Vultures are circling in Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Pakistan is reeling in the wake of a devastating flood, rampant
militancy, bad governance and a crisis between the executive and the judiciary.
Far less testing conditions than these have in the past led the military to
wade in with the imposition of martial law.
General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, the wise and highly literate Pakistan army chief,
who is also well-connected to Washington, is fully cognizant that the country
faces a precarious situation in which a third force - the military - could take
the country out of the quagmire. This is especially so as the southern port
city of Karachi is burning with ethnic and sectarian violence and Baloch
insurgents have forced over 90,000 Punjabis to leave the province
so that the Balochi separatist movement can grow.
All it might take to trigger military intervention is one incendiary incident,
possibly a clash between the judiciary and the government.
This centers on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) passed by the
Pervez Musharraf regime that granted amnesty to politicians, political workers
and bureaucrats who were accused of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering,
murder and terrorism. It was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on
December 16, 2009.
Some politicians and bureaucrats resigned as a result, but many others who had
received amnesty are still in office. On Friday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza
Gilani urged people who took advantage of the NRO to voluntarily resign. This
might affect Interior Minister Rahman Malik and the ambassador to the US,
The main problem, though, relates to President Asif Ali Zardari, who had
benefited from the NRO. After its annulment, the Supreme Court ordered the
government to reopen cases against the president in a Swiss court, where he is
alleged to have misappropriated money. The government defied the order,
claiming that no action could be taken against an incumbent president. However,
constitutional experts believe the Supreme Court will come up with a different
interpretation of presidential immunity.
A ruling against Zardari could bring down the government - and open the way for
the army to intervene.
First, the politics of peace
During Musharraf's regime (2001-2008), the Pakistan army fought a very limited
war against militants; after every operation there was a peace agreement.
However, under Kiani, who took over as army chief in November 2007, the
military has waged all-out war against militants, and they were never offered
an olive branch. The reason was simple - he fought as a soldier without any
However, the situation took an abrupt turn while the army was heavily engaged
with the Afghan Taliban in soliciting them to engage in talks, which are
bearing fruit. Backchannel negotiations began with the al-Qaeda-linked
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (PTT - Pakistani Taliban) in the North Waziristan
This coincides with military operations being shelved in the tribal areas due
to the floods.
Maulana Muhammad Deendar, 80, is no longer active in politics. He is a member
of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) that is part of the coalition government
and an ex-member of parliament. Nonetheless, he is respected by all, including
His astute diplomatic skills have resulted in several ceasefire agreements in
the past between militants and the military. This year, when the flood played
havoc in Pakistan and militants began to mobilize, Deendar's services were once
again requested by the Pakistan military and once again he worked a miracle.
Despite all of al-Qaeda's clout, he brought the military and the PTT together
to work on a peace agreement.
Yar Muhammad, Mohammadullah and Waqas belonged to the PTT were released from
the detention of the Frontier Corps, and FC's personnel Noor Wali and Shakeel
were freed in return by the Taliban last week. This marks the beginning of a
peace agreement between the previous arch-rivals of the PTT and the Pakistan
army. The swap was carried out after prolonged negotiations between the
militants and the military, through Deendar.
If the peace process begun in North Waziristan continues without interruption,
it could help the country both domestically and internationally.
At the international level, it helps Pakistan isolate al-Qaeda while it engages
the Afghan Taliban on one side and Pakistani militants on the other. And on the
domestic front, it gives the country breathing space to disengage from war and
focus on domestic politics to defuse any event that could trigger military
intervention, not necessarily a coup, but an arrangement under the constitution
that would allow the military to intervene in running the country.
Setting up the political stage
Kingri House in Karachi is the home of veteran politician Syed Shah Mardan Shah
Pir Pagaro II, a spiritual guide and the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League.
His great-grandfather was a lieutenant of Syed Ahmad Brelvi, the founder of the
jihad movement in South Asia and his father was executed by the British
Pagaro was sent to Oxford University as compensation by the British government
and after the partition of British India in 1947, Pakistanís first prime
minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, brought Pagaro back to Pakistan to lead the
spiritual legacy of his family and disciples known as Hur (independent and
brave). Pagaro's disciples always supported the Pakistan army during its fights
against India and always provided support to all military governments. Pagaro
proudly call himself "a representative of GHQ" (military headquarters).
When the clash between the judiciary and the government began, Pagaro's
residence became the hub of all political wheeling and dealing.
Sheikh Rasheed, a former Musharraf cabinet minister was one of the first to
visit Pagaro, followed by other politicians from Musharraf's administration.
The president of the former "king's" party the Pakistan Muslim League
Quaid-e-Azam, Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain, along with the secretary general of
the party Mushahid Hussain Syed, announced the merger of the party with
Pagaroís Muslim League (Functional group). Pagaro publicly announced that he
expected cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan would soon join the new
International players like Nasir Lotha, a businessman and a member of the royal
family in the United Arab Emirates, also visited Karachi and hosted dinners for
other visiting political personalities.
Meanwhile, at General Headquarters Rawalpindi Kiani met with opposition leader
Sheikh Rasheed, constitutional expert and former law minister S M Zafar, and a
former minister, Ameer Muqam.
In a separate development, Pakistan proposes to raise defense spending 61% to
552 billion rupees (US$6.4 billion) in the year to next June, after adding a
further 25%, or 110 billion rupees, to the amount already approved by
parliament for this financial year. About 343 billion rupees were allocated in
the 2009-10 budget.
The latest increase was disclosed last week when the International Monetary
Fund released the government's revised budget projections. Neither the
government nor the military "has seen fit to divulge any details, making it
difficult to comment on the need for such an extraordinary increase", Dawn
newspaper commented on Friday.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at email@example.com