All hope that Pakistan could be in for a welcome round of civilian rule appears to be fast dissipating as the ruling coalition has crumbled.
From the moment the unlikely alliance of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) headed by Asif Ali Zardari and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif at the helm was cobbled together, the one point agenda was to oust Pervez Musharraf from his position as head of government. With his ouster, it was expected that the army’s importance in Pakistan’s politics would wane, strengthening the civilian administration. Unfortunately, this has proved to be a mirage.
Mr Sharif has pulled out of the coalition owing to differences on the reinstatement of judges whom Gen. Musharraf had dismissed. The fact that these issues have fractured the coalition shows how uneasy both the parties are with each other.
The PML(N) has had a history of animosity with the PPP when the late Benazir Bhutto was leading it. Some of that baggage still remains. This bickering between the two parties gives the army an opportunity to consolidate its grip on the polity even more. Gen. Musharraf may have stepped aside, but let’s not forget that the army is under the leadership of his handpicked successor, Ashfaq Kayani.
Experts have long argued that Pakistan needs to get away from the army’s vise-like grip. And Musharraf’s departure should have been the beginning of this process. Latest developments, however, suggest that in the absence of any administration worth its name, fundamentalists may have regrouped. In the week after Musharraf stepped down, at least 50 insurgents were killed in clashes with securitymen in lawless tribal areas.
The worrying question for neighbours like India, who are affected by the turmoil in Pakistan, is whom to talk to. With the leaders of the civilian government barely talking to each other, New Delhi has to figure out how to carry forward the peace process begun earlier this year.
What lies ahead for Pakistan is anyone’s guess at the moment. The only hope seems to be Mr Zardari’s conciliatory gesture to Mr Sharif, asking him to put the country before their problems and invoking the name of his late wife whom most Pakistanis consider a martyr for the cause of democracy.