Pak political crisis: Confrontations and Compromises

Updated: Jan 20, 2012, 18:01 PM IST

Preeti Panwar

For most of the past six decades, Pakistan has been under military rule. There have been three successful Army coups since Pakistan gained independence in 1947. The first one happened during 1958-1971 under Army Chief General Ayub Khan, second in 1977-1988 under Army Chief Gen Zia-ul-Haq, and then in 1999-2008 under Army Chief Gen Pervez Musharraf.

Now again, there were rumours about Pakistan Army assuming an aggressive role. Every other day some eyebrow raising revelations are making headlines and generating massive interest about Pakistan’s leadership crisis.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is caught in a row and is facing anger from Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, and obviously from opposition parties.

Pakistan is already facing heat over its failure to control terrorism emanating from within its borders, and the leadership’s deepening spat with the men in khaki is only worsening the situation. The country has been going through turbulent times ever since the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 02 in a midnight raid by US Navy SEALS.

Mysterious Memo

Let’s take a quick look at the sequence that has brought Pakistan’s civilian government on the brink of collapse. It’s Army versus the government and both sides are desperately trying to call the shots to defend themselves and to declare their supremacy over the other.

The mother of all blunders happened when the Pakistani leadership faced an embarrassing situation of being bugged by mysterious memogate scandal.

The memogate controversy revolves around a memorandum seeking the help of US administration in averting a possible military takeover of the civilian government in Pakistan. The key player in the memo saga is a Pakistan-based American businessman, Mansoor Ijaz who claims that the memo was written by former Pakistan envoy to US, Hussain Haqqani at President Asif Ali Zardari’s behest and was handed over to the then US military chief Admiral Michael Mullen to convey a "strong, urgent and direct message to General Kayani and ISI chief Ahmed Shuza Pasha to end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus".

It resulted in a demand for probe in the memogate issue by Gen Kayani and Pasha for which the Supreme Court agreed.

As expected, the memogate storm led to the ouster of Hussain Haqqani. This was just a trailer of the future tensions and confrontations between the Army and the civilian government in Pakistan.

Although Pakistan’s government has been consistently saying that it never authored any memo to US via Haqqani, but still the row has been giving Pakistan civilian government its worst nightmares.

Judiciary Vs Government

Meanwhile, opposition parties are also taking advantage of the current crisis by exploiting the situation to their advantages in order to seal a win in the next elections.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is known to be close to Chief of Army Staff, General Kayani.

Adding to President Zardari’s woes, the immunity against court proceedings is not helping him either in getting any respite.

Zardari’s political career has already been mired in corruption allegations, for which he was imprisoned from 1990 to 1993 and from 1996 to 2004. Besides, he is also fighting against charges of misuse of public funds and money laundering.

Army Vs Government

Coming back to the present scenario, the row took an ugly turn when PM Gilani lashed out saying Army’s approach towards memogate issue was “illegal and unconstitutional”.

The statement further aggravated the situation and Army warned the government of “grievous consequences”.

The chances of any reconciliation appeared to be going in vain when Gilani sacked the Defence Secretary for his apparent closeness to Gen Kayani. The sacking followed Defence Secretary (Retd) Gen Khalid Naeem Lodhi’s written statement in apex court that the ministry had no operational control over the Army and the ISI and only looked after their administrative affairs. He was immediately replaced by Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi, who is considered as an ally of PM Gilani.

Gilani calling the shots?

A beleaguered Gilani is now faced with another crisis. The Supreme Court has initiated contempt proceedings against him for not complying with the court`s order to present the government’s case regarding reopening of a corruption probe against President Zardari.

Meanwhile, the Gilani-led government breathed a sigh of relief when the National Assembly approved a key pro-democracy resolution supporting his party. Gilani has pitched strongly for protecting democracy and conveyed a sharp message that judiciary and military cannot ‘pack up’ the government.

As a major respite, Gilani-led PPP government breathed a sigh of relief when the Supreme Court of Pakistan adjourned the hearing date till February 01, 2012 giving the government much needed time to prepare the arguments. It may act as a period to temporarily defuse the crisis between Judiciary and the government.

Ambiguity persists

Whether it’s the Army versus government or judiciary versus government, it is the government which finds itself caught in a storm that has shaken the core leadership of Pakistan.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed as to whether the attempts to calm down frayed tempers bring out positive outcome and put an end to the ongoing tussle.