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Power Struggles in Pakistan

Tanveer Jafri, July 23, 2009

Supporters of former Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif dance outside the Supreme Court building in Islamabad on May 26 after a court verdict suspended a ban on Sharif from holding office and contesting elections. (Photo: Aamir Qureshi/ AFP-Getty Images)

At last, Pakistan's Supreme Court has granted a major relief to the former Pakistan prime minister and chief of the Pakistan Muslim League, Nawaz Sharif, by removing the bar on his right to contest elections. This decision of the court was not only awaited but expected.

Sharif exerted pressure on President Asif Ali Zardari by organizing a long march for the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhary and other judges who were removed by former President Parvez Musharraf, and Zardari bowed to the pressure. Since then it was felt that the judiciary would pay back Sharif for his support. Some in Pakistan are calling it a victory for democracy.

This case dates back to 1999 when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif denied the landing of General Parvez Musharraf's plane at Karachi Airport, directing it to land at Nawabshah Airport in South Sindh Province. Musharraf responded by imposing a coup d'├ętat and tried Sharif in an anti-terrorism court with the charge of attempted plane hijacking. Musharraf said that because there was not enough fuel in his plane to go beyond Karachi, this put the plane in danger of a crash.

The anti-terrorism court of the Sindh High Court sentenced Sharif to life imprisonment, and he was barred from holding any government post or contesting elections. As a result of mediation by the king of Saudi Arabia, Sharif was exiled from Pakistan, and he and his brother took refuge in Saudi Arabia. Only after great struggle and international pressure, Sharif was cleared to return to Pakistan. But during the last elections, he wasn't able to contest in view of the judicial order.

Pakistan is not only engaged in fighting terrorism, it is also fighting to keep power from being too centralized. This nation of about 180 million people has been a victim of different power centers since its inception in 1947. A long string of political leaders have sought to establish Pakistan as one of the influential democracies of the world, and each time they have met adversity from within.

The judiciary of Pakistan, for one, considers itself an important axis of power. It has been clear from the showdown between Musharraf and Justice Choudhary that the judiciary believes it has no less authority than the Pakistani president, whereas Musharraf, by removing Justice Choudhary and other judges, tried to convey that the orders of the president are supreme.

The Pakistan army also has its eyes on the country's rule. The army believes that the rule of the nation can be trusted with the military alone, not in the hands of a civilian government. Pakistan has a long history of coup d'├ętats and Marshal Law. From 1958 to 1971, there was military rule. In 1972, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was made the first martial law administrator with the consent of the army. In 1977, General Zia Ul Haq imposed military rule by throwing out Bhutto. He ruled for over a decade. During this period, the nurseries of extremism and terrorism developed in the name of religion.

Then in 1999, General Parvez Musharraf snatched power form the democratically elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It is said that after getting power, the Pakistan army concentrates on two things. The first is how to retain power. The second is how to take care of American interests.

Four months ago, clouds of a military coup could be seen again. On March 9, Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani alerted President Zardari about the increasing influence of Taliban and asked him to handle the situation within one week. At that time, it seemed that another coup was not so far away.

Pakistan's intelligence agency, the I.S.I., can be viewed as another power center. Although it holds no power directly, the I.S.I. has always made attempts to impose its decisions on the government. An important reason for this is that the top officials of the Pakistan army are usually appointed to the I.S.I. Thus, their mindset resembles that of the army.

Another power center in Pakistan is the body of organizations and political parties that are supporters and patrons of extremist ideology. Taliban and Tehrik-e-Taliban are extended forms of this ideology. These organizations seek to extend their control over Pakistan and its nuclear weapons by challenging all the power centers mentioned above.

Pakistan is currently passing through troubled waters, entrapped in the bed of terrorism it nurtured on the direction of the U.S. for the purpose of spreading disturbances in other countries. Because of this, Pakistan has been accused of giving a bad name to the entire Muslim world by spreading terror in the name of Islam. Today, Pakistan is being compelled by the whole world, including the United States, to control terrorism. The people of Pakistan are too disturbed by the regular occurring terror and suicidal attacks. India is also pressuring it to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 to justice.

In the midst of prevailing negative circumstances, the fight for power inside the country continues. Now it is to be seen whether Sharif will capture power from Zardari by showing his capability, or whether General Kayani will follow the tradition of his predecessors and impose military rule. Whatever the case, India always supports a clean, transparent and democratic arrangement in Pakistan, and it hopes for a bright future for the people of Pakistan.

Tanveer Jafri is a columnist based in India who has been published in dozens of newspapers and portals in India and abroad. Jafri is also a devoted social activist for world peace, unity, integrity and global brotherhood. He is a member of Haryana Sahitya Academy and Haryana Urdu Academy.

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