The consequences of the Memogate, a Memo purportedly send to American former Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullens on behalf of Pakistan President Asif Zardari seem to be spinning out of control. While possibilities of a military coup in the near future may be quite limited particularly so as the Army would not like to head a government challenged on all fronts, political, economic and security and the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has given a stark warning in the words as only he can, there is a good chance of the country heading for a soft coup, that is placing a political configuration more acceptable to the Establishment an euphemism for the Army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) in power.
The trends are ominous. Firstly there appears to be a breakdown in the trust between the Army and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Pakistan’s affable Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who India’s Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh called as a man of peace and is also known to be an acceptable leader for the country’s Establishment, speaking in the National Assembly warned of democracy in the country being in danger saying a, “state within the state would be unacceptable”. “They [Meaning the Army] have to be answerable to this parliament,” Gilani said. “They cannot be a state within a state.” Earlier at a gathering at the National Arts Gallery he warned, “Conspiracies are being hatched to pack up the elected government.” Coming from Mr Gillani this surprised many and was an indication that things had really come to a dead end with the military.
Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry stepped in a day later stating that military take over was out of question. “There is no question of take over”, the Chief Justice remarked. Mr Nawaz Sharif, former two times Prime Minister who had suffered at the hands of a coup by a former Army Chief Pervez Musharraf also came out strongly against a coup. The Army Chief General Pervez Ashfaq Kiyani came out with a statement that the Army will continue to support democracy.
This diffused tensions in the air and Mr Gilani stated, “The clarification from the army chief yesterday is extremely well taken in the democratic circles,” Gilani said. “There will definitely be an improvement because of it.”
But this appears to be only a temporary stand off between the Army and the Government. This was obvious when General Kiyani did not attend reception of the President as well as the Prime Minister for the Chinese special envoy, Mr Dai Bingguo who is very highly regarded in Pakistan and who is also on his way out after the present hierarchy in that country changes next year.
That a crisis was brewing was evident when the Ministry of Defence had surprisingly indicated that the Army and the ISI had not been accountable to it thereby denoting that the affidavits filed by the ISI and the Army Chief in Supreme Court on Memogate had not been through the Ministry whereas technically this should have the route.
With the memories of previous coups in 1958, 1969, 1977 and 1999 haunting the public there was much speculation that Pakistan was likely to witness another military take over though this time around the time was not ripe as popular opinion is not as much in favour of the military as it has been at those points of time in history.
But the possibility of a soft coup to ease out Mr Zardari and get somebody who is more acceptable to the military may be in the offing. With Mr Gillani also having made strong statements against the military there is likely to be some distrust between him and the Army as well. Thus the military would opt for a soft rather than a hard coup to place its favorites in positions of power.
Coincidentally Mr Imran Khan’s Party Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) is rapidly gaining momentum with key leaders from the PML N, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, the PPP former foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Leghari brothers joining him. The PTI has had successful rallies in both Karachi and Lahore the main power bases of the country attracting thousands of people. Will the Army support Mr Imran Khan a former cricket captain to rise to power in the country by boosting him and thereby achieve a soft coup remains to be seen.
The PPP on the other hand seems to be backing on gaining a majority in the Senate in the elections due in March thereby securing Mr Zardari’s position as he cannot be impeached thereafter even if the Party does poorly in the next elections as it is anticipated due to lack lustre performance in government so far.
Thus how the current rift between the PPP and the Army manifests and which side wins remains to be seen. So far the Army has always been triumphant in such a contest with political forces and therefore it appears that the PPP may have finally bitten the bullet of political hara-kiri.
Some analysts also seem to indicate that the PPP government is creating a crisis either to diffuse tensions over Memogate by projecting that there is a threat to democracy or facing eviction projecting a strong front so as to gain sympathy of the public in the husting as and when these are held in the country?
The politics of conspiracy in Pakistan is always difficult to predict, yet a soft coup may be the way ahead, whether this happens in the near or the medium term thus remains to be seen?