Posts Tagged ‘Sharif’

Telenovela Pakistan

Confrontation. Show-down. Crisis. Judicial coup.

Those were just some of the saucy terms used to describe Pakistan’s recent row last week, when President Asif Ali Zardari named judges to be appointed to Pakistan’s Supreme Court and Lahore High Court without first consulting Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. The Supreme Court called the move unconstitutional and blocked it, sparking conflict and rumors of impending “crisis” and instability. The row was cut short when Pakistan’s very own political magician PM Yousaf Raza Gilani came to the rescue, announcing the government “would go along” with the Supreme Court’s recommendations, assuring all of us, “It is completely over.”

Ha, that’s what you think, Jadoogar.

AP: "Mwahahaha." *Twirl, twirl.*

If there’s one thing about Pakistani politics, it’s that it’s anything but boring. In fact, the machismo-infused, handlebar-twirling scenarios are more comparable to a Mexican soap opera than a democratically elected government. Just when we think stability is restored, we tune into yet another episode of grown men screaming, cackling, switching alliances, and in some cases, crying. Because let’s face it. Zardari and Chaudhry are two burly moustached men who just can’t get along. As Dawn columnist Cyril Almeida noted last week, “The trend that the latest row fit into and the manner of the détente suggest that inevitably there will be another clash. The details of any given eruption or paroxysm aren’t all that important anymore.” The Chief Justice may have been the symbol of Pakistan’s judicial crisis, but his arguably politicized judgments and trump cards make him a far cry from a judiciary’s objective poster child. In fact, he is, according to some accounts, a key ally of Nawaz Sharif, who recently called Zardari “the biggest threat to democracy,” though the PML-N leader did tell reporters after a recent meeting with Gilani that this criticism wasn’t “personal.” Hmmm right.

In in the latest episode of Telenovela Pakistan, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin resigned from his position “in order to focus on his business.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Tarin said he will now work for Silkbank, a private bank in which he’s a major shareholder.” However, despite this statement, the development came on the heels of rumors that it was instead sparked by policy differences with the government. The Financial Times cited a source close to Tarin, who said his resignation “has to do with the government once again dragging its feet on a [tax] clampdown…They just don’t understand. You can’t allow tax dodgers to go free. This is a massive setback for Pakistan’s economy.”

As the drama continues, don’t forget about the figures on the sidelines. Because in every deliciously bad soap opera, exited characters are never gone forever. They are inevitably waiting in the wings, twirling their handlebar moustaches and cackling madly. Cue former President Pervez Musharraf, properly moustached out and undoubtedly smirking at the current state of affairs. In the below interview with CNN, he discusses his increasing Facebook stardom [see this former CHUP post], noting, “It is THE Facebook that provides the connectivity to collectivize all [my] support.” On the current situation and whether he’ll return to Pakistani politics, Mush vaguely responds, “At this moment, Pakistan is not doing well. So if I can contribute anything to the country and if the people want me to contribute, then I’d certainly like to look into that.”

Translation: THE Facebook. Take me home.

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Yesterday’s presidential election ended with the predicted result – PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari swept the polls, winning a two-thirds majority that made him the next president of Pakistan. So what now? Does the future of Pakistan fall magically into place? Are all our problems solved because, hurrah, we now have a new president? Not quite. Although U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice framed her comments in light of Pakistan’s democratic progress, telling reporters the election “was a positive sign for the civilian government of the U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism,” it is clear that Zardari has many challenges ahead. The AFP on Sunday reported the new president “will take charge of a country that has been [plagued] by Islamic militancy, with nearly 1,200 people killed in bombings and suicide attacks in the past year.” Just yesterday, a suicide bombing in Peshawar killed at least 35 people and injured dozens more. The Associated Press noted in its coverage,

Television footage showed a blast crater 3 feet deep, destroyed vehicles and pieces of debris scattered across a large area. Officials said many people were trapped under the rubble of two collapsed buildings in a nearby market. Civilians dug frantically with their hands in hopes of finding survivors.

In his Washington Post op-ed released last week, Zardari addressed this militant threat, noting, “I will work to defeat the domestic Taliban insurgency and to ensure that Pakistani territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on our neighbors or on NATO forces in Afghanistan.” This statement exemplifies Pakistan’s age-old balancing act, one that has gotten more difficult over time as anti-American sentiment has  increased and hardened. In a Daily Times opinion piece released today, Hasan-Askari Rizvi ultimately advised, “The president needs to work towards removing the gaps in the American and Pakistani approaches towards terrorism.” He also noted, “They [the government] need to provide clear political backup to the Pakistan Army, which is dealing directly with the Taliban and other militants. Such support is needed to boost the morale of the army and paramilitary personnel at the frontlines.” Moreover, since this is the first time a civilian president will chair the National Command Authority and the National Security Council, Zardari must be a sufficient liason between the military’s top brass and the government.

Aside from Pakistan’s security dilemma, Zardari is also facing political pressure to reverse Musharraf’s changes to the constitution, giving the president the right to dismiss the Parliament. Following the election results Saturday, Zardari asserted to reporters, “Parliament will be sovereign…This president shall be subservient to the Parliament.

However, the NY Times reported, “there was considerable skepticism among politicians and in the news media that Mr. Zardari would agree to a diminution of power.” Although PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, in a conciliatory gesture, reportedly telephoned the PPP co-chairman to congratulate him on his victory and pledge his support,  Ahsan Iqbal, a former minister and senior PML-N official, told the AFP, “Zardari’s first test is that as president he facilitates the transfer of Musharraf’s powers to parliament...We want the president to be apolitical – that has been the tradition and we hope this tradition is kept.”

Zardari and the government also must tackle the numerous economic issues facing Pakistan. According to Bloomberg,

International investors have fled a stock exchange that has nearly halved in value this year, the second-worst performance in Asia after China, as state subsidies for food and fuel and record military spending widened the budget deficit to a 10-year high.

The news agency cited Sakib Sherani, an Islamabad-based country economist for the Royal Bank of Scotland, who said, “The fiscal issue is the weakest link in the policy mix…[and] the depletion of foreign exchange reserves is fairly worrying.” He added that Zardari “won’t have the luxury of dealing with them one by one; he will have to deal with a lot of challenges simultaneously.” The news piece also cited David Chatterjee, who echoed, “Pakistan is seriously struggling…Politics will remain an overhang even after the presidential election – but more important is economics.”

However, perhaps one of Zardari’s largest challenges is Zardari himself. Although he swept the polls on Saturday, the PPP co-chairman is haunted by a murky past, a not-too-forgiving present, and the eternal label, “Mr. Ten Percent.” The Economist added, “He was imprisoned, but not convicted, by both Mr. Sharif and Mr. Musharraf, on charges including murder and corruption. He has been investigated for money-laundering and other crimes in Spain and Switzerland.” In fact, noted an editorial in Sunday’s Dawn,

There have been more controversial presidents in the past – indeed, the last occupant of the presidency, Gen Musharraf, was almost universally unpopular – but none has been as controversial as Mr. Zardari at the time of assuming office.

Given such controversy, President Asif Ali Zardari has to dispel the skepticism associated with his sordid past and prove to us all that he can be our country’s president. The last line of Dawn’s editorial sums up my sentiments exactly: “It was Mr Zardari’s right to become president; it is the people’s right to expect leadership from him now.” [Image from Reuters]

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On Tuesday, a Pakistani prosecutor for the state anti-graft agency, the National Accountability Bureau [for more background on the agency, read this past CHUP piece] announced he wanted corruption charges against PML-N head Nawaz Sharif taken up by the courts. However, reported Reuters, “Sharif says the corruption charges, filed against him after he was overthrown in 1999, were politically motivated.” The prosecutor, Zulfiqar Bhutta denied these charges, instead telling the news agency that he wanted the court to proceed according to the law, adding, “We have asked the court to review its decision … and fix a date for the hearing.”

Bhutta told the BBC Tuesday, “We expect the special judge Central Rawalpindi Courts to hear the case on 4 September,” two days before the slated Sept. 6th presidency election. PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal said he hoped the PPP was not resorting to “blackmail,” telling Dawn Television, “The political process must show maturity and, particularly, the government must realize that these are tried, tested and failed tactics of the past.” Not surprisingly, Information Minister Sherry Rehman responded to such statements by asserting the charges against Sharif were not politically motivated because the PPP does “not pursue the politics of revenge.”

With the presidency elections fast-approaching, relations between former coalition partners, the PPP and PML-N, are becoming increasingly strained. Although PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari is predicted to easily win Saturday’s presidency race, recent political developments have shown that his road to this slot will not be without its hurdles, [also see “Zardari’s Bumpy Road to the Presidency”]. In its coverage yesterday, Reuters reported the election will ultimately be a “three-way tussle” among the country’s main political parties. The news agency added, “Zardari’s main rival for president looks likely to be Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, a former chief justice nominated by the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.” The third candidate, Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a former government minister, is a top official from the “pro-Musharraf” party, the PML-Q. [Image from Reuters]

Although a “President Zardari” may be in the cards, this has not stopped numerous analysts and journalists from criticizing that outcome. In an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens wrote, “Just how bad is Mr. Zardari? It would be a relief if it were true that he was merely suffering from dementia, a diagnosis offered by two New York psychiatrists last year. But that diagnosis seems to have been produced mainly with a view toward defending himself against corruption charges in a British court.” He added, “Al Qaeda and the Taliban feed on chaos, and a Zardari presidency will almost certainly provide more of it. For Pakistanis, this is a self-inflicted wound and a rebuke to their democracy. For the rest of world, it’s a matter of hoping that Pakistan will somehow muddle through. For now, however, this looks like a Category 5 hurricane, dark and vast and visible just offshore.”

In his Sunday piece for Dawn, columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee called a Zardari presidency, “a bloody mess,” citing a past editorial in the UK Independent that assessed, “Even by the notoriously low standards of South Asian politics, Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the PPP, is a compromised figure, dogged by corruption charges. So it is hard to be enthused by the PPP’s decision to nominate its leader as the country’s next president.” Cowasjee further asserted,

Zardari and his sycophantic supine political party must ask themselves if he truly qualifies to be a head of state. He has five days in which to prove himself a patriot and a democrat. Democracy, no matter what the party slogan may proclaim, is not a form of revenge and for him to carry through his ambition (which he has nursed ever since he made up his mind to rid himself of Musharraf) would be an act of vengeance upon his country and its people.

Not all journalists subscribe to that same belief, however. On Tuesday, Dawn’s Kamran Shafi [who previously called Zardari’s decision to run for presidency a “bad idea”], took issue with Cowasjee’s piece, defending Zardari’s “right” to stand in the presidential poll. However, he wrote:

My advice to Asif even at this late hour is to, even now, restore the judges according to the Bhurban Declaration, remove Article 58-2(b); stand back from this election and put his weight behind an apolitical person acceptable to the PML-N. There are ways and ways to have the election postponed by a month. And therefore woo back his ‘elder’ brother to keep the Great Coalition alive. The PPP and the PML-N, hand in hand, can jointly do what no other combination can. Then just watch the dictatorship die its well-deserved and instant death.

Among the number of pieces I have read in the past week, very few have been purely optimistic in their assessment of  a ‘President Zardari.’  Readers of this site also voted overwhelmingly against such a development, [see previous CHUP poll]. Of the 100 people who voted in the poll, 80% felt that if Zardari was elected it would be “the worst decision for Pakistan.” Only 6% felt he deserved the position. The political power struggle that is certain to ensue between the PPP and the PML-N  if  a solution is not reached is troubling, to say the least.

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UPDATE [1240 EST]: The Associated Press cited statements by Farzana Raja, a spokesman for Asif Ali Zardari, who told the news agency that there was “no specific talk” of impeaching Musharraf in Tuesday’s discussions. The AP added, “She said her party wanted to avoid a confrontation with the presidency and was focused on a package of constitutional amendments that would strip him of the power to dissolve parliament and appoint top officials.” Meanwhile, Musharraf’s spokesman denied speculation that Musharraf was considering quitting, “talk that sent Pakistan’s stock market spinning lower Wednesday.”

Nawaz Sharif, the head of PML-N, announced today that Pakistan’s ruling coalition has agreed to “expel” President Pervez Musharraf from power. According to the AFP, Sharif said PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari agreed in talks on Tuesday to oust the president, telling reporters, “I have spoken with Mr. Zardari that we should throw him out to respect the mandate of the people of Pakistan, and he agreed yesterday to do so.” Speaking to “a charged crowd” in Lahore today, Sharif added, “Musharraf did not fulfil his promise to quit the presidency if people did not vote for his party.” Moreover, The News reported that the PML-N leader asserted the president should be “indicted on charges of treason,” adding, “There is no need for giving him a safe passage.” The AFP reported that Sharif made these statements amid chants of, “Hang Musharraf, hang Musharraf.”

A statement from the PPP or the Presidency on the development has not yet been issued. Although Zardari called Musharraf “a relic of the past” during an interview last week, he has not openly called for the president’s resignation. CHUP will continue to update this post as more updates come in.

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So it’s official – on Monday, PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif announced that ministers from his party will resign from their posts tomorrow over differences regarding the restoration of the judiciary, [PML-N currently has nine ministers in the 24-member federal cabinet]. Media coverage yesterday predicted this development, following news that the ruling parties had not come to an agreement on the judiciary issue, [see yesterday’s related post]. During the news conference, Nawaz used the opportunity to play to oh-so-famous “blame game,” telling reporters, “PPP failed to keep its promise and that is why we have decided to part ways with the coalition government.” According to The News, he added, “We left no stone unturned to keep our promise made in the Murree Declaration…I had to go to Dubai and then London to hold negotiations with the PPP on the issue but to no avail.”

Oh, Nawaz, woe is you. News outlets did add, however, following the PML-N leader’s swan song, that his party “would not take any decision that would strengthen what he called a ‘dictatorship’ under Musharraf.” The AFP quoted him asserting,

We will not be part of any conspiracy aimed at strengthening dictatorships…We want the unconditional, dignified and honorable return of the judges…We will not sit on opposition benches for the time being.

So what many deemed was the inevitable has now occurred. We must now consider the next steps the fledgling government must take to ensure its survival and quell doubts that the entire regime is collapsing. The Associated Press assessed, “While the civilian government is likely to survive, Sharif’s move raises doubts over its stability and is a setback to Pakistan’s transition to democracy after eight years of military rule under Musharraf.” Despite his dramatic exit, we must realize this is not the last we’ll see of Nawaz Sharif. However, perhaps in his party’s absence, the government can finally concentrate on other issues impacting the country – including the food and electricity crises and working to uphold the newly signed peace agreement with militants, [a development covered on Friday by BBC News]. Or perhaps it will crumble further under the weight of these decisions. [Image from the AFP]

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With the deadline to restore the judiciary slated to pass on Monday, media outlets on Sunday reported that Pakistan’s ruling coalition have yet to reach an agreement on the issue. As a result of this development (or lack thereof), most news coverage focused on what this could mean for the future of the coalition. The Associated Press noted it subsequently increased “the likelihood the ruling coalition could shatter after just six weeks in power and plunge the country back into political turmoil.” The News similarly reported that “the chances of separation between the two large ruling coalition partners are getting bigger.”

According to a Reuters newswire, Richard Boucher, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Central and South Asian affairs, met with PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari in London on Sunday, “although a U.S. embassy spokeswoman said reports the meeting concerned the judges were unfounded.” CNN quoted the embassy spokeswoman, Elizabeth Colton, who asserted to reporters, “The restoration of judges is Pakistan’s issue to solve. It is not for the United States to prescribe solutions.” Nevertheless, media outlets affirmed the two leaders, who first met on Friday in London, had not reached an agreement by Sunday. Reuters quoted Minister of Education Ahsan Iqbal, who said, “It looks now it will be missed…If the deadline is not met then the PML-N will be forced to review its decision to stay in the cabinet.” The AFP quoted PML-N Siddiqul Farooq who put the blame on the PPP, telling reporters, “The ball is in the court of PPP. We have tried our level best… but so far no achievement has been made.”

Although Western media sources were more cautious in their assessment of the situation, Pakistani news outlets underlined how this could signal the end of the ruling coalition. According to The News, it is “expected” that the PML-N would “announce its separation tomorrow.” The news agency noted that PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif “said the party’s parliamentary committee will be held tomorrow, where decision would be made regarding future course of action.” Dawn newspaper reported,

A visibly disappointed Nawaz Sharif made it clear on Saturday that if by May 12 the PPP failed to keep the promise it had made in the Bhurban Declaration on the reinstatement of judges, the PML-N would walk out of the coalition government.

So, it looks like an end may be near – however, it is important to consider the question – “What next?” Will the PPP continue to head the government on its own? What about the fate of Musharraf and former ruling party, the PML-Q? Moreover, if the PML-N withdraws from the cabinet, the consequent political turmoil could have serious economic repercussions. Given the already burgeoning food and power crises, these factors should be considered before coming to a decision. [Image from the AP]

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Following speculations of a fracturing coalition government and “last-ditch” talks between top leaders to address the judiciary issue, [see previous post] media outlets Friday reported that PML-N head Nawaz Sharif and PPP co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari set May 12 as the final date for restoring Pakistan’s ousted judges. At a news conference, Nawaz told reporters,

I want to inform the entire nation that on Monday, May 12, all the sacked judges will be restored…The National Assembly will pass a resolution, and the government will issue a notification in the light of this the same day, and by the grace of God, the judges sacked illegally and unconstitutionally will be restored the same day…”

CNN, in its coverage, noted, “The coalition government had vowed to reinstate the judges within 30 days of taking office — a deadline that expired Wednesday night.” The failure of the ruling parties to pass the legislation led many media outlets to speculate whether the new alliance was already cracking. Although Nawaz emphasized the new May 12th date in his statements Friday in order to quell these rumors, Zardari reportedly “shied away” from the deadline. The News reported, “Talking to a private TV channel, he said only the committee assigned to reach consensus on the issue could tell whether or not the resolution on judges’ restoration could be tabled in the National Assembly by May 12.” Moreover, news sources reported that other coalition partners [the ANP and JUI-F] have to be informed of the decision, which could further complicate the issue.

According to the BBC NewsBarbara Plett in Islamabad, the question is now “how Musharraf will respond” the new deadline. On Saturday, the Associated Press cited a spokesman for “his party,” PML-Q, who indicated the president “may accept the restoration of judges if the government amends the constitution.” The AP added, “However, [Tariq] Azim [PML-Q spokesman] insisted that the judges could not be sent back to courts by the parliament’s simply approving a resolution. He provided no further details, and said the president was still consulting experts.”

Another PML-Q member, the party’s parliamentary leader Faisal Saleh Hayat, used the new deadline as an opportunity to undermine the coalition government’s credibility, questioning the legality of the resolution and terming the new date “as a repetition of the April 30 deadline.” He told The News on Friday, “Even after the passage of 15 days of adoption of the resolution in the National Assembly, the PPP has failed to implement it though it was on the top of its priority list.” He added, “We want that they should come out of this issue and concentrate on real issues of the people who are facing price hike and load shedding.” Although the MP’s reaction is not surprising given that much of the PML-Q were pushed aside during the February elections, he does have a point. If this new coalition government can’t even address one of the primary issues that brought them into power, (Moreover, if they can’t even agree if this was one of the primary issues that did win them the elections), then how will they address the more complex issues? [Image from BBC News]

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