Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pakistan: From crisis to crisis

Editorial

The Khaleej Times, August 26, 2008

THE more things change in Pakistan, the more they seem to remain the same. It was only six months ago that the people of the South Asian country celebrated when the outcome of February 18 polls brought the two leading parties and bitter rivals together in an unprecedented coalition.

Those polls, conducted in most trying circumstances and the unusual alliance that they created, were seen as a triumph of democracy. That historic alliance is now in tatters, two weeks before the crucial presidential election.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League (N), has finally walked out of the governing coalition with the Pakistan Peoples Party of Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain former PM Benazir Bhutto and a contender for the top job now. Sharif’s party has also decided to field Saaeduz Zaman, a former supreme court chief justice, as its own presidential candidate. It must be the shortest political honeymoon ever. So what was seen as a ground breaking alliance was little more than a marriage of convenience!

To be fair to Sharif and his party, the former prime minister gave the government and coalition partner Zardari a long, long rope and at least three deadlines to restore the Supreme Court and high court judges sacked by General Pervez Musharraf following the imposition of Emergency. In spite of numerous meetings and agreements between Sharif and Zardari, there has been no move or initiative by the government and the governing PPP to resolve the judges issue. After all these encounters, Zardari and Sharif appeared together before the media to reiterate their commitment to the restoration of judiciary, democracy and the rule of law.

In fact, the coalition promised to restore the judges within 24 hours of Musharraf’s exit, implying the General was the only hurdle to the restoration of judiciary. It’s been more than a week since Musharraf left the presidency. But Pakistan remains stuck where it had been before the General’s departure with the ruling party offering no signs or hopes of any progress.

What happens now? The government led by the PPP is likely to survive with the support of other minor players like MQM, ANP and JUI. However, with Sharif in opposition and the issue of restoration of judges still hanging fire, the prospects of the current dispensation continuing for long appear rather remote. And yet another general election with a realignment of forces looks imminent in not too distant a future. When that happens, Pakistan’s leaders and politicians will be held to account by the voters. As Benazir Bhutto, the late wife of Zardari, would say: Democracy is the best revenge. That will be especially true when the politicians go back to the voters.

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