The Political End Game in Pakistan
Such is the nature of Pakistani politics that even a day seems to be a long time. All those who heralded the departure of former President Musharraf from the seat of power in Islamabad, would have never imagined that the Coalition united just a few days back on his removal would be on the brinks of a collapse. As Asif Zardari pitches for the post of the President which was widely expected, there is increased speculation over the fate of the fragile coalition between the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the two principal protagonists in the Pakistani political space.
Why Zardari who seems to be having everything going his way at the moment should go for a step which could well see a major crisis for the country at the most inopportune time in its political and militancy history will be clear if we go in the depths of innuendos and signaling in Pakistan. The reasons seem to be both personal as well as political. On the personal front Zardari fears return to judicial hounding if not prosecution given the rigid stand adopted by the judiciary under the former Chief Justice, Chaudhry The cases against him were dismissed under Musharraf's benevolence in a tacit agreement with the PPP.
The ghosts of the National Reconciliation Ordnance seem to haunt Mr Zardari as Musharraf has been pitch forked out of the job. The political forces supporting the former president could well cash on this opportunity in the future to put Zardari in a spot using the deal with him. The cloak of the Presidency could ensure that this situation is avoided.
On the political front there is a larger battle with the PML N. Nawaz has successfully occupied the public imagination with issues as removal of President Musharraf and restoration of judges. The PML N is also out of the public eye for misdemeanors of the government over economic stagflation. Survival out side the government for Zardari would mean persecution or prosecution again, for the PML N leadership will not assist their old compatriot in his troubles. A President's seat is perhaps a safe house for Zardari.
On the other hand the PML N would be most unhappy if Zardari is in the Presidency with his ability to dismiss the government through the draconian 58 B in the Constitution. That there are deep differences in negotiations between the two leaders is evident when both directly attacked each others positions. 'Political parties do not make promises, they only arrive at understandings,' Zardari said, facing charges from Nawaz of reneging on his promise to restore the judiciary immediately after the removal of Musharraf.
He also indicated that political understandings are 'sometimes 50 percent successful, and sometimes more than that, but are still considered successful'. This political shadow boxing is not likely to win any votes for the widower of Benazir yet he seems to be determined to have his way in the days ahead.
Nawaz Sharif on the other hand has laid his own conditions before agreeing to Zardari's presidency. He has demanded that powers of the president should be reduced for getting support of the PML N. Removal of the 17th Amendment to the Pakistan Constitution is an important facet of Nawaz's conditions. It is this that gives the President the powers to dissolve the National Assembly or ipso facto dismiss the Prime Minister and his cabinet of ministers subject to its approval when challenged by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Fearing an all powerful President in Zardari, Nawaz has been wanting removal of this clause or placing one of the leaders from the smaller provinces as the President.
There are other differences as well with parties unhappy with the PPP for not being consulted before nomination of Zardari given the nature of the coalition. . 'It would have been better had the PPP consulted the coalition partners before announcing Zardari's candidacy,' Awami National Party Information Secretary Zahid Khan was reported to have stated to the media. Nawaz was peeved for not being consulted on the date of the Presidential elections set for 6 September as well. These and other issues of coalition protocol have also been irking him on previous occasions and are likely to continue to be contentious.
Thus the political space in Pakistan remains quite turbulent in the days ahead and the very reason for which the army had come to power many times over, namely division within the political class seem to be erupting once again. The political battle is now well set to be fought between the PPP and the PML N. Who wins ultimately remains to be seen but it is sufficiently clear that a lot of mud would fly and you may end up feeling that Pakistan was better under Musharraf. Was this the reason why India's National Security Advisor Mr M K Naryanan had been rooting for him so far?
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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