01/16/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Power struggle in Islamabad as military and courts threaten the government

Pakistan is going through an institutional crisis. The Supreme Court cites PM Gilani for contempt. The military are tempted by a coup against President Zardari, who is accused of corruption and suspected of asking US help after Bin Laden’s killing. Parliament is set for a confidence vote.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – The government of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is at a crossroad. Faced with attacks from the military and the courts, it has called for a confidence vote in the National Assembly where it has a majority in order to show that the coalition led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has the confidence of the nation and can complete its term in 2013.

However, the prospect of a military coup or a court ruling bringing to an end the current administration appears increasingly possible. In 64 year of independence, no Pakistani government has been able to complete its term of office. However, a crisis at this point in time would serious jeopardise the nation’s democracy. “The country is going through a crucial phase; its impact will be decisive for the nation’s future,” a political expert told AsiaNews.

The first fault line is between the administration and the military. Pakistan’s Armed Forces have always been the country’s real rulers. Through coups, they have placed their own men at the helm of government. That was the case when general Zia-ul-Haq (who adopted the infamous blasphemy law) took over as well as more recently, when General Pervez Musharraf, did the same.

The latest crisis in civilian-military relations goes back to the ‘memogate’ scandal that broke out last October, when it was revealed that a Pakistani-American businessman was asked to deliver a memo asking for American help in warding off a coup, this after the US carried an operation in Pakistan killing Osama Bin Laden.

The latter, now dead, spent his final years in a residential compound in Abbottabad, not far from Pakistan’s premier military academy. This set off a controversy over possible protection provided by the Pakistani military to the former al-Qaeda leader. In turn, this poisoned civilian-military relations. It also created fears of a possible military coup, leading to a memo allegedly written by the then Pakistani ambassador to the US on behalf of President Zardari, asking the US for help.

For the military, by this act the government undermined national sovereignty in order to stay in power. But since the allegations have not been proven, the military leadership appears (for now) unwilling to take over at a time of economic crisis and widespread poverty.

The second fault line is between the administration and the judiciary. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has issued a contempt order against Prime Minister Gilani over a 2007 amnesty for corruption cases that the court itself had overturned, but which the government had failed to implement. The real problem lays with allegations of corruption that hang over politicians, especially President Zardari, and his government is definitely against going back to the courts.

Gilani has been ordered to appear in person at the court on 19 January, but his government’s fate will be decided by a vote in parliament in the next few hours.

If the government survives and makes it to 2013, when its term of office is scheduled to end, Pakistan will have reached an historic landmark on its journey towards democracy. Otherwise, it will be condemned to further domestic strife and bloodshed.

“The military will not move now,” a source told AsiaNews. “They are waiting to see what the Supreme Court does. The latter has the power to have the military replace the government.”

At the same time though, the military establishment and top leadership are under “strong pressures”, and it cannot be excluded that the government will go for early elections to strengthen the PPP’s majority in parliament.”
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See also
The government reinstalls Iftikhar Chaudhry, the opposition calls off the “long march”
16/03/2009
Key witness in ‘memogate’ to appear before judges
18/01/2012
Supreme Court adjourns trial of Prime Minister Gilani for contempt
13/02/2012
Pakistan’s parliament united in the fight against terrorism
23/10/2008
Supreme Court rules Gilani cannot be premier
19/06/2012


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