Saturday, November 07, 2009




    The signals had started coming in quite a few months back that the Pakistan army had once again started manipulating the politics of the country and re-emerged as the final arbiter of the . The main reason for this was to disabuse the political class of any notions that it may have harboured about being empowered by the people to decide upon all matters of state, including the national security strategy. The Pakistani military and intelligence establishment has long considered formulation of the national security policy of the state its sole preserve and cannot even countenance any encroachment by the political class in this domain. As and when any civilian government has tried to intrude in this forbidden sphere of policy making, the Pakistan army has put in motion a series of events that either culminate with the ignominious and unceremonious ouster of that dispensation, or else emasculate the political government to a point where it manages nothing more than municipal functions.

The script for fixing a civilian government has by now been finessed to point that it is executed almost like a well-rehearsed military manoeuvre. And it works every time. Ironically, this entire process of destabilising an elected government is assisted by the hubris of those in power who invariably deny, even dismiss, any suggestion that the wheels of destabilisation of their government have been set in motion. By the time they realise that the chair is being pulled from under them, it is too late, and they are either thrown out on to the street, or in a prison, from where the lucky ones are sent into exile and the unlucky ones to the gallows. The process usually commences through the instrumentality of journalists who are firmly embedded in Aabpara (ISI HQs) and media barons who have an axe to grind with the government of the day. The objective is simple: give a dog a bad name and hang it!

Lurid stories of all forms of corruption (some true but most of them unsubstantiated and very often nothing more than insinuations) are planted in the press. These are then followed by carefully constructed and plausible sounding conspiracy theories woven around rumours of the moves that are underway against the government. In the Pakistani political system, the maxim 'conjecture becoming a reality', translates into what a Pakistani journalist calls 'rumours being premature facts'. As a result, these stories start acquiring a life of their own and are blown up to a point where the government loses all credibility, legitimacy and moral authority to continue in office. More importantly, it starts losing political support in the parliament and state assemblies and popular support in the street.

After a perception of popular revulsion against the government has been manufactured, the final act of deposing the regime is reduced to becoming a matter of minor detail. It could be through dismissal of the government by the president, 'horse-trading' and browbeating of legislators and alliance partners to switch loyalties and reduce the government to a minority, using the law courts to disqualify the head honchos of the ruling dispensation, and last but not the least, a military coup. In the present case a military coup can be ruled out for the moment. The army's hands are full because of its involvement in the military campaigns against the 'bad' Taliban. It is also unlikely that the international community will turn a blind eye to any direct military intervention in Pakistan's politics. Most of all, the hangover of the Musharraf era continues to persist because of which a return to a military dictatorship will not be acceptable.

Dismissal of the government by a presidential fiat is also not on the cards. The target of the Pakistan army's political offensive is not so much the PPP-led government as it is President Asif Zardari and the considerable powers he wields, including those of dismissing the government and making appointments to all crucial positions like that of the services chiefs. Therefore, unless Mr Zardari wants to shake up the system and take everyone down with him, there is no reason for him to dismiss his party's government and dissolve the assemblies. If push comes to shove, Mr Zardari could use this as the 'ultimate weapon'. But it is entirely possible that this weapon could end up in a fizzle. Since any such drastic action by the president will come only when Mr Zardari is on his way out, it could simply end up in the dustbin after being declared illegal by the 'independent' judiciary.

Given that the current phase of politics in Pakistan is that of revolving door political governments and the army is not inclined to enter the centre stage of politics but is content with pulling the strings from the sidelines, dissolving the assemblies will inflict a general election, which under the prevailing security situation appear impossible. This means that any change, either in the government or in the presidency, has to be affected in-house. The only way this is possible is either through the judiciary or through political manoeuvres in which parties in the governing coalition switch support and dissidence within parties is orchestrated to a point that a leadership change becomes inevitable and unavoidable.

The judiciary, with all its pretensions of being independent and neutral, is uniformly hostile to the president and his associates. What is more, the president also has to contend with the right-wing and Islamist predilections of many of the judges, which inclines them to favour the establishment and the conservative political forces. While on the face of it, President Zardari enjoys immunity from prosecution, there are enough legal loopholes that can be exploited to get rid of him. If the corruption cases against him are reopened as a result of the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance lapsing, a challenge could be mounted on the eligibility of his candidature for president. Whether it is disqualifying Mr Zardari or some other legal tactic that is used against him, the important thing is that when it comes to getting rid of or fixing an inconvenient or undesirable person, the Pakistani courts and judges are quite adept at interpreting the law according to their whims and fancies.

Assuming that the judges desist from taking any action that shakes up the system, and resist any extra-constitutional moves against the current political dispensation, the military establishment can always use its considerable influence and power on the political class to effect the changes it desires. The manner in which the MNAs from FATA (who do not belong to any party and traditionally support the government of the day) have detached themselves from the ruling coalition was the first indication of which way the military establishment is nudging pliable politicians. Confirmation came when the MQM announced its opposition to the NRO and even advised Mr Zardari to resign and 'make a personal sacrifice for the sake of democracy'. Taking a cue, other smaller political players like the PMLF leader, Pir Pagaro, who has no compunctions in proclaiming his toeing the establishment line, have also distanced themselves from the PPP.

The numbers game in the national assembly is so precarious that the withdrawal of support of just a couple of parties or people can bring the government crashing down and this message has gone home to both the president and the prime minister. In a rear-guard action, they have tried to recover some of the lost ground by reaching out to their allies and even their opponents. And the price they are willing to pay is a surrender of all presidential powers, which will effectively reduce the presidency to a mere figure-head. If the military establishment cannot see the back of Mr Zardari without creating a right royal mess, then reducing him to a cipher is the next best thing for them. This they seem to be well on the course of achieving. And along with it, their monopoly over the national security policy (read relations with Americans, Afghanistan, India and nuclear programme) and their control over the politics of the country, even if this is from the sidelines.


    <1360 Words>                    7th November, 2009



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