Pakistan In Peril – by Stephen Brown


Islamist elements in Pakistan’s military unhappy with President Asif Zardari are reported to be plotting to remove their country’s civilian government and replace it with a military dictatorship.

Two days after General David Petraeus, chief of US Central Command, dismissed fears of an imminent military coup, Pakistan’s defense minister, Ahmed Mukhtar, was prevented Thursday evening by border officials from leaving the country to visit China. According to one report, there are 248 such names on the border authorities’ list, including other high-ranking government members, of Pakistanis now denied exit rights.

The ostensible reason for Mukhtar’s detainment was that he, and other ministers of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is facing corruption charges and a possible jail term. Last Wednesday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court struck down the amnesty, called the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which protected them and 8,000 other bureaucrats from prosecution, reviving old charges. The Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the 2007 NRO amnesty that paved the way for Zardari’s murdered wife and then PPP leader, Benazir Bhutto, to return to Pakistan.

With the Supreme Court’s ruling, several ministers are now expected to resign, endangering the survival of the Zardari civilian government. Opposition parties are also calling for Zardari himself to step down, but he has presidential immunity from prosecution. The Supreme Court’s NRO ruling, though, is expected to leave Pakistan’s president open to legal proceedings regarding his eligibility as a candidate in last year’s election.

Columnist and former Pakistani activist Tarek Fatah writes that “religious right–wing backers of the Taliban and al Qaeda” in Pakistan’s military-industrial complex are behind this destruction of the Zardari government by legal means.

“Working from within the government, military intelligence was able to coax a junior minister to release a list of supposedly corrupt politicians and public officials in the country,” wrote Fatah. “Leading them was Mr. Zardari himself – notwithstanding the fact that before he was elected president, he had been imprisoned for more than a decade by the military without a single conviction.”

Zardari came to office a year ago last August, taking over from disgraced military ruler Pervez Musharraf who resigned under threat of impeachment. Musharraf had come to power after staging the last military coup against a civilian president in 1999. Pakistan has been ruled by military leaders for about half of its 62 year history, so military takeovers are almost a part of the political fabric.

Army rule usually lasts about a decade before a civilian government is re-established which lasts an almost equal length of time. The current military threat to civilian rule is somewhat unusual, as Zardari has been in office only a year and four months.

A main reason for the military coups, though, is that the civilian politicians’ corruption and incompetence eventually become too ruinous for the country.

What is also unusual is the military’s current method for re-establishing itself in power. In the past, tanks would simply roll up to the president’s residence and eject him from office by force. The military’s strategy this time, it appears, is to let the courts take down the government, which gives the destruction of civilian rule a semblance of legality that would evoke less criticism from the western democracies. In the resulting political turmoil, the army could then seize power, appearing as a force of stability and law and order.

One reason for the military’s dissatisfaction with the Zardari government is that the war against Islamic extremists in Pakistan is not popular in some sections of the army, bureaucracy and Pakistan’s powerful intelligence service, the ISI. According to a story in the Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, Islamic radicals “have permeated the state apparatus and society to such an extent that they are now an integral part of them.” This made Zardari’s going to war against the Taliban a risky venture, since a backlash that could paralyse the government could ensue. The ISI is also unhappy that Zardari has been trying to root out the Islamist elements in its midst.

Some military people also regard the Taliban as a strategic asset to be used in any future war with India and as well as for giving Pakistan strategic depth in Afghanistan. The Taliban are regarded as excellent irregular fighters. The army already used them in the 1947 war against India when, under the leadership of Pakistani officers, they almost conquered Kashmir.

Zardari’s desire to make peace with India has also made him enemies in the military. Since independence in 1947, Pakistan has fought three major wars with India. Some in the military regard this showdown as the reason for the army’s existence and do not want it to end. To his credit, one observer states Zardari wants peaceful relations with all neighboring countries, since he knows economic growth in Pakistan is not possible without “peaceful borders.”

Fatah writes that the last straw for the military in its decision to go after the Zardari government was when the US Congress passed the Kerry-Lugar bill last September that would see billions of dollars in aid flow to Pakistan. The problem was the generals would not be able to get their hands on it, like it did in the past under Musharraf, as the money is to go through civilian channels. Fatah describes what was at stake for the generals if they let the US Congress’s decision to bypass them go unchallenged: “If they do nothing, they lose their veto power over government policymaking, domestic as well as foreign.”

What the generals did do, according to Fatah, was to get the pro-Taliban media to launch a frenzied campaign, “claiming that Mr. Zardari had sold out to the Americans and the Indians.” And probably not coincidentally, American diplomats are now experiencing official harassment.

The fall of President Zardari would pose a very serious problem for American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Zardari recognised the danger the Islamic radicals pose and has vigorously pursued their destruction in Pakistan’s tribal areas. A change in the Pakistani government may very well see a change in that policy, which would constitute not only a serious setback but a defeat in the war against militant Islam.

  • David

    How biased, misinformed this author is….the only purpose of it seems to give the corrupt and inept (some claim to be a traitor) Zardari, some good face..sad on such journalism, that only promotes western ideas, rather than reporting the truth. Pakistan has been suffereing from western presence in the region, that has been the cause of all terrorism, and Zardari is their biggest agent, implanted on the people of the country, but he has tried all his best to go too far in protecting foreign interests, rather than the interests of the country he is supposed to be the President of, and such are the instruments of western nations foreign policy, that includes major heads of corrupt politicians and a similar government in the neighbourhood Afghanistan…its time for these games to end!!!!

  • Proxywar

    Right, because it couldn't be the ISI who are the corrupt ones backing the Taliban.
    Way to stick up for corruption, unconstitutionality, and jihadism though that is par for the course among progressive-socialists. It doesn't make any sense to live and let live with the Taliban because they do not believe in the golden rule. With or without America, Zardari, would have to fight the Taliban at some point because they want to over throw him. Not to mention, the Taliban sympathizers within the Pakistan government who also want him overthrown. Zardari an “agent”? Hardly. The Pakistanis elected him.

  • Robert Bernier

    The ambition of Islam to conquer the world.
    For centuries Islam of the militants have been on the march to conquer the world. We did not notice because we chose not to notice. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in
    1920 by Hassan al-Banna in Egypt and was in deep confrontation with the Egyptian government. Al-Banna’s ideology set the current Al Qaeda goals for Islam to achieve global domination for a Muslim Caliphate: a world under strict Islamic “Sharia” law, pulling Muslims back to the 7th Century as explained at :

  • SteveNVicki

    “…only promotes western ideas, rather than reporting the truth. Pakistan has been suffereing from western presence in the region, that has been the cause of all terrorism….”
    Suffering!? Our money really causes suffering for Pakistan? Western presence is the cause of ALL terrorism? David right? Is that REALLY your name you Islamic radical LIAR. I'm all for us leaving Pakistan and everywhere lese in the Middle East EXCEPT for Israel. Either let you all revert back to the stone age or nuke you there. When your biggest concern is where your next meal is coming from instead of how you can overthrow legitimate governments and religons, then maybe the rest of the CIVILIZED world can actually have some peace.

  • randy

    We'll get highlights from the scientific meeting of the American Geophysical Union, going on this week. We'll hear about the link between earthquakes and the online service Twitter, new research into the Earth's magnetic field, the drying out of California, and more niche blueprint review.

  • sikander

    Dear Sir,
    Pakistan is not in a danger of any coup at the moment. People who know the recent events can understand that there are some legal cases which were droped by musharaf government but have been revived by the Chief Justice who was sacked by Musharaf but came back.

  • xyz

    David is absolutely right, “steveNVicki” we are the ones living there you are not dear brother. The presence of foreign troops in our neighbouring country is actually fuelling the insurgency. For instance drone attacks us. kills only innocent civilians as highlighted by Pakistani media commentators and experts, so if 500 people are killed in a month of attacks and assuming each one has 4 relatives, congratulations you have managed to create 500×4=2000 terrorists! And by the way we have a large educated labour work force, a large english speaking population an industry and a strong military(which has almost entirely eliminated the insurgency in our country within months of the operations which the armies of 40 nations have not been able to do in our neighbouring country) and we don't need any help!

  • xyz

    Islam is the religion of peace and submission to God. Get a copy of the english translation of the Holy Quran( I recommend Mermaduke Pickhtal) and you will see how.If islam's mission was to conquer the world by force then there would't have been 15 million non-muslims middle east and so on.The so called Al-qaeda, has been unanimously criticised by all the authentic Islamic scholars around the world because “islam requires moderation in all the things”.Don't make false claims against a legitimate political party.
    Allah says in the holy quran :
    ” kill not one another. Lo! Allah is ever Merciful unto you.
    ( سورة النساء , An-Nisa, Chapter #4, Verse #29)
    clearly dismissing ideology of extremists as islamic!

  • davidhorowitz

    Pakistan has always 'been in peril'. What is surprising is not the current unrest, but rather the fact that Musharraf played along with the U.S. concerning the War on Terrorism for as long as he did. Of course, he was rewarded with constant badgering and criticism by Bush/Cheney for 'not doing enough'. It was at that point that we knew Musharraf was doomed, and that Pakistan was entering a time of danger and extreme stress. Opposed by his enemies, and censured by his friends, left him no wiggle room. Behold the political genious of the neo-cons…

  • AHR

    In the December 18th New York Times publication, an article Pakistan Ministers Are Called Before the Courts was written by Jane Perlez and Salman Masood. Though the article does state the annulment of the National Reconciliation Ordinance and the repercussions of the decision taken by the Pakistan Supreme Court, it has given an image portraying the Pakistan Army as an anti-democratic institution. Understandably the Pakistan Army is going through a turbulent phase. The army is currently engaged in a battle against militants who are adamant in bringing down the current democratic set up in Pakistan. However, one must not forget that many of these militants have grown up in the same neighborhood as the army soldiers, and regardless of allegiance, it is always difficult to take up arms against a childhood acquaintance.

  • Westwright

    'davidhorowitz' are you 5 years old? Get your own nom de plume you little tool-troll! NeoCons/neocons/neocons…do you know any other words of wisdom, jackazz!

  • mjmotley

    These article refers frequently to “elements” within the military and the ISI as from whence the threat is being posed, this no doubt is true. But elements are but parts of the whole and the article does not address those factors that have undoubtedly kept the Islamists at bay up till now. Namely where is last year's ranked #20 most powerful man in the world in all of this, what appears to be the inclination's of General Ashfaq Kayani?

    Just last year he had replaced all the pivotal commands in the nation with officers loyal to him in the Xcorps(Rawalpindi), the ISI(Intel) and the DCMJ when he took over as the the head of the Army. Without any analysis as to what these appointees and Gen Kayani seem to be going, to call this report incomplete is to be charitable.

  • ratee

    These comments do not make sense as Pakistan Army is fighting the Terrorists. Zardari is part of the corruption that was under investigation while USA and UK facilitated their crony Gen Musharraf to scrap these old cases so to get their Peoples Party in power.

    What is the problem with the west as whole of this wrong practice of selective extra-judicial laws are being challenged by a strong independent judiciary just because they want a servile incompetent weak President who is looking only after the imperialist interests of USA and UK!!

  • ratee

    Well why should West (USA and UK in particular) be concerned about Pakistan's legal system? They are because they are the one's who implanted this Government by facilitating the NRO through their crony Musharraf. This law exepmted and protected the most corrupt Zaradari to get elected by this selective extra-judicial law as the President of Pakistant.

    This has backfired and these politicians will now just have to prove their innocence in courts so whats your problem in the west? Why does it bother you?

    Oh I forgot these are the same countries that support Karzai and are ready to lie about Iraq and then attack a poor small country. Yes I forget imperialism is still fresh and alive in this world!!!

  • james267

    As long Pakistan continues the fight against militants, they help prevent terrioism from spreading and and gaining a foothold. What's amazing though is that by making your government stronger, you can begin to defeat the insurgents…..

    Niche Blueprint 2