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Political Princes: Struggles of Rahul Gandhi and Bilawal Bhutto

Rahul Rahul Gandhi is the heir-apparent to the oldest political party of India and the face of a dynasty that ruled the country for over 40 years. (Photo: Reuters)

Two days ago, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, scion of the legendary Bhuttos, celebrated his […]

September 23rd, 2015|governance, Pakistan, Politics, Published in the Quint, SouthAsia|0 Comments

Will a new power-sharing arrangement emerge from this crisis?

Since early August, Pakistan has been battling itself, once again. Two opposition groups have paralysed the federal government and the capital for weeks through street protests that eventually turned violent. Imran Khan without an independent verification believes that last year’s election was rigged and that he was unfairly deprived of power. Imran’s unlikely ally, Dr Tahirul Qadri, returned from his home in Canada to bring about a ‘revolution’. Qadri’s definition of a revolution resonates with Pakistan’s middle class tired of corruption but promises no structural change except decimating the parliamentary institutions and rubbishing the country’s constitution.

Pakistan’s beleaguered prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, dealt with calls for his resignation with some fortitude. On occasions, he lost nerve by ordering crackdowns that left hundreds injured and at least three dead. Earlier, his brother — and yes, family rule also irks the middle class — who rules the country’s largest province, mishandled a mob of Mr Qadri’s supporters and a police action in June left at least 14 dead. All this while, the elected government at the helm remained deeply suspicious of the country’s powerful military that still holds the ultimate veto power on national and foreign policies. PM Nawaz has a terrible history of getting into a confrontation with the army and in 1993 and 1999 he had to step down without completing the constitutionally mandated term of five years. In 1999, he suffered additional humiliation by being ousted through a coup led by General Musharraf, faced imprisonment and remained in exile for seven years. […]

September 8th, 2014|Pakistan, Politics, Published in the Express Tribune|0 Comments

Pakistan’s perilous democratic transition


Pakistan’s perilous democratic transition has been rocked by the ongoing anti-government protests.

The standoff between the government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and opposition parties continues to accelerate the political uncertainty and damage the fragile economy.

Sharif was elected 14 months ago in an election that witnessed unprecedented voter turnout.

While most opposition parties accepted the results, Imran Khan — the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek I Insaf (PTI) party — claimed there was widespread rigging. There’s not much evidence, however, beyond the usual irregularities of Pakistan’s outmoded electoral system, to back this up.

But a successful campaign, aided by sections of Pakistani media, to de-legitimize last year’s vote has convinced a large number of people that somehow Khan’s mandate was “stolen” in 2013.

Another opposition group, Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), led by a Pakistani Canadian cleric, Tahir ul Qadri wants a systemic change and has a list of undeliverable promises to the electorate. His immediate grievance is the brutal police action against his supporters that left 14 dead in June of this year. […]

September 3rd, 2014|governance, Journalism, media, Politics, Published in CNN|1 Comment

Pakistan: Will instability topple democracy?

Even if PM Nawaz Sharif survives the current crisis, his government will be permanently weakened.

Imran Khan's 'freedom march' entered Pakistan's capital on April 15 [Reuters] Imran Khan’s ‘freedom march’ entered Pakistan’s capital on April 15 [Reuters]  

Pakistan is in a state of crisis and the continuing deadlock between the government and opposition parties threatens to derail the constitutional order. Since the beginning of August, the two leading opposition groups – Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) led by a Canadian-Pakistani cleric Dr Tahir ul Qadri – have been mobilising their supporters for a regime change.

Both have different objectives but are joined forces in the moment to oust the incumbent Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. On August 15, the two groups entered the capital and a few days later marched into the high security Red Zone where all the diplomatic missions and key state buildings such the parliament, supreme court and presidency are located.

The crowds were smaller than expected but they are charged, parked in the capital and willing to storm into the PM House. The army which has been entrusted with the role to protect the state institution buildings has prevented this from happening and it has demonstrated that it will avoid a situation where it may have to intervene by force. […]

August 29th, 2014|Extremism, media, Pakistan, Politics, Published in Al-Jazeera|0 Comments

Elections 2013: A Peaceful Transfer of Power

My piece for South Asia magazine (published in Jan 2013 issue)

General elections in Pakistan are scheduled to take place later this year; however, the ongoing political instability signals otherwise.

The forthcoming general elections in Pakistan are significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is a unique moment in Pakistan when a democratic government under a civilian President is completing its term and preparing for a transition through elections. Secondly, due to the constitutional changes made by the current parliament under the 18th and 20th Amendments, the process remains firmly in civilian hands. This has caused an unprecedented moment in our history where the elections are not being supervised or managed by the military establishment, which has called the shots over a larger course of the country’s history.

The last time a civilian regime managed the election was in 1977 but the results were controversial and were annulled, leading to Gen. Zia ul Haq’s led coup d’ etat.

Throughout the 1990s, most political parties were used as puppets by the security establishment against each other. Four elections were held between 1988 and 1999. Each time, a President, who acted at the behest of the military and intelligence agencies, ‘engineered’ the electoral results by appointing a handpicked and compliant caretaker government.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-N (PMLN) were the two major parties playing this game with the Army. The Musharraf coup and subsequent political developments reversed this trend as these two parties entered into a compact in 2007 and agreed not to approach the military to resolve or fix political disputes. Whilst Musharraf and Gen. Kayani oversaw the elections of 2008, the results surprised everyone, illustrating a clear victory for anti-Musharraf forces. Both parties have liaised with the military between 2008-2013 but have jealously guarded their parliamentary space as well as the continuation of the democratic system. Governance challenges and failures notwithstanding, the record of political parties has been encouraging on this front.

In the spirit of constitutionally mandated agreements, the government and opposition have appointed a respectable former judge as the Chief Election Commissioner. Similarly, other formalities have been taken care of and the rest will be handled in the days to come. The appointment of a caretaker administration is another major step that needs to be taken to ensure that an impartial regime takes over the task of administering elections. In Pakistan, given its bitter history, the legitimacy of an election and the confidence in the caretakers is of major importance.  […]

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. […]