With political developments moving rapidly in Pakistan in the past week, surprisingly there is new hope. The country seems to have turned the tide and broken the coup cycle. Thus despite all what naysayers were predicting, the Pakistan Army did not repeat the same mistake as its predecessors have made in the past of taking over reins of power in the country when there was pressure from political leadership on the military brass. This may be one of the key gains of the current stand off even though the Pakistan People’s Party government led by the Zardari - Gillani duo continues to remain shaky as ever.
It was a tense week for all the principal players on the political stage in the country. By end of the week the rancor had possibly run out with President Zardari and General Kayani meeting one on one on Saturday. A meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) chaired by the Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was held in which the Prime Minister who had been breathing fire against the Army struck a conciliatory tone. Surprising though it may seem but the Pakistani military brass is a part of the DCC which is supposed to be a committee of Cabinet members. The full military brass including General Kiyani was in attendance indicating that a rapprochement was in the offing. The US had also given a clear signal that a coup will not be acceptable and that it would support only democracy in Pakistan.
Tracing the course of events however, the sequence of action after the Memogate scandal broke out indicates that after the Chief of the Army Staff and the ISI Chief submitted direct affidavits to the Supreme Court which was investigating a petition by opposition leader and former Prime Minister Mr Nawaz Sharif on the issue, a rift between the government and the Army was inevitable. The affidavits supported the case that the government had requested help from the US for replacing the present top brass as indicated in the Memo. The government objected submission of affidavits directly to the Supreme Court and not through the attorney general’s office which is the normal course for all officials including the military. The Army was not able to justify the breach and the government went to the extent of sacking the Defence Secretary.
Pakistan Prime Minister Mr Gillani also took a stand of not taking vote of confidence in the national assembly. This was possibly part of the overall strategy that the PPP seems to be planning to stymie efforts of the opposition PML N, the Army and the Supreme Court combined to bring down the government due to its involvement in the Memogate scam. Propping up of National Reconciliation Ordnance is possibly a weapon which the Supreme Court has been bringing upfront when it wants to put Mr Zardari under pressure. The visit of the COAS to China and an interview to the Chinese daily by the Prime Minister indicating there was a breach by the Army brass were other points of inflection in the ongoing dispute.
Now how the three sides, the PPP led government, the military and the judiciary is able to salvage the situation without losing face is important. The Army in particular would not like to be seen backing down in front of a civilian government. The PPP and the judiciary have been compromising in the past thus what formula is worked out remains to be seen.
The fourth actor is PML N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif who would like to scuttle Senate elections due on 2 March for that would give the PPP majority in the senate strengthening the position of the Party for some time, so how he plays his cards remains to be seen? Whether this blows over as Senate elections are held or there is a judicial action with severe strictures against the PPP led government including the Prime Minister and the President will be clear in a few days.
With severe injunctions by the Court against the Prime Minister due to lack of action on the National Reconciliation Ordnance by the PPP led government, in case of further castigation on the Memogate issue there would be a major loss of face for the government possibly leading to resignation of Mr Gillani or the PPP led alliance per se. This appears to be the game that Mr Nawaz Sharif is playing to bring down the government now when it is weak, have early national assembly elections before the Senate are held and thus turn the tables on Mr Zardari, whose frequent short trips to Dubai have become matter of intense speculation.
So in this multi cornered contest who comes out as the winner remains to be seen, for the time being at least we will not have an army general up front heading the country.