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Is Pakistan heading for early elections?

Published in India’s leading weekly Tehelka

Deep political instability immediately before the elections makes it difficult for a smooth transfer of power, writes Raza Rumi

Just when most Pakistani analysts had ruled out a military coup given the tenuous power-sharing arrangements between the state actors, the recent decision by the Supreme Court to disqualify and oust an elected prime minister has thrown the country into an unstable phase. The timing of the decision is significant. Popular Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was recently scandalized by a businessman’s allegations of corruption against his son and the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government is close to completing its five-year term.The Supreme Court’s credibility was seriously challenged in recent days and many observers construed it to be an attack by the security establishment for the court’s activism on the missing persons’ case that it has been aggressively pursuing. Further, the Supreme Court’s strong stance on the issue of human rights in Balochistan was also termed as a major factor. Historically, the judiciary has been a subordinate partner of the military. It was also believed that the civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari was not orchestrating the attack on the family of the chief justice but it was surely playing along. The judges with their new-found independence showed a semblance of unity and retorted by taking the media to task and sending a strong signal that they will not let the civilian or military executive attack their adjudication of populist causes.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s ouster is, therefore, being linked to the re-assertion of the court’s power. But the fact that it comes nine months prior to the elections is stirring many conspiracy theories. Cynics say that the court has thrown the country into another uncertain phase at a time when Pakistan is facing an economic meltdown, an acute energy crisis and deteriorating relations with its long-term ally, the United States. The planned exit of the US and the NATO troops from Afghanistan is critical for Pakistan, especially for the military, which wants to see a Pakistan-friendly government in its neighbour, and also fears, the growing Indian influence in Afghanistan. […]

June 25th, 2012|Pakistan, Politics, Published in Tehelka magazine|1 Comment

Pakistan: Prime Minister Gilani’s ouster – what next?

My recent analysis for Express Tribune published yesterday:

 Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s inevitable ouster has created another storm in Pakistani politics reminding us of the endemic political instability that has plagued the country since its inception. The judicial verdict, which renders Gilani as disqualified since April 2012 may lead to further legal crises. The Supreme Court had its intentions quite clear since January when it rebuked the PM for not implementing its orders. The elected government continued to defy court orders and made political capital out of the judgments, invoking its troubled past with the judiciary.

The recent allegations of corruption levelled by infamous business tycoon Malik Riaz on the chief justice’s son added another twist to the executive-judiciary struggle. Many observers viewed the hand of the executive behind this move. Several detractors of President Zardari also hinted at the latter’s role in this saga. The Supreme Court swiftly reacted and unified in the face of what was interpreted as an ‘attack’ on its independence. The decision to disqualify Gilani therefore comes as a sequel and cannot be isolated from the recent events. Concurrently, the court has also been active on the missing persons case, which implicates powerful members of the security establishment.

Since 2007, there has been a redistribution of power within Pakistan’s formal state structure. The judiciary has emerged as a relatively independent player and has distanced itself from its historical ally, the military. This new reality and power shift was a messy one as it entailed conflict with the civilian and military arms of the executive at various points in recent years. Yesterday’s decision comes as a final expression of this intra-state struggle. Whether this struggle will involve a showdown with the security agencies remains to be seen. However, given the court’s resolve to assert its authority, this eventuality cannot be ruled out. […]

Final round of survival? It’s do or die

Tehelka story last week: Government in final round of survival game: It’s do or die

Either the government will withstand the pressure from the unelected arms of the state or will cave in, says Raza Rumi

Pakistan’s beleaguered civilian government has entered into the final round of its survival game. This is not a new ‘game’ as the transition to democracy has been jeopardised from the very start. In 2007, the military junta started the process of negotiating with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the then Army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, and his trusted associate General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani shaped a power-sharing arrangement with late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The ‘arrangement’ was formalised in the shape of a law—National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO)—which inter alia intended to drop dozens of cases against PPP’s leadership and politicians. It should be noted that many of these cases were pending in courts for over a decade and due to lack of evidence or faulty prosecution, there were no convictions.

Politicians in Pakistan have faced ‘corruption’ charges since 1950s largely as an instrument to keep them in line and expand the space for the unelected executive i.e. the civil-military bureaucracy, which has ruled Pakistan for the longest period of time in its chequered history. The judiciary historically acted as a subordinate ally of the executive legitimising coups, convicting and debarring politicians and enabling a praetorian state to run the country.

Since 2007, the judiciary has evolved as a powerful institution due to the popular middle-class movement which contributed to the restoration of the deposed Judges and paved the way for Musharraf’s ouster in 2009. The period between 2007 and 2009 was when the urban middle class’ (led by the lawyers) aspirations […]

January 31st, 2012|governance, Pakistan|1 Comment