Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pakistan In Peril

Islamist elements in Pakistan’s military unhappy with President Asif Zardari are reported to be plotting to remove their country’s civilian government and replace it with a military dictatorship.

Two days after General David Petraeus, chief of US Central Command, dismissed fears of an imminent military coup, Pakistan’s defense minister, Ahmed Mukhtar, was prevented Thursday evening by border officials from leaving the country to visit China.

According to one report, there are 248 such names on the border authorities’ list, including other high-ranking government members, of Pakistanis now denied exit rights.

The ostensible reason for Mukhtar’s detainment was that he, and other ministers of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is facing corruption charges and a possible jail term.

Last Wednesday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court struck down the amnesty, called the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which protected them and 8,000 other bureaucrats from prosecution, reviving old charges.

The Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the 2007 NRO amnesty that paved the way for Zardari’s murdered wife and then PPP leader, Benazir Bhutto, to return to Pakistan.

With the Supreme Court’s ruling, several ministers are now expected to resign, endangering the survival of the Zardari civilian government. Opposition parties are also calling for Zardari himself to step down, but he has presidential immunity from prosecution. The Supreme Court’s NRO ruling, though, is expected to leave Pakistan’s president open to legal proceedings regarding his eligibility as a candidate in last year’s election.

Columnist and former Pakistani activist Tarek Fatah writes that “religious right–wing backers of the Taliban and al Qaeda” in Pakistan’s military-industrial complex are behind this destruction of the Zardari government by legal means.

“Working from within the government, military intelligence was able to coax a junior minister to release a list of supposedly corrupt politicians and public officials in the country,” wrote Fatah. “Leading them was Mr. Zardari himself – notwithstanding the fact that before he was elected president, he had been imprisoned for more than a decade by the military without a single conviction.”

Zardari came to office a year ago last August, taking over from disgraced military ruler Pervez Musharraf who resigned under threat of impeachment. Musharraf had come to power after staging the last military coup against a civilian president in 1999. Pakistan has been ruled by military leaders for about half of its 62 year history, so military takeovers are almost a part of the political fabric.

Army rule usually lasts about a decade before a civilian government is re-established which lasts an almost equal length of time. The current military threat to civilian rule is somewhat unusual, as Zardari has been in office only a year and four months.

A main reason for the military coups, though, is that the civilian politicians’ corruption and incompetence eventually become too ruinous for the country.

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