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Bad blood, defiance and acrimony

By Imtiaz Gul

The Friday Times, Jan 13,2012

Are the Supreme Court and the military establishment acting in tandem against the Pakistan People's Party-led government? Prima facie, they are in unison in their bid to undo President Asif Zardari and his government. There is evidence - certain Supreme Court rulings and the military's hard-line stance on foreign policy - that the two institutions find themselves in conflict with the government, regardless of the matter or demerit of their stance.

he current crisis is undoubtedly rooted in history of acrimony, personal vendettas, conflicting perceptions on national security, and rule of law or the defiance of it. All this culminated in the Court's six-option ruling on Tuesday, creating a convergence of either interests or desire within the judiciary and the military to see the backs of many within the government for defiance. This obviously precipitated the crisis for a government whose survival options have been on the decline any way. It finds itself driven against the wall by the perceived nexus of the judiciary and the military. One of the fall-back options left now is a recourse to the Parliament. Or go for fresh elections - in line with the 'option six' outlined by the Supreme Court. The government may ride out of this onslaught - for the time being - but all of us need to ponder as to what brought things to this end for Zardari, visibly disconnected from Pakistan's ground realities (his interview with Geo TV being the prime example).

Let us begin with his statements and actions vis a vis the military establishment; it began with the hasty decision on July 28, 2008 to subject the ISI to Ministry of Interior - an order that not only surprised many civilians but also drew flak and scorn from within the military establishment. In the words of an extremely highly-placed general, "the decision had to be corrected midnight".

Then, in September, when Zardari sprung a surprise on everybody by elevating himself to the President's Office, he shocked the military by telling the press within a couple of hours of his oath-taking that "soon you will hear good news about Kashmir, before the end of the month".

This not only raised many eyebrows but alarmed the military establishment. Has he returned to Pakistan with some commitments with India and the United States, was the question raised at the GHQ.

In November, terrorists rocked Mumbai, turning the India-Pakistan relations upside down, and the government eventually decided to send the ISI chief to India to help in investigations.

The decision was simply laughed away by the military top brass. "Are they out of their mind?" was how the majority of generals reacted and thus the matter was settled.

Only a month later, reportedly (and this is based on input by a former senior ISI official) in a meeting between Zardari, Gilani and Gen Kayani some time in December, the president suggested Pakistan should allow the Indians to make a symbolic strikes in the Pakistani Kashmir territory so they could mollify the raging anti-Pakistan sentiment in India. Kayani shot down the suggestion, saying a single bullet fired from across the border would amount to a declaration of war, left the meeting and ordered the Air Force to start air patrols over Islamabad, Kashmir and Lahore.

The veracity of this anecdote is hard to confirm, but even if it is concoction, this implies that bad blood had existed between President Zardari and the Armed Forces from the word go.

And the Memogate took this clash of perceptions and interests to new levels, tilting the balance in the favour of the military, to Zardari's disadvantage.

Ironically, Zardari was also explicitly against the restoration of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other judges. On this issue, he fell out with Nawaz Sharif and it took a long march as well as an indirect military intervention to reinstate five dozen judges. The non-compliance with Supreme Court's NRO rulings and by Zardari ("For us, NRO is history," he said in the recent Geo TV interview) are all but a few symptoms of a syndrome that has invited hostility and suspicion within the judiciary and the military.

While they both appear to be in sync against Zardari, it would be unfair to accuse Justice Chaudhry of being pliant and gullible to the military. On March 9, 2007, he had challenged and snubbed several generals, including Musharraf, and thus became central to a new chapter in the country's judicial history.

Recently, the emergence of the controversial memo lent greater credence to the establishment's suspicions of the president's intentions on issues that the GHQ believes are crucial to the country's existence and requires a consultative process. (I am not commenting on the merits or demerits of the establishment's views, or whether the memo allegations are true or otherwise).

The bottom line is quite clear. The long history of mutual distrust, lack of clean governance, strident attitude, defiance of the judiciary and at times uncanny decisions related to the security establishment have landed the government in an extremely intricate situation. People like Babar Awan and the Punjab governor have been the contributory factors.

Strangely, though not unexpectedly, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan also find themselves - either by default or design - on the side of the convergence of anti-Zardari interests, both of them particularly protective of the judiciary. 

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