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What’s happening in Pakistan?

By Imtiaz Gul

The Times of India, Dec 25,2011

In 2011, Pakistan took a big leap forward. Despite serious political and economic crises, relentless power outages and great popular discontent, the country fended off the threat of yet another direct military intervention. And none other than the chief justice of the supreme court, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry , delivered a clear 'no' to any extra-constitutional measure against the democratic system.

"There is no question of a (military) takeover and, rest assured , the (amended) code of conduct demands the judges to preserve and protect the Constitution at all cost," Chaudhry observed on Friday, during the hearing of a high-profile petition regarding what has come to be known as Pakistan's Memogate, involving a Pakistani-American Mansoor Ijaz and Hussain Haqqani, former ambassador to the US.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and a few others had petitioned the apex court early December to probe a memorandum allegedly drafted by Ijaz and Haqqani, seeking American support against the Pakistan military after the Abbottabad raid.

"The system will run according to what the Constitution commands," the chief justice underlined. Coincidentally, as Chaudhry made these observations to the relief of the government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani issued a somewhat similar assurance.

"The Pakistan army has and will continue to support democratic process in the country," he said while addressing troops in Mohmand and Kurram, bordering Afghanistan. A statement issued by the military's media wing quoted him as saying that "the army is fully cognizant of its constitutional obligations and responsibilities" and that speculation of a military takeover is "misleading and a bogey to divert the focus from the real issues".

Kayani, however, stuck to what he had already submitted before the supreme court on Memogate: "Irrespective of all other considerations, there can be no compromise on national security." It was a direct reference to his insistence in the affidavit that since the scandal compromised national security, it needed to be investigated by a court-appointed body.

The government, however, believes that the matter does not fall under the court's jurisdiction and can be looked into by a parliamentary commission. As if to underline his authority, and challenge the military, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had on Thursday also spoken of a "conspiracy" against the Pakistan People's Party-led government.

"Let me remind you, all institutions are subordinate to the parliament, nobody is above this House," Gilani thundered in an impromptu address to the National Assembly.

The current crisis essentially stems from Memogate , particularly after President Zardari suddenly left for Dubai for treatment following a mild stroke. He returned to Islamabad after almost two weeks, and has refused to submit his affidavit on Memogate before the apex court,which insists that the seriousness of the matter requires detailed affidavits and explanations from all those involved.

"The Court has to determine the issue of Memogate in the background that (ambassador) Haqqani was asked to resign after meetings between the president, prime minister, army chief and ISI DG. There must be something that led to the resignation of Haqqani," the chief justice said during the Friday hearing.

Clearly, battlelines are drawn between the Zardari camp and its opponents - the military and Nawaz Sharif. The supreme court, too, has not been kindly disposed towards the government. Its detractors insist Haqqani would not have moved without the backing of Zardari, who is currently holed up in the Presidential Palace and is reportedly not in the best of health. His future has become a subject of speculation with American media reports talking of Zardari going into exile by the end of the year. Those close to him insist he likes to fight it out rather than back down. But health issues might have a bearing on his decision. Does all this mean a direct military intervention is imminent to get rid of people considered a "threat to national security"?

Two factors rule out such a move. The first is the supreme court's July 31, 2009 verdict, which annulled the proclamation of emergency by former president Pervez Musharraf in November 2007, and pronounced that "days of validating military takeover are over and such an act would never be sanctioned in future."

"Look at the people, civil society, students and even the sitting prime minister who was on the streets and went to jail," Justice Chaudhry said, while recalling the movement for the restoration of 60 judges Musharraf had dismissed in March 2007. Secondly, Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (N) has also ruled out supporting the derailment of democracy through a military coup.

The Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party also does not favour an intervention. In other words, the army - despite its over-arching influence - faces a grand political consensus that rejects any illegal removal of a democratic government. With the supreme court providing legal reinforcement to this consensus, what options is the military establishment left with? Imran Khan? That, of course, is the stuff of gossip across Pakistan. The cricketing legend's journey since his big rally at Lahore on October 31 has been tumultuous.

Huge numbers of political leaders and activists have joined his Pakistan Tehreeke-Insaf , including former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Khan himself has dismissed allegations of establishment backing for his party, and vowed to quit politics if they are proved. It is a people's tsunami, he told supporters at Multan a few days ago.

It is a wave against the "corrupt ruling mafia, people want a change, and change is imminent," he said, vowing to wrest Karachi from the clutches of the ethnic Muttahida Qaumi Movement with a rally in front of the mausoleum ofMohammad Ali Jinnah. By holding the rally there, Khan wants to revive Jinnah's resolve for a Pakistan that will be socio-politically just and free of "political mafias". But Pakistan may already be redefining itself. The country has seen the emergence of an assertive judiciary; it has accorded 'arch-rival' India the Most Favoured Nation status (the military establishment had been the main hurdle so far), and a private media explosion makes it increasingly difficult for both civilians and military to control popular opinion the way they did in the 1990s. It's a country that has moved past military coups.


Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and is currently a Fellow of International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk