The situation in Pakistan appears to worsen by the day. Consequent to President Asif Ali Zardari’s return from Dubai, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has spoken of “conspiracies being hatched to bring down his elected government.” He has vowed to “continue to fight for the rights of the people of Pakistan, whether or not we remain in the government.” Fears of another military coup are writ large in Gilani’s statement made in Pakistan’s parliament.
In a related development, in the wake of the tensions between the elected government and the army, Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence has stated that it has “no operational control over the army and ISI.” It made this admission in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court regarding its inability to respond formally on behalf of the armed forces and the ISI in respect of their stand on the ‘memogate’ scandal. Tensions between the army and the civilian government have been rising over a memo that was reportedly sent at President Zardari’s behest to Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, about a coup that the army was said to be planning following the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Meanwhile, the army chief, General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, has petitioned the Supreme Court to “thoroughly investigate” the memogate scandal as it has a bearing on national security and sovereignty. It emerges clearly that the army and the ISI are at loggerheads with the elected civilian government and would like it to go. However, they do not as yet appear to be prepared to stage another military coup to dislodge the government.
Given the stranglehold that the Pakistan army enjoys over the country’s polity, the army should be content to drive the country’s major policies from the back seat. However, if there is another military coup, it will certainly not be the last one. Pakistan has a history of military coups that go back to the era of General Ayub Khan. General Musharraf was the last military dictator of the country. He yielded power to a civilian dispensation very reluctantly and that too only after being hounded by an uncharacteristically pro-active Supreme Court.
Pakistan has become a rentier state that is dependent on Uncle Sam’s aid. Its economy is in shambles. It can default any time on its loan repayment obligations. Its currency is down to rupees 90 to a U.S. dollar. Inflation is flying high in double digits. The number of people living below the subsistence level is going up steadily. Relations with the U.S. are at an all time low. The security situation within Pakistan is dismal. Interior Minister Rehman Malik was recently reduced to thanking the Taliban for maintaining peace during Muharram.
At a time when all sections of Pakistan’s polity should unite together to fight the scourge of internal instability and creeping Talibanisation, it is incomprehensible that the army and the ISI should be jostling for narrow political gains to restore their hegemony. Unless Pakistan’s army is tamed and cut to size, it will continue to thwart Pakistan’s fledgling democracy from taking firm roots. Only an Arab Spring type of revolution will be able to clip the army’s wings. Alas, it does not look imminent.