by Ali Malik
On recent political developments, I would not waste my time on dealing with the principled arguments, for post mid-night GHQ meeting, the Jeddah dealers (who happened to be convicts as well) had taken the highest moral ground in opposing NRO (a law for mere accused). Neither am I going to ponder on the dichotomy that the biggest beneficiary of NRO, MQM has become its principled opposition. For in power play, talk of principles is waste of time.
The realistic analysis thus should revolve around the following questions:
• Why Army wants Asif Ali Zardari out?
• In this battle of Army (Establishment) vs. PPP, will army succeed in ousting Asif Ali Zardari?
• What are the options that Army has, and how practical they are?
• What are the options of Asif Ali Zardari?
• What will be the consequences if establishment succeeds? What will be the consequences if it fails?
I think the reason to oust Zardari can be traced back to PPP’s confrontation with Army on issues like India policy, Kerry Lugar Bill, civilian control over ISI, difference of opinion on good Taliban vs. Bad Taliban doctrine of national security establishment, and difference of opinion on permanent settlement of Afghan issue. More importantly, there is a genuine fear on part of elements in Army that if the current process is allowed to get unchecked, it will close the doors for a military intervention forever because of public mood against military intervention and commitment of international powers for a democracy in Pakistan.
Asif Ali Zardari has been continuously under attack by his opponents led by Army. Starting from Long March, when Army’s support seemed covert (though civilian bureaucracy’s was overt) to Kerry Lugar Bill and now NRO, it seems the design to undermine the reemergence of PPP to the helm of affairs in Pakistan through the Frankenstein of judiciary is well on its way. The only difference is that this time the PPP’s rise is backed by a wave of a massive international support coupled with her large vote bank.
Till now the establishment has succeeded in undermining PPP on at least two occasions, one on the issue of restoration of judges and the other on NRO. On the contrary, in the greater scheme of things, PPP’s wins have been securing all key political posts and a victory on Kerry Lugar Bill issue.
Establishment, led by Army, in this battle has been organized and is in full control of mass media. On the other hand, PPP seems to have her share of gaffes when it comes to managing the issues of on-going power play. First it erred in not having a comprehensive plan to tackle the post-Governer Raj situation in Punjab. You cannot plan on stopping long march while having Shahbaz Sharif’s loyal bureaucracy in place. It seems the docile, all-compromising nature of Prime Minister Gillani was to be blamed for it. Another failure came on media management front. If you plan on surviving in a hostile power game, you cannot do it with Fauzia Wahab as your media manager. Even bigger folly came in taking the support of allies for granted on KLB and NRO, without realizing their close relationship with the establishment.
From where things are, Asif Ali Zardari seems under considerable pressure. But for now, he cannot be taken out through any constitutional process, for 2/3 majority in parliament is not there to impeach him and because of immunity he enjoys being the president; he cannot be removed through courts even if NRO is set aside by the courts. Army’s best bet is to pressurize him, force his closest team members out through courts, and in the process hope that a larger chunk of PPP MPs breakaway.
Army’s another problem is that if PPP is ousted; no coalition can be formed without combining Q and N factions of PML. This arrangement will be hard to negotiate. Army will be hoping on a breakaway in the PPP led by PM Gillani for its plan to fall in place. Army’s biggest advantage is that it has shown beyond doubt that it still controls enough political parties in Pakistan to turn a government with comfortable majority into a minority government. Another thing on which Army is banking is that in the present regional situation, US and Western powers will overlook any political adventure on part of Army because of their reliance on it. We analyze this in detail below.
For Asif Zardari, he still holds card of PPP vote bank and his strong support in Sindh. He will also be banking on support from Western powers. The biggest variable, yet unknown for its silent style of diplomacy, is China. How far will China go to extend support to any post-Zardari government and how clear it signals her role in post-Zardari Pakistan will be a key piece to solve the political puzzle of Pakistan. Same goes for United States. Pakistani establishment’s calculation is that America wants to cut-and-run from Afghanistan, just as they did in Iraq. This assertion to me seems flawed on two accounts. First, a deep analysis of Americans withdrawal plans from Iraq clearly indicate that US is not leaving Iraq for foreseeable future and second, it is not showing any signs of disengagement from Afghanistan to the extent it is disengaging from Iraq. Also, any quick disengagement from Afghanistan will be preceded by something on the lines of Joe Biden’s Pakistan first doctrine where drone attacks on Quetta etc are highly likely. Pakistani establishment’s calculation is that because of its inevitability, US will accept its actions. Now whether US is willing to revert to a policy of 90s, leaving Af-Pak to Pakistani and Saudi security apparatus, is yet to be seen. One thing that can be said for sure is that positions US and China take will play very heavy on the eventual outcome of this conflict. But above all, Asif Zardari’s survival will depend on his ability to mobilize a resistance in the event of his ouster and how well he displays the potential resistance at his ouster to his opponents.
If the present setup falls, Pakistan is likely to head into a period of extensive political instability. The length of this period will depend on the relationship between Q and N and the success of establishment in tearing apart PPP’s parliamentary party. It will also depend on the response of Mr. Zardari and PPP workers to any such act. Moreover, removal of Mr. Zardari is likely to lead to a major policy shift in war on terror where the distinction between good and bad Taliban will be back and will lead to a resurgence of religious extremism under government’s patronage carried out by good Taliban. Ouster of Mr. Zardari also has a potential of increasing Pakistan’s international isolation and economic hardship. More so, it will escalate the already existing threat of a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan if, God forbid, another Mumbai like incidence happens.
For his part, if he survives this recent attack, Mr. Zardari and PPP will emerge stronger and it will be first major setback to Pakistan’s establishment in their fight with civilian leadership. Ironically, this battle for civilian supremacy, once again, has to be fought by PPP and PPP alone.