Saturday, March 14, 2009

A lot of tension in Pakistan

Pakistan is again in the middle of incredible political turmoil, something that the country thought it had escaped from after the previous election that brought Zardari and the Pakistan Peoples Party to power. Zardari has made a strong pitch for keeping his powers strong and unchallenged, by trying to crush the movement led by Sharif against the Government. The issues are politically inter-locked and very complex.
This movement was precipitated by the judgment by the Pakistani Supreme Court that ruled the Sharif brothers ineligible to stand for elections, a judgment that deals a death blow to the political ambitions of Nawaz Sharif and which he is blaming on influence by the Zardari Government. The latest reports from Pakistan are that Nawaz Sharif has been placed under house arrest for 3 days in an attempt to quell the movement and stop the campaign. The political paralysis can cause the Pakistani Government to take its eye off the major problems that face Pakistan.
- Pakistan is facing an incredible movement by the terrorists and Islamic fanatics to take over increasingly large sections of the country and bring these regions under their influence. This is a violent campaign that is very brutal, and which the army and the political leadership are unwilling to fully face (and supposedly because the army is unwilling to abandon the religious warriors, seeing them as an instrument that can help shape the strategic aims of Pakistan in Afghanistan and Kashmir). The takeover by the Taliban of the Swat valley is still unfolding before the international community, and everybody is still shocked.
- After the latest terror attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, Pakistan is now thoroughly dubbed as a very unsafe place, and all sort of tourism and foreign interest is now off.
- The traditional tensions between the 3 power centers, the Army Chief, the President and the Prime Minister are again escalating. Gilani, the Prime Minister, is trying to make political space for himself by aligning with the interests of the army and moving away from Zardari. Army chief Kayani in turn is starting to make his pressure public now, with increasing reports about warning the politicians to settle things down
- The tussle between Zardari and Sharif is the biggest problem. These 2 had made an uneasy truce and alliance when they wanted to bring down General Musharraf, but then separated soon after (and they have a long history of animosity - Zardari after all spent about a decade in jail during Sharif's rule)
- The US and other western countries want the country to be focused on fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and have a great deal of influence and are not wanting in exercising authority. Hence, constant use of missiles from drones that attack inside Pakistan even though it is unpopular in Pakistan, and using their influence to try to arrange political deals inside Pakistan (to the extent that no politician can be truly anti-American and be a strong leader)
In these times, this tension between Zardari and Nawaz Sharif is a truly dangerous escalation of the political conflict, and one that can only lead to a worsening of the situation.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:53 PM