Pakistan’s rivalrous coalition

The fissures in Pakistan’s new government are allowing the country’s dangerous problems to fester, writes Irfan Husain in Open Democracy

Pakistan’s newly minted coalition government, in office only since 25 March 2008, is presently lurching from one crisis to another. Its political core, the partnership between the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif’s faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) ended – for the moment at least – on 13 May 2008 when Sharif withdrew his quota of ministers from the federal cabinet over the ostensibly arcane issue of how to restore to office the senior judges sacked under President Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of emergency on 3 November 2007.

But the real problem between the PML-N and the PPP (the party led until her assassination on 27 December by Benazir Bhutto, and now effectively headed by her widower, Asif Ali Zardari) goes far deeper than the high-profile “judges’ issue”. Its root is the longstanding rivalry for power between the two formations, symbolised by the personal contest for power between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif themselves. These figures long alternated in office as Pakistan’s prime minister, sharing the spoils of what became – until Musharraf’s first seizure of power in October 1999 – a virtual two-party state.

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