Political and Internal Developments
In what appeared to be a prejudged ruling, a hint of which came when the Chief Justice gave greater credence to the submissions of the army and ISI chiefs and observed that the if the parliament had been functioning properly the memo case would have never come before the court, the Supreme Court upheld the maintainability of the petition filed by PMLN chief Nawaz Sharif and others seeking an investigation into the origins, authenticity and purpose of the controversial ‘memo’ that sought US intervention in putting the Pakistan army on a tight leash in return for widespread changes in the national security setup in Pakistan.
Furthermore, the Court set up a three member judicial commission headed by the Chief Justice of the Balochistan High Court to investigate the entire affair and submit a report in four weeks.
Despite Asma Jehangir’s spirited defence, the course of the proceedings made it clear that the judges would bat for the military establishment and against the PPP leadership. The ruling came in for scathing criticism by Jehangir who called it the ‘darkest day for the judiciary’ which she said had put national security above the fundamental rights of citizens. Later, Jehangir resigned as counsel for the former Pakistan ambassador to US, Hussain Haqqani, expressing her complete lack of confidence in the judicial commission constituted by the Supreme Court which she accused of acting as ‘an acolyte of the establishment’.
Even as the 3 member judicial commission has shown great alacrity to complete its probe and has issued notices to all the persons involved in the ‘memogate’ controversy (including President Asif Zardari, the army and ISI chiefs, Mansoor Ijaz, Hussain Haqqani and Nawaz Sharif, among others), the government is planning to file a review petition in the matter. There are also reports that the government is considering the option of giving Haqqani a Presidential pardon in the event he is found guilty by the Commission. Clearly, their statements expressing respect and faith in the judiciary notwithstanding, the ruling party is convinced that the judiciary is heavily biased against it and is unfairly targeting it. This feeling was reflected in the defiant attitude adopted by senior PPP functionaries, including two federal ministers, who were issued contempt notices by the court for a press conference they had addressed criticising the initial Court ruling setting up a one man commission to probe the ‘memogate’ affair.
The Supreme Court’s antagonism towards the government was also reflected in the ultimatum issued to the latter to implement the NRO judgment within a week or else the Court would take action against those responsible for stalling action regardless of their status and office. Actually, the entire focus of the Supreme Court is on one case among the almost 8000 cases covered under the NRO – the money laundering case against President Asif Zardari in the Swiss courts – and it is action on this one case that the Court is pressing for. The objective is undoubtedly to target President Zardari and make his continuation in office untenable. Yet another example of the anti-PPP approach of the ‘independent judiciary’ is the reluctance being shown by the judges in the Presidential Reference on the reopening of the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto case. While the judiciary has been expanding its mandate in cases that hurt the government, it has shown no similar activism in the ZA Bhutto case.
Apart from the massive pressure being exerted against it by the ‘establishment’, the government has also been under pressure from the street. Power riots broke out in large parts of the country because of the crippling shortages of electricity and gas. With hydropower generation being drastically reduced, the gap between demand and supply was close to 40% leading to long outages. Compounding the problem was the massive shortage of gas – 30-40%. To top it all, even as the public was reeling under the double whammy of power and gas load-shedding, the government decided to raise the gas tariffs for the entire range of consumers from 14% (for domestic consumers) to 207% (for fertilizer plants). In addition, it announced a 30 day suspension in supplies for CNG stations. This led to the CNG pumps going on strike. Alongside, the transporters too went on strike, practically taking all public transport off the roads. The violent protests finally forced the government to backtrack and it entered into a deal with the CNG stations to lower the gas development surcharge and resort to only a three day in a week suspension of gas supplies. Bizarrely, the government decided to suspend all gas supplies to industry and provide it to domestic consumers instead. This led to the powerful textile industry taking to the streets.
Expectedly, the energy crisis was latched on by both opponents (PMLN) and allies (MQM) of the government to protest against its dismal performance. For its part, the government representatives in parliament alleged that most of the agitations were led by the opposition to ‘settle scores’ with the government. But while the MQM and PMLN took a common stand on the energy issue, they were sharply divided on the issue of new provinces and over Nawaz Sharif’s remarks in favour of the establishment of military courts in Karachi to control the law and order situation in that city. Pilloried from all sides – the MQM asked him to establish such courts in Punjab where the law and order situation was going from bad to worse, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani pointed out to Nawaz Sharif’s ‘double standards’ and reminded him that Pakistan was a democracy and not a dictatorship, and even the Chief Justice was forced to say that the judiciary had permanently closed the doors for any sort of military courts – the PMLN was forced to clarify that what Nawaz meant was not military courts but ‘unconventional measures’ (which haven’t been specified) to control the law and order situation in Karachi.
The MQM also rubbed the PMLN the wrong way by tabling the 20th Amendment bill that called for creation of a Hazara province by splitting Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and bifurcating Punjab to create one or even two new provinces in South Punjab. The tabling of the bill led to a fiery debate in parliament on the issue of creating new provinces. While the PMLN and ANP seemed opposed to this idea (although publicly Nawaz Sharif took the position that his party supported the creation of a Hazara province and restoration of the Bahawalpur province), parties like PPP, PMLQ and others seemed to be in favour of new provinces. The PMLN tore into MQM and questioned its locus standi for proposing the formation of new provinces since it had no real presence, much less stake, in either the Hazara belt (a PMLN bastion) or South Punjab (a PPP stronghold). The PPP on the other hand tried to nuance its position on the issue by openly backing the creation of a Seraiki province (Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani even went on to say that ‘if a Seraiki province was not created during the tenure of a Seraiki prime minister, when else would it come into being’) and sidestepping the issue of a Hazara province (so as to not rile its ally ANP which is opposed to any splitting of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). The PPP, which hopes to gain immensely by backing the creation of a Seraiki province, is also reported to be planning to bring a resolution of its own to this effect in the National Assembly.
While the PPP and PMLN, continue to jostle for political space and try and score points over the other, there are reports that behind the scenes they are contemplating cooperating with each other to keep the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf, in check. Last week, the PPP leadership tried to both woo and warn the PMLN against going too far in opposing the government. While President Zardari felicitated Nawaz Sharif on his birthday, Prime Minister Gilani warned the PMLN that a ‘third force’ could come into power if the current government was destabilised and deposed. Efforts are also reportedly underway for a meeting between Zardari and Nawaz Sharif with the Balochistan chief minister acting as the intermediary. Notwithstanding Nawaz Sharif’s disavowal of any plans to meet Zardari, the political grapevine is that the deal which is being worked out is for allowing the Senate elections to go through in return for calling an early general election by September/October 2012.
Despite the inroads made by Imran Khan on the political scene, the two main political parties are still pretending that he doesn't really pose any significant challenge to them. Prime Minister Gilani has dismissed the PTI as a ‘test-tube’ party and called the politicians joining the PTI ‘political orphans’. The PMLN too is trying to behave nonchalantly on the rise of the PTI. But since the PTI is seen as cutting into the PMLN vote bank, the party has started to take counter measures. It has suddenly started to woo the PMLQ members and is reported to have released the development funds due to ‘Q’ lawmakers to prevent them defecting to PTI. The party also organised a very impressive rally in Gujranwala in which Nawaz Sharif targeted not just the PPP government but also Imran Khan. The turnout at the rally indicates that the PMLN won’t be a pushover and beyond the media created hype, the PTI will have to do the hard work to pull in the votes if it wants to win the next elections. But the PMLN too will have to focus on organisational matters especially in provinces other than Punjab. Last week, there were virtual rebellions in the party units in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh where dissidents vociferously protested against the ‘unopposed election’ of office bearers.
Meanwhile, efforts to revive the alliance of religious parties, MMA, remains stuck over the demands of the Jamaat Islami which is demanding 50% of the seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as a precondition, something that the JUIF chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman is loath to concede. The Maulana is also averse to agreeing to Jamaat Islami demands that he leave the chairmanship of the Parliament’s Kashmir committee and end the participation of his party in the Balochistan government. The Jamaat Islami has also hinted at the possibility of inviting the Pakistan Defence Council parties – the PDC is spearheaded by the terrorist group Jamaatud Dawa and the Taliban ideologue Samiul Haq – both anathema to Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
The emergence of the PDC appears to be part of the military establishment’s plan to mainstream terrorist groups like the JuD and fits in well with the strategy of cutting peace deals with the Pakistani Taliban groups. With the Afghan Taliban acknowledging the opening of a political office in Qatar for holding negotiations with the US and other Western powers, the Pakistani establishment’s quest for striking a peace deal with the Taliban have gathered pace. The Pakistanis are apparently operating at two levels: they are trying to restore some sort of a working relationship with the US so that they remain relevant to the talks in Qatar. For this purpose, the ISI chief was reported to have visited Doha last week; the other level is domestic and involves holding talks with the Pakistani Taliban groups, both to bring a modicum of peace inside Pakistan as well as increase leverage inside Afghanistan by bringing all the insurgent groups on a common platform.
The first indication of this policy came during an in-camera briefing given by the ISI to the Senate Committee on Defence where officials told the lawmakers to expect ‘major surprises’ in talks with local Taliban groups which they said were in an advanced stage. Later, there were reports that the Taliban supremo, Mullah Omar, had issued directives to all combatant groups to focus their war effort in Afghanistan and stop targeting Pakistani security forces. A five member Shura was constituted comprising representatives of the Haqqani network, Mullah Nazir group, Hafiz Gul Bahadur group (all three already regarded as ‘strategic assets’ by the Pakistani establishment), the TTP faction led by Waliur Rehman and the TTP faction led by Hakimullah Mehsud. The revelation that the TTP had split between Mehsud and Rehman indicated that the Pakistani intelligence had succeeded in splitting the TTP, with Rehman now seen as being amenable to a negotiated settlement with the Pakistani authorities. According to a pamphlet circulated, the Shura-e-Mukarba, would ensure that incidents of kidnapping and targeting of civilians would come to an end. It was also announced that these groups would no longer target the Pakistani security forces. But the Hakimullah group later denied having agreed to stop attacks on Pakistani forces and said that they will continue to attack all allies of the US and NATO forces inside Pakistan i.e. Pakistan security forces.
While the Pakistani security establishment seems to have made some inroads with Islamist insurgents, they seem to be failing in their attempts to bludgeon the Baloch freedom fighters into submission. Last week, the Balochistan Liberation Army claimed a suicide bomb attack in Quetta on the residence of a former minister killing around 16 people. In another attack, 4 FC personnel were killed in an IED explosion. Other incidents of violence were also reported from the province. Meanwhile, a police surgeon who nailed the lies peddled by the FC that 5 Russians who were killed in Kharotabad locality of Quetta last year died in a grenade explosion and not from gunshot wounds was brutally murdered in the city. The FC of course denied any involvement in the dastardly murder.
Foreign Relations / Foreign Policy
Even as there are reports of an impending thaw in relations between the US and Pakistan, there is a good chance of the Pakistanis being hoist on their own petard. In other words, the strategy of using manufactured public outrage as a negotiating tool with the Americans could become a stumbling block in restoring a modicum of normalcy in the bilateral relationship. The public position taken by the government is that relations with the US will be reset on the basis on what the parliament decides, which in turn will take a decision based on the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security. The PCNS is expected to recommend a quid pro quo that the Americans will find difficult to accept. For instance, there are reports that the PCNS could make reopening of NATO supply lines contingent on the US granting a civilian nuclear deal to Pakistan. The PCNS is also expected to recommend a complete cessation of drone strikes and demand market access for Pakistani products in US and European markets. Meanwhile, the Pakistan military spokesman has said in an interview that even if relations between the US and Pakistan are put back on the rails, there will no longer be a free run given to the Americans. He said Pakistan wanted a very formal, business-like relationship. There are indications that Pakistan will not only charge taxes and tolls on NATO cargo but is also thinking of levying a charge for use of Pakistani airspace.
For their part, Pentagon officials have indicated the possibility of punitive action against any personnel found guilty in the Salala bombing incident after the final report of the inquiry into the incident is ready. Such action would fulfil one of the demands laid down by the Pakistan army in restoring relations with the US. In what appears to be another gesture towards Pakistan, the State Department has worked overtime to process the papers of Pakistan’s new ambassador, Sherry Rehman, and she is expected to be able to present her credentials to the US President within a few days of her arrival in Washington. But even as the US makes gestures, it is holding on to the purse-strings. In the latest such move, the US has refused to finance the $ 300 million US-Pakistan Enterprise Fund which had formed part of the Kerry-Lugar package.
Another possible flashpoint between the two countries could be the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. The US has already informed Pakistan that going ahead with the project could invite US sanctions. The Pakistanis however are showing defiance and are going ahead with the project. The federal cabinet approved a $ 200 million sovereign guarantee for the project and has also appointed a consortium headed by a Chinese bank to advise on the project.
With Western aid drying up, Pakistan received some succour last week from Saudi Arabia which signed a $ 172 million aid package which included a $ 100 million loan for import of urea and the rest for rehabilitation and development projects in militancy-hit areas. Relief for Pakistan's beleaguered economy also came from the Islamic Development Bank which rolled over for two years $ 576 million in loan repayments due in December.
In a significant move, Pakistan's army chief embarked on a five day visit to China on the invitation of the Chinese leadership. From the manner in which the visit is being described, it almost appears to be a state visit and the meetings that Kayani is scheduled to attend and issues he is expected to discuss suggest that he is practically being treated as the Head of State.
Relations with India
The water issue once again seems to be catching fire between India and Pakistan. Amidst reports in the Pakistani media that India was starting water projects on the Chenab river without informing the Pakistanis, Pakistan has reportedly decided to take the Nimmo-Bazgo hydropower project case to the International Court of Arbitration and challenge the UNFCCC decision to grant India carbon credits for the project. A campaign has also been unleashed by the ‘Aman ki Aasha’ newspaper, The News, against Pakistan's former Indus Waters Commissioner Jamaat Ali Shah for not raising the red flag on the Nimmo-Bazgo project and there are reports that Shah might have to face trial for the same.
On the positive side, Pakistan expanded the positive trade list and allowed the import of 16 items (mostly vegetables) through the land route through Wagah. The two countries also exchanged the list of nuclear installations and facilities and a list of prisoners in each others countries. Meanwhile, the judicial commission constituted by Pakistan to travel to India in connection with the 26/11 terror attacks has been granted permission to carry court records to India. Pakistan is now awaiting for dates from India on which members of the Judicial Commission could travel across the border.