Political and Internal Developments
Speculation about the future of the PPP-led coalition swung like a pendulum during last week. At the start of the week, it appeared that things were going downhill very fast with the army and ISI chiefs submitting replies to the notices issued by the Supreme Court in the ‘memogate’ scandal that were completely at odds with the position taken by the government.
The PPP leadership – party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Vice Chairman and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani – adopted a rather combative stance at a party meeting called to deliberate over the political options before the government after the military establishment’s replies to the Court. Bilawal declared that the party will neither give in to the pressure nor adopt a defensive posture on the memo issue. He also delved into history to ask why cases of treason were not pursued against those responsible for the surrender at Dhaka, the debacle in Siachen, the Kargil fiasco and the successive destabilisation of civilian governments and extra-constitutional takeovers. Prime Minister Gilani is believed to have spoken about an international conspiracy to destabilise the civilian government. Some PPP members demanded the resignation of the ISI chief after an article alleging that he had toured some Arab countries to seek approval for launching a coup against the government after the May 2 US raid in Abottabad. But despite maintaining that the memo controversy was aimed at bringing down the government – speaking in Parliament he called ‘memogate’ a conspiracy against parliament and said that targeting the President meant targeting parliament – Prime Minister Gilani counselled against precipitating a clash with the army.
The pendulum then started swinging the other way after the army chief and Prime Minister Gilani held a three hour long meeting. A statement issued after the meeting conveyed the impression that matters were not as dire as was being imagined. Dispelling the notion of a looming confrontation between the government and the army, Prime Minister Gilani’s office said that the replies of the army and ISI chiefs ‘should not be misconstrued as a standoff between the Army and the government’. A day later, Gilani confidently proclaimed that the army and judiciary would not derail democracy and glossed over the discordance between the replies filed by the government (which insisted that the memogate petition was not maintainable in the Supreme Court) and those filed by the military top brass (who acknowledged the existence of the memo and wanted an inquiry into the entire affair to nail the people responsible for it). Gilani also tried to debunk the memo controversy by saying that after the affidavit filed by the former US National Security Advisor Gen James Jones, questioning the authenticity of the memo and absolving the former Pakistani ambassador to US, Hussain Haqqani, of any complicity in the affair – he assumed that the memo was written by Mansoor Ijaz and not by Haqqani – there was nothing left in the entire controversy.
The revelation by Prime Minister Gilani that during his meeting with Gen Ashfaq Kayani, the latter spoke on the phone to President Asif Zardari to inquire about his health made it appear as though the crisis created by the memo controversy had receded. The fact that within 48 hours of this telephone chat, President Asif Zardari suddenly returned to Pakistan from Dubai where he was recuperating from the minor heart attack/stroke, only cemented the impression that things were returning to normal. But it didn’t take long for the pendulum to once again started swinging the other way. The spin put by the civilian government on the phone conversation between Zardari and Kayani was effectively scotched by the military’s spokesman who clarified that the conversation lasted just about a minute and was limited to the general asking Zardari about his health. Further queering the pitch was a report in the New York Times that Zardari’s return was only a ‘cameo appearance’ and that he would leave Pakistan for a longer, ‘perhaps even permanent’, period of time.
In retrospect, it appears that Zardari’s return was prompted less by his ‘one minute’ phone conversation with Kayani and more by the rumours running wild in Islamabad about the possibility of Article 47 of the much abused and misused and misread constitution being applied to remove him on grounds of mental incapacity. According to some analysts, the clause for removal of the President was ambiguous on whether or not impeachment was required if the President was mentally or physically incapacitated. More importantly, since any constitutional ambiguity would be decided by the Supreme Court which is perceived to be hostile to Zardari, it was speculated that this could be the way to achieve the ‘minus one’ solution to the political logjam in the country. No sooner than this trial balloon was floated, which started to soar after some of Zardari’s detractors declared that they would approach the Supreme Court to constitute a medical board to examine if the president was mentally or physically incapacitated, that Zardari started contacting senior journalists to contemptuously dismiss all talk of his disqualification on health grounds.
By returning to Pakistan, Zardari did manage to, at least momentarily, surprise his opponents and shut them up. But the knives are clearly out. And increasingly it looks as though ‘memogate’ has created a situation in which the anti-Zardari forces are coalescing (partly by design and partly by default) to ensure his ouster, and with him, perhaps the PPP government as well. Far from being settled, the ‘memogate’ affair is pitting the government against the judiciary, the military and the opposition.
Turning the screws further on the government, the Supreme Court converted into a petition a letter written to the Chief Justice by a Pakistani Canadian citizen who wanted to know the ‘truth’ behind the memo affair as it had a bearing on Pakistan's national security and issued notices to the entire top civilian and military leadership. The Court also warned the government that the failure of the President to respond to an earlier notice in the ‘memogate’ case would be construed as acceptance of the civil charges contained in the plea filed by PMLN chief Nawaz Sharif. Having received the original responses from most of the respondents – army and ISI chiefs, Hussain Haqqani and the foreign and defence ministries – the Court issued fresh notices to them to respond to the responses filed by other respondents.
The second affidavit filed by the army chief in response to the replies given by the other respondents removed whatever doubt there was about the growing gulf in the positions taken by the government and the military in the memo affair. Instead of trying to paper over the differences in the stand taken by the government and the army brass, Gen Kayani reiterated the existence of the memo and underlined the “need to fully examine the fact and circumstances leading to the conception and issuance of the memo”. He also claimed that the evidence available did point to Haqqani’s ‘association’ with the memo. Even more shocking was the reply filed by the defence ministry. In an acceptance of the widely held belief that the Pakistan army was a state within a state (if not the state itself), the defence ministry, which constitutionally is the controlling authority of the army, told the Supreme Court that it exercised no operational control over either the army or the ISI and was therefore “in no position to confirm or deny” what the army and ISI chiefs had said in their affidavits.
Things seemed to reach almost breakpoint after Prime Minister Gilani spoke publicly about ‘intrigues to pack up the elected government’. Referring to the affidavit submitted by the defence secretary, Gilani declared that there can be ‘no state within a state’ and that all institutions will have to work under the government. Later, he said in parliament that for the army to consider itself as a state within the state was ‘unacceptable’. Taking a dig at the controversy being created over the large number of visas given to Americans in violation of security norms, Gilani wondered on what visa Osama bin Laden had been living in Pakistan. The new-found aggressiveness in the top leadership of the PPP was also reflected in the meeting of the party’s core committee in which not only was full confidence reposed in President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani (both of whom jointly chaired the meeting) but it was also decided to take strict action against the newly appointed defence secretary for the affidavit he submitted in the Supreme Court.
The belligerence of the Prime Minister as well as his remarks on the conspiracy against the government forced the army chief to issue a statement denying any intention to take any extra-constitutional step to dislodge the government. Even the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court felt the need to make clear that the Court would not validate any extra-constitutional takeover. But while the general opinion is that the army chief’s statement has warded off the possibility of a military intervention, a careful dissection of the statement makes it clear that things are near breakpoint between the PPP government and the military. For instance, Kayani said that speculation of a military takeover was ‘misleading’ and ‘a bogey to divert attention from the real issues’. He also made it clear that the army could never allow any compromise on national security. In other words, the army was not going to let the memogate scandal be brushed under the carpet. In what appears to be a direct repartee to Prime Minister Gilani’s remarks of the government raising the salaries of army personnel, Kayani said that no one could put ‘a price tag on the sacred blood’ of people who fight for the country.
While the government has come under unprecedented pressure from all sides, demands for the resignation of the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha both for his failings in the Osama bin Laden issue as well as reports of his being involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the government started to gain steam. An ANP MP set the ball rolling by asking in parliament as to why the government did not ask Pasha to quit when on similar charges Haqqani was forced to resign. Later a petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking Pasha’s removal for allegedly seeking approval of some Arab government’s to overthrow the civilian government. The Human Rights activist and Haqqani’s lawyer, Asma Jehangir, too demanded Pasha’s resignation for his failure in the Osama case. Even though the ISPR strongly denied Pasha having visited any Arab country between May 1 and May 9 to discuss a military coup, these denials have the same value as those of Haqqani as regards his involvement in the controversial memo.
Meanwhile, PMLN chief Nawaz Sharif is trying to shake off the impression that his petition to the Supreme Court on the memogate issue was the result of a wink and a nudge by the military establishment. But there are reports as well as indications that the PMLN has been trying to build bridges with the establishment. Many eyebrows were raised by the manner in which Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif issued a clean chit to Gen Kayani who he said did not want to derail the democratic system. For his part, even as Nawaz Sharif continues to emphatically oppose any interference by the military in the political affairs of the country, the urgency (some say unseemly haste) shown by him to oust the government and force early elections, could easily jeopardise the democratic system. Nawaz Sharif however claims he is blameless and insists that it would be ideal if the dysfunctional government itself quit and went in for mid-term polls. He is of the opinion that the failure of the PPP government to bring in the reforms needed to put the army and intelligence agencies in their place is responsible for its fears of a military conspiracy against the government.
Amidst reports that the military establishment has been seeking the PMLN’s support for ousting the government in a sort of military-judicial coup, Nawaz Sharif has adopted a two pronged approach to keep his anti-establishment credentials intact. The first prong is to blame the establishment for the meteoric rise of Imran Khan and the growing strength of his party, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI). He has also decried any move by the military to take advantage of the political uncertainty to take over power. His second prong has been to reach out to the disaffected and alienated Baloch nationalists and give air to their grievances. It was thus that he called on the former Balochistan chief minister Sardar Attaullah Mengal in Karachi. Despite getting an earful from Mengal who not only tore into the ‘Punjabi Army’ and openly accused it of murdering Baloch activists but even took a dig at Nawaz Sharif’s assurances to fight Balochistan’s cause by pointing out that if Sharif had the power to rein in the army he wouldn’t have had to go into exile to Saudi Arabia, Nawaz Sharif has tried to play the statesman who is making an effort to bring the Baloch back into the national mainstream.
Nawaz Sharif’s biggest worry is however the seemingly unstoppable ‘tsunami’ of Imran Khan who is not only gaining support and strength from all parts of Pakistan every single day but has kept Nawaz Sharif constantly in his cross-hairs, not letting go of a single opportunity to take pot shots at him. While Nawaz Sharif ‘advised’ the PPP government to quit, Imran Khan asked Nawaz Sharif to quit from the assemblies to force the government out. Imran Khan has also backed the demand for a Hazara province, thereby cutting into a traditional vote bank of Nawaz Sharif. Most interestingly, Imran Khan who is believed to enjoy the support of the establishment has come out emphatically against any possible martial law, though of course he is quite open to some constitutional jiggery-pokery to hold an election under a neutral caretaker regime appointed not by President Asif Zardari but by the Supreme Court. But more than Imran’s politics, it is the bolstering of PTI ranks by politicians who are not only seen as being close to the establishment but also considered to be political weathercocks with an unfailing antenna for backing the winning horse, that is causing serious concern in the PMLN.
Last week, Imran Khan scored big with many powerful politicians from Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (including the Hazara division), central and south Punjab joining the PTI. These included the former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri, and other former cabinet ministers like Jehangir Tareen, Awais Leghari and his brother Jamal (both sons of former President Farooq Leghari), Ishaq Khakwani, Khwaja Mohd Hoti, and Mohabbat Marri. However, most of these politicos are people who found themselves at a loose end. They are the flotsam and jetsam of the PPP, PMLN, PMLQ and a few other established parties and many of them were members of the Musharraf regime. While it is still unclear how much these new entrants (some of them ‘winnable’ candidates) improve the electoral prospects of the PTI, what is clear is that they have steadily sidelined the loyal and die-hard members and supporters of PTI who stuck with Imran Khan when he was a nobody in Pakistani politics.
Imran Khan is not the only one who is trying to win support on the basis of anti-corruption agenda. The extremely reactionary right-wing and terrorist parties like the Jamaatud Dawa, Jamiat Ulema Islam (Samiul Haq), Jamaat Islami etc. are also trying the same tack. Shockingly, even as Imran Khan tries to project a moderate face to rest of the world – his decision to hold a meeting without aides with the US ambassador Cameron Munter and the US coordinator for aid under the Kerry-Lugar package, Robin Raphael, raised many eyebrows and sent out signals that he was trying to reassure the Americans that he was neither rabidly anti-American nor blindly towing the line of extremists/Taliban – he did not have any compunctions in asking a senior member of his party to share the stage with terrorist outfits like JuD. This is exactly what happened last week when the PTI participated in a mammoth rally in Lahore held under the auspices of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (Pakistan Defence Council), a conglomerate of around two score right-wing parties (including the JuD, rather led by the JuD). The rally was organised amidst talk of a new MMA type of alliance of religious parties being forged in the country to ‘defeat’ the ‘corrupt political parties’ and ‘defend the ideology of Pakistan’.
The rally demanded a permanent severance of the NATO supply lines, ending cooperation in the War on Terror (which was dubbed as a war on Muslims), withdrawal of the granting of MFN status to India, and preparing the people for waging jihad against the Americans and Indians. In his speech, the chairman of the DPC, Maulana Samiul Haq declared that the conglomerate was a movement of jihad and wanted to turn Pakistan into an Islamic welfare state. The chief of the JuD, Hafiz Saeed, threatened jihad against the US if it attacked Pakistan. Some Pakistani analysts saw the rally as a revival of the ‘Mullah-Military Alliance’ and as such part of the military establishment’s plan to mainstream the JuD and form a right wing political pressure group under the leadership of the JuD in order to control the future course of politics in Pakistan. Shockingly, the JuD was not the only banned terrorist organisation that strutted with impunity at the rally. The banned Sunni terrorist organisation Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan was also well represented at the rally and its workers openly displayed flags of the outfit without any fear of action by the authorities.
In Karachi, meanwhile, Afaq Ahmed, the head of MQM (Haqiqi), the breakaway faction of the MQM, was released after spending more than seven years in prison on the orders of the Sindh High Court. As a bête noire for the MQM, it is feared that Afaq Ahmed’s release could lead to a new round of bloodletting in Karachi, this time as an internecine war in the Mohajir community. In his first press conference after his release, Afaq called for formation of a new province in Southern Sindh, something that is bound to raise the hackles of the Sindhis and also queer the pitch for MQM which has denied (albeit unconvincingly) wanting to bifurcate Sindh.
On the economic front, the State Bank of Pakistan, without being alarmist, has flagged the perilous state of the economy. According to the SBP report, fiscal deficit will be close to 6.5% (as opposed to 4% estimated in the budget) and growth is likely to be around 3.5% (as opposed to 4.2% estimated in the budget). While inflation will more or less be around the budget figure of 12% (albeit on a new index which has shown marked decrease in the inflation rate), the current account deficit is expected to be a problem area and foreign exchange reserves could fall to around $ 12 billion by the end of the fiscal. Bad as the economic situation is, what is more worrying is the institutional malaise and dysfunction that is preventing any remedial measures to pull the economy out of the hole in which it finds itself. The SBP has listed institutional weaknesses at all levels of governance – judiciary, civil services, law enforcement, regulatory authorities and accountability agencies – for the economic mess which in turn is reflected in poor law and order, chronic energy shortages, collapsing public sector enterprises (the railways for instance ran out of money to buy diesel for locomotives and had to suspend most of the train services last week) and a sharp fall in fixed investment.
Foreign Relations / Foreign Policy
Even as Afghan President Hamid Karzai advised Pakistan to form its Afghan policy independent of its US and India policy, Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told a visiting Afghan delegation that Pakistan was part of the solution in Afghanistan and it was in Pakistan's interest to see Afghanistan as a ‘sovereign, independent, prosperous and stable’ country. Gilani accepted an invitation to inaugurate an engineering university being set up by Pakistan in Balkh province. In what appears to be a Pakistani effort to reach out to the non-Pashtuns, Gilani said that Pakistan would build a new block in the Mazar-e-Sharif hospital and also build 50 primary health centres and a similar number of primary schools all over Afghanistan.
Despite having put its relations with US on hold and blocked the NATO supply lines after the NATO choppers attack on two Pakistan army posts in Mohmand agency, the Pakistanis reacted with considerable pique to the ‘freezing’ by the US Congress of $ 700 million in military assistance to Pakistan until it took steps to curb the spread of IEDs. Although the US embassy took pains to clarify that the legislative measure did not mean a cut in aid and only required certification from the Defence Secretary, the Pakistan foreign office spokesman said that while Pakistan was mindful of its economic realities and compulsions, the country’s sovereignty was non-negotiable and added that “Pakistan cannot be held responsible for the weaknesses and loopholes on the other side of the border”. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar went a step further and warned the Americans that any failure on the part of Pakistan in the War on Terror resulting from the ‘freeze’ in military assistance would be the responsibility of the US. Adding to Pakistan's financial concerns has been the almost complete stoppage of funds transfer under the head of Coalition Support Funds. According to a report, while the Pakistanis have stopped sending bills under CSF head to Americans since May last (i.e. after the Abottabad raid), the US has not released any money this year under the same head.
Briefing the Parliamentary Committee on National Security on the state of relations between US and Pakistan after the 26/11 bombing of Pakistani posts, Khar put on a brave face on the issue of US aid and said that Pakistan was going to contact other countries for release of funds blocked by the US on account of expenditure incurred by Pakistan. In what sounded like more hope than policy, Khar said that Pakistan was not dependent on aid from one country and would continue to get funds from other countries! The briefing to the PCNS revealed that some nine agreements had been signed between Pakistan and US/NATO/ISAF in relation to the War on Terror and not one of these was signed by the PPP government.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has laid out the parameters for future terms of engagement with the Americans. In a policy statement made before the National Assembly, Gilani said that the government would insist on ‘sovereign equality and mutual respect, no unilateral actions inside Pakistan or against Pakistan and no transgression of Pakistan’s territorial frontiers’ and added that cooperation would be contingent on Pakistan's ‘legitimate interests’ being ‘fully accommodated’. Later, in another statement made before a visiting Afghan delegation, Gilani added two more conditions: all credible and actionable information available is shared with Pakistan for action and stopping of drone attacks.
But even as the civilian government and the military make a show of standing up to the Americans, the first signs that the Pakistanis might be starting to climbing down from the strident stand taken after the Mohmand attack came after it was announced that liaison officials posted at the Border Coordination Centres who had been called for ‘consultations’ are being sent back. More significant was another news report which claimed that an internal inquiry by the Pakistan army into the Mohmand attack had shifted the blame for the attack from US to the local Afghan commander who under the influence of the Indian intelligence agency, R&AW, orchestrated the entire incident to drive a wedge between the US and Pakistani forces.
Relations with India
Pakistan’s double game on the issue of terrorism was on open display last week when on the one hand the paper work commenced for procuring visas and travel documents for members of the judicial commission that is to visit India in connection with the 26/11 terror attacks, and on the other hand, the planners and perpetrators of those dastardly attacks openly threatened to unleash jihad on India until they ‘liberated’ Kashmir from India’s control. Addressing the PDC rally in Lahore, the mastermind of the 26/11 attacks and head of the terrorist organisation Jamaatud Dawa, Hafiz Saeed, said that swore revenge against India for the destruction of the Babri mosque, massacre of Indian Muslims, stealing of Pakistan's waters and ‘occupation’ of Jammu and Kashmir. Saeed also threatened to picket parliament and markets in Pakistan if India was granted MFN status. Another JuD leader, Abdul Rehman Makki, said that they had trained people in the use of Kalashnikovs and rifles and proclaimed that when these terrorists were sent to India, no one will be able to offer resistance to them.
While venom is openly being spouted against India in Lahore, the government of Pakistan is reported to be getting ready to hold discussions with Indian officials on nuclear and conventional CBMs next week.