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.
Eminent Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir in The News:
The new prime minister of Pakistan has the distinction of saying a big no to both President Pervez Musharraf and late Benazir Bhutto many times. Yousuf Raza Gilani (photo) has always been loyal to his party but he is not a “yes man” and that is the quality which impressed PPP Co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari a lot.
Zardari nominated Gilani for the post of prime minister because he is sure that his nominee will not take any dictation either from the president or from any powerful diplomat. Only Zardari can take the risk of bringing a defiant person to the office of prime minister who may one day say no even to him.
Zardari remembers that Gilani said no to his leader Benazir Bhutto twice when he was Speaker of the National Assembly from 1993 to 1996. Gillani issued the production orders of some opposition MPs in 1994 who were in jail. Prime Minister Benazir was not ready to implement the orders of her own Speaker. She wanted to punish Sheikh Rashid Ahmad who used filthy language against her many times. Gilani took a stand. He argued that his orders must be implemented, otherwise he will resign from the post. Finally his orders were implemented.
And from BBC: By his own admission, Pakistan’s Prime Minister-designate Yusuf Raza Gillani, has not been one of the “good boys” of President Pervez Musharraf’s regime. The regime tried to coerce him into joining many of his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) colleagues in switching sides. But Mr Gillani refused to do a deal with Mr Musharraf and his loyalty is much admired within his party. More:
Why Musharraf must go
Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, who teaches colonial history and political economy at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, in The Times of India:
Over the past few weeks, Pakistanis have been suffering from prolonged power outages, a major reduction in the supply of gas, and a dramatic shortage of wheat flour. The situation reached crisis-like proportions about two weeks before February 18 and while things have not deteriorated further, they have not got much better either.
This is ironic given that the regime’s most celebrated success has been the ‘economic revival’ that it has engineered. Since October 1999 the government has initiated a series of economic ‘reform’ measures, which have met with the approval of the IMF and World Bank. The regime has been rewarded, particularly after the September 11 attacks in America, with massive inflows of financial assistance.
Asif Ali Zardari speaks to the BBC’s Aamer Ahmed Khan on Pakistan’s next prime minister, his new friendship with Nawaz Sharif and an ongoing enmity with President Musharraf
One month after Pakistan’s landmark elections, the country still has no prime minister.
The man who is playing a key role in deciding who will hold this post is Benazir Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who now heads her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). He has emerged from the 18 February elections as one of the most powerful politicians in the country. The nondescript street where he lives in Islamabad is little different from any other apart from the large blocks of concrete strewn randomly across it to prevent any suicide car bomb attackers.
Numerous men in black, with the word Benazir blazoned across their T-shirts, efficiently frisk anyone who enters the street.
In The Spectator, Stephen Schwartz writes that in this failing state, the ballot box is also a tinderbox. Even if Monday’s elections do go ahead, Pakistan might well end up in a worse state than before: exporting terror, spawning confrontation and at war with itself:
The most important country in the world right now faces the most dangerous election in recent times. The country is Pakistan, not America, and the elections for parliament take place this coming Monday. Policy experts speak of ‘failed states’, and Pakistan is just about as close to failure as it is possible for a state to be. That’s one reason the world will be watching on Monday. Another and more immediate reason for interest is the assassination at the end of last year of Benazir Bhutto, twice the country’s prime minister and the secularist leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
The Pakistan People’s Party has released the political will of Benazir Bhutto, in which she backs her husband to be party leader.
The full text:
To the officials and members of Pakistan Peoples Party I say that I was honoured to lead you. No leader could be as proud of their party, their dedication, devotion and discipline to the mission of Quaid e Awam Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for a Federal, Democratic and Egalitarian Pakistan as I have been proud of you. I salute your courage and your sense of honour. I salute you for standing by your sister through two military dictatorships.
I fear for the future of Pakistan. Please continue the fight against extremism, dictatorship, poverty and ignorance.
I would like my husband Asif Ali Zardari to lead you in this interim period until you and he decide what is best. I say this because he is a man of courage and honour. He spent 11-1/2 years in prison without bending despite torture. He has the political stature to keep our party united.
I wish all of you success in fulfilling the manifesto of our party and in serving the downtrodden, discriminated and oppressed people of Pakistan. Dedicate yourselves to freeing them from poverty and backwardness as you have done in the past.
Ardeshir Cowasjee on Pakistani politicians’ blighted stars in The Dawn
THIS is being written on the eve of the departure of the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, on his 80th flying trip abroad, all to do with matters of import and grave national interest.
In the span of eight years, 80 trips is not bad going — an average of 10 per annum of which any overworked and overloaded head of state should be proud. The purpose of his trips — at least most of them, discounting the numerous umrah performances — is to “sell” his country to the rest of the world and to stress to the world’s movers and shakers how vital is Pakistan for the good and safety of mankind.
Before assassins struck on December 27, Pakistan’s ex-premier kept up frenetic pace but also found time for a prayer, report Griff White and Emily Wax in The Washington Post
Gripping the podium with both hands, Benazir Bhutto spoke in a shout that filled the cavernous park and echoed into the streets beyond.
Fareed Zakaria talks to President Pervez Musharraf
Since Benazir Bhutto‘s assassination weeks ago, Pakistan has been plunged into one of the worst crises in its history. President Pervez Musharraf, having recently given up control of the nation’s army, remains firmly in charge and as reluctant as ever to share power, despite a rising tide of criticism. He spoke to NEWSWEEK’s Fareed Zakaria from his camp office in Rawalpindi. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: What do you make of reports that the United States is thinking about launching CIA operations in Pakistan with or without Pakistan’s approval?
Pervez Musharraf: We are totally in cooperation on the intelligence side. But we are totally against [a military operation]. We are a sovereign country. We will ask for assistance from outsiders. They won’t impose their will on us.
How do you take Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that the United States and Britain help Pakistan secure its nuclear weapons?
Does she know how secure [the weapons] are and what we are doing to keep them so? They are very secure. We will ask if we need assistance. Nobody should tell us what to do. And I’d ask anyone who says such things, do you know how our strategic assets are handled, stored and developed—do you know it?