Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
For the first time in many months, the future of Pakistan is being determined not in the fight against Islamist militants, but within its institutions — its judiciary, its political parties, its government and its military. Last week’s decision by the Supreme Court to strike down a 2007 amnesty given to politicians and bureaucrats has provided Pakistan with a rare opportunity to remodel itself as a civilian democracy based on the rule of law. But the way forward is so fraught with difficulties that assessments of its chances of success are at best sober, at worst ominous.
The court decision to strike down the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) affects some 8,000 politicians and bureaucrats on a list of those who had been covered by the amnesty, including the defence and interior ministers. President Asif Ali Zardari had also been covered by the amnesty, but remains protected by presidential immunity. Such was the upheaval created by the ruling that foreign exchange markets were briefly shaken last week by unfounded rumours of a military coup. The real impact is likely to be more slow-burning.
THE POWER OF THE MILITARY
The disarray in government ranks will weaken its ability to take on the country’s powerful military, which continues to call the shots in Pakistan’s security and foreign policy.
“Building faith in the judicial system is vital and calls for accountability of all other state institutions as well to strengthen the perception that the decision on the NRO was in good faith and to strengthen the rule of law,” said Ayesha Siddiqa in a column in Dawn newspaper. ”But if a question is asked about whether the decision signifies the strengthening of the democratic process and civilian institutions, the answer must be in the negative. Since the perception regarding the decision is that it strengthens the armed forces and their ability to manipulate political stakeholders, it is not possible to see a major shift in the balance of power.”
A 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.