Of its nearly 65 years of turbulent history, Pakistan has been under the military rule for about 40 years. In recent decades, no civilian government has managed to successfully complete its full five-year tenure. Today, history seems to be at the cusp of repeating itself, as there are high chances of a military intervention or a judicial coup or a combination of both.
The current political instability began with 'Memogate', where Pakistan's president secretly sought America's help to prevent his army from ousting his elected government. The situation went from bad to worse when the country's Supreme Court summoned Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and asked him why his government did not act on the court's past order of reopening the cases of alleged money laundering against President Asif Ali Zardari after it had struck down the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) in 2009. The NRO was issued by former president Pervez Musharraf in 2007 and it granted amnesty to politicians and other public officials, who were accused of corruption, money laundering, murder and terrorism, between 1986 and 1999.
It's not surprising that a beleaguered Pakistani government turned to its parliament for support amid apprehensions that its all-powerful army is rallying behind the apex court, rather than staging a coup like the army has done in the past. Thus, battle lines between Pakistan's tottering government and the army-judiciary combine have been firmly drawn and once again the country stands at a defining moment in its chequered existence as a nation-State.
The coming weeks hold a myriad of possibilities for the future of Pakistan. But one thing is almost certain: the days of Zardari-Gilani's Pakistan Peoples Party's rule are numbered. It's possible that mid-term elections will be announced, as some political parties are already working in this direction.
Earlier, in similar circumstances, the Pakistani army would have stepped in and taken charge. But a combination of geopolitical compulsions and the plummeting national economy seems to have cautioned the wily Pakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, from precipitating any crisis. Therefore, rather than leading a coup against his bêtes noires, Zardari and Gilani, he seems to want the Supreme Court to take 'appropriate action' on his behalf.
Gen Kayani's mentor, General Pervez Musharraf, who had boastfully declared that he will return to Pakistan in the last week of January to revive his political career, is pleased with the fact that the army can take over the country in the present situation. This shows how much the army detests parliamentary democracy in Pakistan. But the fear of an attack on his life and arrest on arrival — for the murder of the Baluchi nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Bugti during his tenure, among other charges — seems to have taken the winds out of Musharraf's sails.
However, there are a few significant aspects of the current quagmire that must be given due attention. First, it's perhaps the first time that a prime minister has dared to face the all-powerful army head on. This is indeed a welcome step for Pakistan's democracy and prime minister Yousaf Gilani deserves credit for his display of courage. Second is the emergence of former Pakistan cricketer Imran Khan on the country's political landscape. The fact that he is being supported by the army and radical groups like Jamaat-ud Dawa and its ilk means that Khan will play a crucial political role in the times to come. The fact that he is making all the 'right' noises on Kashmir, America's interference in the region and misgovernance in Pakistan thanks to the Zardari-Gilani duo is music to the army's ears.
India has done a good job of refraining from commenting on the recent developments in Pakistan, as they are essentially that nation's internal problems. But New Delhi cannot remain immune to the changes in our politically-fragile neighbourhood. It must remain vigilant and tighten security on its borders, as the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) has a propensity to stir troubles across the border, especially in Jammu and Kashmir, each time Pakistan becomes politically unstable.
Meanwhile, India should use its soft power to encourage civil society in Pakistan to work towards establishing a genuine democracy.
Kamal Davar was the first chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency and deputy chief, Integrated Defence Staff. The views expressed by the author are personal.