A year after an election returned Pakistan to civilian rule, the country has slid back into a political crisis.
WHAT IS THE PROTEST ABOUT? The cross-country protest motor convoy, known as a long march and due to begin in the south on Thursday, fuses two strands of opposition to the government led by the party of President Asif Ali Zardari, husband of the late Benazir Bhutto. Anti-government lawyers campaigning for an independent judiciary have been joined by the political opposition. The protest is aimed at securing the restoration of a former chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Chaudhry, sacked by former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf in 2007.
Analysts say Zardari fears if Chaudhry is reinstated, he could nullify an amnesty that Musharraf granted Bhutto and Zardari to enable them to return to Pakistan without fear of prosecution for old charges of corruption.
WHY IS THE OPPOSITION UP IN ARMS? Former prime minister and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, who heads the country’s second-biggest party, is furious with Zardari after the Supreme Court last month effectively barred Sharif and his politician brother, Shahbaz, from contesting elections.
Both Sharif and Zardari covet Punjab – politicians say whoever controls the province that returns more than half the members of the National Assembly controls the country – but neither has a clear majority in the provincial assembly.
WHAT’S AT STAKE? Pakistan’s latest attempt at democracy is at risk. Musharraf’s successor as army chief General Ashfaq Kayani has vowed to keep the army out of politics.
But, the danger is that if the crisis becomes acute, the military, which has ruled for more than half the country’s 61 years of history, will feel forced to act.
The army has little reason to back Sharif, even if Zardari is widely unpopular and disliked by hawkish elements who distrust his pro-West stance and dovishness towards India.
Sharif had bad relations with at least three army chiefs during the 1990s. Morever, the West is wary of Sharif, believing that he panders to the religious/nationalist constituency that opposes the war on terrorism.
The United States wants Pakistan to focus on fighting the Taleban and Al- Qaeda, and doesn’t want the army to be diverted by politics, or, analysts say, drawn into helping Sharif.
Beleaguered stocks and the rupee, which both fell sharply last year, have been under pressure on worry about politics. – Reuters