Zardari The TINA factor

Pak armys firm grip


The epitaphs being written of Asif Zardari after the supreme court of Pakistan declared the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance void ab initio are perhaps somewhat premature. Despite panic buttons being pressed by the PPP rank and file after the judgement, things seem to have somewhat settled down.

This does not mean that the legal minefield that has been laid out for President Zardari has disappeared. Indeed, the hostile courts will remain hanging like a sword of Damocles over the head of the PPP chief and his close associates. But the looming threat of the government being destabilised by the joint effort of the military establishment and some powerful media barons has receded for the time being.

For how long the ruling dispensation will be able to cling on in office — it has already lost its powers — is still not clear. What is clear, however, is that even if because of fortuitous circumstances the PPP-led coalition survives its full term, it will be as nothing more than a glorified municipality.

The Pakistan army is not really in favour of the overturning the current system. But the army had a lot of reservations against the national security policy — relations with US, India, Afghanistan, the nuclear programme and doctrine, Pakistan’s participation in the War on Terror, etc — of the PPP-led government.

This was the reason why the dirty tricks department of the military orchestrated the entire campaign of vilification against Zardari and his close associates and brought them under so much pressure that they have now thrown in the towel as far as making policy or taking decisions on issues of national security are concerned.

Giving a new dimension to the doctrine of separation of powers, the civilian government of Pakistan will now be responsible for everything except the vital foreign, defence and security issues, which will be the sole preserve of the military. Even political initiatives that have a bearing on national security — for instance, in Balochistan or in Gilgit Baltistan — require a clearance from the Pakistan army.

With the civilian government going out of its way to placate the army — India-bashing is once again back on the centre-stage — the generals have got what they wanted. It would now be counter-productive for the army to force the government out of office.

Although the army would like to see the back of Zardari, it might well decide to tolerate him as a necessary evil, more so after Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has thrown his weight behind the president.

Symbiosis

Gilani has understood that he won’t be able to survive in office for very long — a few months at best — if Zardari is ousted. The army is also apprehensive that move against  Zardari could easily lead to a severe reaction in Sindh, something that the army cannot afford at a time when it is combating insurgencies in FATA and Balochistan.

If the current dispensation collapses, this will leave basically two options. The first is a new election. Given the current security situation a new election doesn’t seem very feasible. And even if fresh elections are held, they will most likely catapult Nawaz Sharif’s party into power. This is not exactly a very welcome prospect for the army because Nawaz Sharif is unlikely to be a pushover. The army also fears that he will wreck his vengeance on military officers who crossed his path when he was ousted by Gen Musharraf. Even worse, he will go out of his way to end the army’s political role.

The second option is what is known as the ‘Bangladesh model’ — a government of technocrats backed by the army. But this option gives rise to two important questions.
First, the so-called ‘Bangladesh model’ was originally the ‘Musharraf model’ who until the 2002 elections ruled through a cabinet of technocrats. Neither the ‘Musharraf model’ worked miracles, nor did the ‘Bangladesh model’ change anything in Bangladesh.

The second question relates to the courts. The ‘Bangladesh model’ has no constitutional sanction. Unless the courts approve such an arrangement by once again resurrecting the ‘doctrine of necessity’, they will be constrained to strike it down. And if they don’t strike it down, the courts will lose every shred of credibility and legitimacy.

Of course, under the guise of the ‘Bangladesh model’ the army could overthrow the current judiciary. But this will end up pitting the army against the public, something the army cannot afford especially when it needs the public support in its fight against the ‘bad’ Taliban.

Given the dialectics of the situation, it therefore serves the interests of everyone if the Zardari/Gilani combine continues to occupy their offices but without wielding any real power. The only spoiler in this whole scheme could be the supreme court. Unless the judges take a step back and desist from opening multiple Pandora’s boxes, they will almost certainly end up destabilising the entire system.

What remains to be seen is whether the judiciary survives this destabilisation or whether the politicians and military establishment gang up and fix the judiciary. Either way, Pakistan will face great instability and unrest.

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