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 the High Commissioner of Pakistan to Britain.
Pakistan: Now or Never?
Now that President Asif Ali Zardari has agreed to reinstate Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and offered to challenge a court decision against his rival Nawaz Sharif, is he going to come under pressure to give up his powers to dismiss parliament, another popular demand?
Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is much talked about these days as the one national figure who could lean on Pakistan’s warring politicians to back down from a confrontation threatening the stability of the country. The question is over how he would intervene while maintaining a commitment to keep the army out of politics.
Maybe this always happens at times of national upheaval. But there is a surprising disconnect between the immediacy of the crisis facing Pakistan as expressed by Pakistani bloggers and the more slow-moving debate taking place in the outside world over the right strategy to adopt towards both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In his book on the Pakistan Army, South Asia expert Stephen Cohen quotes a senior lieutenant-general as warning the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto against using the military to control political opposition. “If you use a stick too often, the stick will take over,” Cohen quotes the general as saying. “This has always been the history of the stick.”
After India last held state elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 2002, the Kashmir Valley witnessed a period of relative peace only to see it shattered when plans to give land to Hindu pilgrims triggered the biggest protests since the Kashmir separatist revolt erupted in 1989.
The anniversary of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has reminded everyone just how much we still don’t know about her killing in a suicide gun and bomb attack in Rawalpindi on Dec. 27, 2007.
The same questions that transfixed the shocked country in the days after her death, such as why was the crime scene hosed down so quickly, was she killed when the blast smashed her head into the lever on her vehicle’s escape hatch or by a bullet, why was no autopsy performed, are again being raised.
Investigations by the previous government and the U.S. CIA accused an al Qaeda-linked militant, Baitullah Mehsud, of killing Bhutto, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy.
That would seem logical enough but, as we’ve seen with the Mumbai attacks, any militant attack on or linked to Pakistan seems to raise questions about possible links to old allies in the powerful intelligence services.
While Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is in the United States discussing U.S. military strikes across Pakistan’s border, army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is on a far less publicised trip to China to talk about defence cooperation. The timing may be coincidental, but the potential implications of the United States and China playing competing roles in Pakistan are huge.