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              Volume 11 |Issue 05| February 03, 2012 |


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Pakistan in Peril

Syed Maqsud Jamil

Pakistan is caught in a perilous situation with its government under siege. Its supreme court has ordered prime minister Gilani to show why he should not be held in contempt of court for refusing to obey its 2009 ruling. It had that tasked the government with writing a letter to Swiss authorities asking them to revive the corruption charges against president Zardari. Gilani thinks otherwise on the matter and that president Zardari enjoys immunity under National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) issued by the then president Pervez Musharraf on the basis of an understanding reached with Benazir and her husband Zardari on 18 October 2007.

Earlier in August 2003 a Swiss court found both Zardari and Benazir guilty of money laundering and sentenced them to 6 months imprisonment and a fine of $ 50,000. In addition they were required to return $11 million to the Pakistan government. The charges against them were receiving kickbacks from two Swiss firms in exchange for customs fraud. They faced additional criminal charges in France, Poland and civil charges over a Surrey mansion in Britain. Later, in view of the National Reconciliation Ordinance, the Swiss authority returned the frozen $60 million to Zardari through offshore companies.

While the Supreme Court is resolutely pursuing charges against Gilani, Pakistan's powerful army has locked its horns with the embattled government. The showdown is about an anonymous memo purportedly delivered to Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff. The memo asked for US help to restrain the Pakistani Generals who were ganging up to topple the government after the apparent humiliation over the violation of Pakistani airspace by US Navy SEAL team in the mission that killed Bin Laden. In return, the memo promised unqualified support to US in its operations against the militants inside Pakistan. The existence of the memo was first revealed by one Mansoor Ijaz, an American businessman of Pakistani origin who said he delivered it to the US. He alleged that the memo was crafted by Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan's then envoy to Washington, with Zardari's knowledge.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan is pressing charges against Gilani. Photo: AFP

Pakistan Army has reacted sharply to the memo and regards it as a threat to national security. It became a combustible situation for Pakistan and the mounting pressure led its supreme court to institute a commission to establish whether it had been sanctioned by Zardari. Such an eventuality could lead to an impeachment hearing. The army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, and the head of spy agency ISI Lt, Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, submitted their statements to the court in which they suggested the memo was part of a conspiracy against the army.

The situation aggravated further when Gilani, in an interview to a Chinese newspaper, held the duo culpable for violating the constitution in doing so. As the war of attrition went on, a bellicose army statement warned that Gilani's allegation had very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country.

Pakistan's supreme court was on a warpath with the Musharraf government when it started deliberations on the legality of US backed proposal of National Reconciliation Ordinance for dropping corruption charges against Bhutto and Zardari. Musharraf arbitrarily replaced the chief justice Iftikhar Ahmed Choudhury and other judges of the supreme court with his handpicked set. In an effort to strike up an understanding with Nawaz Sharif and his party, Zardari agreed to the reinstatement of the chief justice and other judges after the 2008 election. After Zardari became president of Pakistan on 6 September 2008, he started dragging his feet on the commitment given to Nawaz Sharif. However under mounting pressure of lawyers' movement and long march, he and his government reinstated the chief justice and the judges in 2009. The court stuck to its guns in making Zardari and his government accountable for their corruption.

The peril that Pakistan now faces has all the elements of a showdown. In the worst case scenario of supreme court the will find Gilani guilty and disqualify him, bringing down his government. In the event that the commission establishes the fact that the treasonous memo originated from Zardari, he will face impeachment proceedings. There are other possibilities too; where the army may stage a military coup and topple the government or it may relent and reconstruct its relationship with the government or the court takes a lenient view. Apparently the tension has eased for now with Gilani retracting his scathing observation on the actions of the generals. An early election looks a likely possibility.

Since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has always been a trial of turbulence. Its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, although he campaigned for his Pakistan on the basis of religion, followed the western world and its ways. After the creation of Pakistan he spoke of a country where people were free to go to mosque, to church, to temple and that they were all Pakistanis. It ended there. After his death, his close aide prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, spoke of Islam as the governing principle, leaving little opportunity for integration and fairness in nation building.

Politics in Pakistan has always been a fiefdom of clannish coteries and a tool for authoritarianism. Democracy sputtered in periodic bursts. In such a setup of disparate elements, what prospered most in Pakistan was its army - it became a state within a state from the beginning. There was a 'Rawalpindi Conspiracy', a coup masterminded by Major General Akbar Khan an ambitious and disaffected army official in 1951. It was a botched coup and he along with other plotters landed in jail. Akbar Khan's defence counsel was H.S. Suhrawardy- a future prime minister.

Liaquat Ali Khan did not survive long. He was assassinated in October 1951. Khwaja Nazimuddin went one notch down from being the governor general to become prime minister while Malik Ghulam Mohammad, the finance minister became the governor general.

Soon Khwaja Nazimuddin was protesting against the governor general Ghulam Mohammad for extending his influence over Pakistan by using his reserve powers. Eventually he dismissed Nazimuddin in the aftermath of the Lahore riot in 1953. Ghulam Mohammad fell seriously ill in 1955 and he was removed by acting president Major General Iskander Mirza.

Pakistan is a natural hatching and nesting ground for military coups and military rulers. In its 64-year history, Pakistan had four military coups and four military rulers. They share among them half of Pakistan's history. Pakistan's nuclear arsenals have made its army the strongest arbiter as to who calls the shots.

It took Pakistan almost a decade to have its first constitution on 23 March 1956. India, its neighbours took only two years to have its constitution on 26 January 1950. As for holding polls, India is years ahead of Pakistan. It held its first national general election from 25 October 1951 to 21 February 1952, whereas Pakistan took 23 years to hold its first democratic nationwide poll in December 1970.

Every nation has its own destiny, so has Pakistan. In a way, its destiny depends on the national institutions it builds. Democracy is one of them. A defined boundary of power is another institution to build on. Pakistan continues to falter on both these accounts, which is a matter of deep concern for its people burdened with a traumatised course of history and beset by bad news all around.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2012