Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is the U.S.'s Ally Zardari on the Ropes in Pakistan?

The NY Times reports that Pakistan PM Asif Ali Zardari is being pilloried in Pakistan's Supreme Court, on the suspicion that he has tried to hang onto $60 million that ought to have been returned to the state's coffers. 

This is hardly the first time that Zardari has had legal problems of this nature.  As the husband of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, his nickname was "Mr. Ten Percent," for the slice of the action he received from various government-related deals.  He became prime minister in his own right largely as the standard-bearer for his wife's legacy after her death, but he has never been regarded as a model of clean, effective leadership.  His days as PM seems to be numbered.

But, such as he is, he's been "our guy" in Islamabad - and, he represents the current, but very fragile, primacy re-established in Pakistan's governance by civilians over the previously long-dominant, still powerful military.  Bear in mind that his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf (now living in exile), was Pakistan's military chief when he became prime minister, and retained that control throughout most of his tenure.  The Bush administration was a big fan of Musharraf (well, at least to the extent that Bush supported him as long as he played ball with what the US wanted in the region) - and that put the US, in the eyes of many Pakistanis, on the wrong side of the cause of civilian-based democracy.

But what if Zardari is ousted (it seems truly only a matter of time)?  What if the military - perhaps in the form of current Chief of Staff Gen. Ashraf Kayani - then tries to reassert its authority by taking effective control of the government?  This is the same military that has become increasingly irked by the US's insistence that it do more to go after the Afghan Taliban, allegedly holed up in Quetta, in the very restive province of Baluchistan.  This is also the same military that - especially within its intelligence service, the ISI - has long regarded and sustained the Afghan Taliban as an asset in Pakistan's seemingly existential struggle with India.

If Zardari is forced out and no truly effective civilian leader replaces him (and there are few on the horizon), and the military reasserts control, does the US embrace them -  and thereby put itself, in the eyes of the people of Pakistan (and the Pakistan Taliban's propaganda meisters), once again on the wrong side of democracy?  Or does the US insist on a more democratic process, and thereby alienate even more the military whose assistance it so desperately needs if Mr. Obama's "Surge" is to have any chance of success?


Mohammad said...

Zardari is and Musharraf was the President of Pakistan and not the Prime Minister!!...

Qurat-ul-ain said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Qurat-ul-ain said...

First of all, Asif Ali Zardari is President of Pakistan not the Prime Minister. The writer was not able to methodize his article. If he doesn’t know whether Zardari is President or Prime Minister then what would be the rest of writing stuff. There are plenty of critics of Zardari and all of them are talking in same tone nowadays. Certainly there are cases which are being heard in Supreme Court of Pakistan but that doesn’t mean he is gone neither one can surmise that he is a goner. President Zardari is being castigated for the mess which was created by Musharraf and his regime in different shapes. NRO was promulgated by Musharraf during his rule and federal cabinet had endorsed it but none of us is trying to realize the background of promulgation of this ordinance. Rumours regarding ouster of President Zardari are spreading and some people on media are trying to flame the situation to help out their own agenda. Zardari has said that he is firm and ready to face courts.

John Robertson said...

My apologies to the two posters who noted my mistake in describing Mr. Zardari as prime minister and not president of Pakistan. I know that he's the president. My error was inadvertent; please chalk it up to carelessness and haste, not ignorance.

I would love to hear more about how much trust and respect Mr. Zardari retains among the Pakistani electorate. My understanding has been that his record of personal corruption (that is, in his business dealings) is well known.



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