The continuing tension between the civilian government and the army in Pakistan has reached a crescendo with prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani drifting further apart. In the meantime, two key functionaries of the elected government, Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari have been indicted by the Supreme Court (SC) and this stand-off (government versus the SC) will only help the army.
The SC is angry with Gilani because he deliberately ignored the court's directive on reopening alleged cases of money laundering against President Zardari. As a result of these frictions, political stability and peace is proving to be elusive for Pakistan. Unfortunately, the country is also passing through the worst phase of civil disorder thanks to repeated terrorist attacks, and is being called a 'failed State' by many political analysts.
Since the creation of Pakistan, the army has never cared about the sanctity of elected governments or democracy and has always wielded the upper hand in the country's politics. They have only been helped by the country's corrupt and incompetent politicians. These politicians have never had the courage to face the army generals because they have been busy filling their coffers. The successive failures of the civilian governments - most of them have had very short tenure - have been an important political issue for Pakistan.
The latest round of a war of words between the ruling Pakistan Peoples' Party government and the army, which erupted on Wednesday, happened because the government decided to sack defence secretary Lt General (retired) Naeem Khalid Lodhi. The former secretary is known to be close to General Kayani. Lodhi had earlier, in his reply to the Supreme Court in the Memogate case, said that the government did not have 'operational control' over the army and its intelligence arm, the Inter-Services Intelligence. Naturally, the government had no option but to dismiss him from service. But the army issued a stern warning to the government, warning it of "grievous consequences". Not only that, the army, continuing with its old practice of insubordination, refused to cooperate with the newly-appointed defence secretary. The continuing standoff between the two has led to fears of another coup in the country. The army has reinforced these fears by appointing a new brigadier, Sarfaraz Ali, as the new 111 Brigade Commander, which has been known to be a part of military takeovers in the country.
Some analysts feel that Gilani's aggressive posturing against the military is well-planned: he wants to instigate the army to stage a coup so that he may go down as a 'shaheed'.
But this confrontation cannot last for long because the key figures from both sides involved in this power struggle might have to quit as a compromise solution. Another likely scenario is a change in the present political set up by a different one or holding fresh elections prior to its fixed schedule in 2013.
But, the instability in Pakistan does not augur well because many diverse and contentious issues, internal as well as external, are enmeshed in the religio-political-cum-military system of governance in Pakistan. The instability in Pakistan may be favourable to the army. In any case, the political forces will never be able to unite due to their differences and can never force the army to remain confined to the barracks. Further, since the army has always been the preferred choice of the hardliners and the US, the destiny of Pakistan, today, lies in the hands of the army, which has all along been eager to capture political power.
Sudhanshu Tripathi is associate professor of political science, MDPG College, Pratapgarh (Uttar Pradesh)
The views expressed by the author are personal