According to the Associated Press today, a major opposition party, the Muttahida-Qaumi Movement (MQM) voiced their backing for PPP co-Chairman, Asif Ali Zardari to become Pakistan’s next president, “as the power struggle following the resignation of Pervez Musharraf intensified.” The news agency added,
Zardari has played down speculation that he covets the top job. However, opposition backing will strengthen his hand in a struggle with coalition partner Nawaz Sharif over a compromise candidate to fill the post and the even more urgent issue of restoring judges purged by the former army strongman.
The AP cited a leader of the MQM, Haider Razvi, who said the party ”wanted Zardari as president because of his past sacrifices and for his ‘wisdom and vision’ in handling Musharraf’s ouster.” The official advocated the next president be from outside Punjab, and noted that Zardari – a Sindhi – was “most eligible” for the job. The MQM, added the news agency, “dominates Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, and other urban areas in the of Sindh and recently buried its long animosity with Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party.”
An article released by Geo TV’s website today reported that Zardari thanked MQM chief Altaf Hussein for his “positive role during the political developments over the last few days.” In a statement released Wednesday, Zardari asserted, “I am thankful to all democratic forces including MQM that helped coalition government achieve key objective of forcing President Musharraf to resign.”
As speculation over Pakistan’s next president is likely to increase, news of clashes within the coalition government continues. According to the NY Times on Wednesday, “Political order in Pakistan frayed further on Tuesday, the day after President Pervez Musharraf resigned, raising questions about who in the deeply divided civilian government would be in charge and for how long.” The news agency added:
The instant deterioration in relations within the government became evident when Nawaz Sharif, the leader of one of the two major parties in the governing coalition, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, walked out of a meeting here over the restoration of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who had been dismissed by Mr. Musharraf. He then headed back to his home in Lahore, a four-hour drive away.
An article in The News today seemed to affirm these reports. According to the piece, “Because of the recurrence of their [the PPP and PML-N] differences on the judges issues, the situation at one stage was so tense between the two leading coalition partners that some of those present in the meeting room of the Zardari House feared that the coalition might collapse sooner than later.” Dawn, in its coverage, echoed that coalition leaders failed to resolve their differences on the judiciary restoration, since both sides “refused to relax” their stance on the issue. The news agency added, “Sources told Dawn that Awami National Party president Asfandyar Wali Khan saved the day for the coalition by offering to play the role of a mediator between the two parties.”
What exactly is the issue over the judiciary? While Nawaz Sharif centered his political campaign around the reinstatement of the judges suspended by Musharraf, particularly Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Zardari “has made it clear that he does not want Mr. Chaudhry back on the bench,” noted the NY Times. The news agency added, “He prefers the chief justice installed by Mr. Musharraf after he imposed emergency rule in November, Abdul Hamid Dogar.” Given the iconic status of Chaudhry for the lawyers’ movement, compromising on his reinstatement seems unlikey. In fact, noted the Times, the movement regards Mr. Dogar as an illegal appointee. However, noted the news agency, “Mr. Dogar comes from Sindh Province, Mr. Zardari’s political base, and the two men are friendly.” [Image from Dawn]
Zardari’s reported unease with reappointing Chaudhry lies in the fear that the chief justice might undo an amnesty agreement that absolved the PPP co-chairman of corruption charges, part of a package arranged by Musharraf when Zardari returned to Pakistan with his late wife, former PM Benazir Bhutto. Such a development would of course complicate Zardari’s reported aspirations for the presidency.
Although officials like the ANP’s Asfandiyar Wali Khan and Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Hussain Haqqani have played down the disputes between coalition members, it seems we may be headed towards yet another political deadlock, a development that has serious ramifications for the future of this government. That is, of course, unless a miraculous compromise is reached during the next coalition meeting, slated to take place Friday. Dawn reported today that the ANP leader and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman “are expected to come up with a solution” for that session.
Meanwhile, the security situation remains increasingly volatile. According to media coverage, a suicide attack in the FATA region Tuesday, for which the [Pakistani] Taliban claimed responsibility, killed 32 people and wounded 55 in Dera Ismail Khan, a town near Waziristan. The NY Times cited a police chief who said the bombing “was part of continuing sectarian strife between Sunni and Shiites.” Many of the dead were Shiites, media sources reported, although two police officers were also killed in the attack. The NY Times also reported, In another unexpected move after Mr. Musharraf’s resignation, the chief of staff of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, visited the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Tuesday…the first time the Pakistani general had attended a meeting of the commission in Kabul since assuming command of the Pakistani military in November.” [Image from NY Times]
How do issues related to security and economic problems factor into the political environment? Simple - The longer this coalition government argue over the current judiciary issue, the more distracted they are from these other problems. Moreover, a fracture in the coalition, as has occured in the past, would create a power vacuum that would inevitably have dangerous repurcussions for Pakistan’s volatile political, economic and security environment.