A president-prime minister conflict is the last thing Pakistan needs


By Ibrahim Sajid Malick

If you kept your ears to the ground last week at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, you would have heard the distant rumblings of an approaching Gilani-Zardari rift.

Embedded media and members of the delegation with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani explicitly described signs of a growing gulf between the two men who are currently at the helm of affairs in Pakistan. These folks, who traveled with the PM on the Egypt-bound flight from Pakistan, told us how he had ridiculed President Zardari and questioned his intelligence. The fact that Prime Minister Gilani was able to subsequently work on peace with India, has put him on stronger footing.

When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had met Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Russia last month, there had been no progress in bilateral relations. In fact, Pakistan had felt diplomatically snubbed.

However, news of a PM-President conflict is barely news. Rather, it is common knowledge – what is alarming, however, is that even sources close to them are leaking this information, an indication of perhaps how serious it is.

I wasn’t sure if I should write about this issue as I am always reluctant to amplify leaks. But given the position Pakistan is in, a PM-President falling out would threaten any movement toward stability.

Even if we were to consider that India is willing to talk only to PM Gilani that does not necessarily make him a stronger leader. For one, President Zardari could claim better chemistry with the US leadership.

This much is clear that the two men need to work in tandem. Stability in the Pakistani government is crucial for the international community for only a stable and strong Pakistani government can have the will and wherewithal to counter challenges posed by global terrorism. If luck was on PM Gilani’s side at Sharm el-Sheikh, it has put all of us in a better position, for as many analysts argue, an India-Pakistan rivalry prevents the Pakistani government from fully tackling Islamist extremists at home.

As long as Pakistan perceives a threat from its eastern border, it will not be able to fully focus on the trouble to the west that threatens both India and Pakistan as the Mumbai attacks demonstrated. The joint statement issued by the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers was encouraging as it showed both countries agree that terrorism is their main threat and they need to fight it together.

Today Pakistan is more serious and united in the war against extremism. No other nation has been as distraught by terrorism as Pakistan. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in an Indian daily: “We should intensify our defense and law enforcement cooperation… And we should encourage Pakistan as that nation confronts the challenge of violent extremism.” She is absolutely right!

Public opinion has turned against extremists in Pakistan with over 80 percent rejecting the Taliban and al Qaeda. Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership is finally aligned in their mission and are making rapid progress. This is no time for a change of guard.

It will be irresponsible of both domestic stakeholders and the international community to allow internal or personal rivalries in Pakistan to change the game plan. SAMAA