preceding the offensive – including a brazen raid on army headquarters in Rawalpindi.
Among the black-suited crowd celebrating Pakistani judge Iftikhar Chaudhry’s reinstatement as the head of the Supreme Court outside his home in Islamabad this week was a woman with a bouquet in her hand and a prayer in her heart.
Amina Janjua’s husband went missing in July 2005, one of hundreds that rights activists allege have been held without judicial process in secret detentions centres as Pakistan’s part in the campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Her husband’s case was one of the dozens that Chaudhry had taken up in his campaign to fix accountability for the missing people, before he was sacked in November 2007.
Pakistani authorities banned public protests and detained hundreds of lawyers and opposition workers nationwide to prevent them from launching Thursday’s planned ”long march” towards the capital Islamabad to force President Asif Ali Zardari to reinstate a former Supreme Court judge.
Many went into hiding according to these reports, vowing to press on with the cross-country motor convoy that will set off from cities in Baluchistan and Sind and then Puinjab on Friday before culminating outside the parliament building in the capital.
By Robert Birsel and Zeeshan Haider
Pakistan’s Taliban have indignantly criticised what they said were India’s “unfounded” threats against Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai assault and they vowed to rally to the defence of the country in the event of an Indian attack.
“If they dared to attack Pakistan then, God willing, we will share the happiness and grief with all Pakistanis,” said Pakistani Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar.
“We will put the animosity and fighting with the Pakistani army behind us and the Taliban will defend their frontiers, their boundaries, their country with their weapons.
“We will defend the Line of Control in the same way as we are defending the Durand Line,” he told Reuters by telephone referring to the frontier with India in disputed Kashmir and the border with Afghanistan.
“We will show Pakistanis whether we are miscreants or defenders of the country.”
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is Pakistan’s High Commissioner to London and a former advisor to the late Benazir Bhutto.
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
A comment recently by Asif Zardari, the powerful head of the Pakistan People’s Party, that the country’s next president could be a woman has set off speculation that he might propose the name of one of his sisters, both members of his party, to succeed President Pervez Musharraf.
What better way to burnish Pakistan’s credentials as an enlightened democracy than have a woman as head of state at a time when the power of Islamist militants is growing, especially in the vital northwest region where they have been burning down schools for girls.
Pakistan’s fractious coalition has agreed to begin impeachment proceedings against President Pervez Musharraf but can it really pull it off ? Do they have the numbers — the two-thirds majority required from the National Assembly and Senate combined? Impeachement is like a trial, so what charges will they bring against him?
And then there is the army, still arguably the most powerful institution in a country of 160 million people battling Islamist extremism, tension on its borders with India and Afghanistan where U.S. led coalition forces are hunkered down, and facing an economic meltdown.
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.
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.