Shopping in Dubai
There is little doubt that Pakistan's army wants Asif Zardari out. Tariq Ali writes.Updated: Dec 08, 2011 21:40 IST
The war in Afghanistan was a potential threat to the stability of the system in Pakistan. Events have long confirmed this view. The US raid on a Pakistani border position a few weeks ago that killed 24 soldiers was only the latest disaster. Motives for the attack remain a mystery but its impact is not. It will create further divisions within the military, further weaken the venal regime of president Asif Ali Zardari, strengthen religious militants and make the US even more hated than it already is in Pakistan.
Was it intended as a provocation? Is Barack Obama seriously thinking of unleashing a civil war in an already battered country? Some commentators in Islamabad are arguing this but it's unlikely that Nato troops will occupy Pakistan. The death of soldiers stirred the mind of the nation to new activity. 'Save us from our friends' is a growing sentiment even within the ruling elite.
The overall effect has been a growth of dissent within the military and the uncovering of related scandals. It was one of these, described as 'memogate', that may have led a frightened Zardari to flee the country to Dubai, supposedly for health reasons. Though why Pakistani doctors in the country are considered inferior to their kin in the Gulf is a question posed by many in the country.
Army doctors who, according to some reports, did examine him said he was "fine". A US government official is reported to have said that Zardari was "incoherent" when he spoke with Obama last weekend. His own official admitted he was unfocused. This too is nothing new.
What of 'memogate'? One of Zardari and his late wife's trusted bagmen in Washington, Husain Haqqani, has been forced to resign. Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the US, appears to have been caught red-handed: he allegedly asked Mansoor Ijaz, a multi-millionaire close to the US defence establishment, to carry a message to Admiral Mike Mullen pleading for help against the Pakistani military and offering in return to disband the Haqqani network and parts of the security service, the Inter-State Intelligence (ISI), and carry out all US instructions, including the possibility of de-nuclearising the State.
Mullen denied that he had received any message. A military underling contradicted him. Mullen changed his story and said a message had been received and ignored. When the ISI discovered this "act of treachery", Haqqani, instead of saying that he was acting under orders from Zardari, denied the entire story. Unfortunately for both men, the ISI boss, General Pasha, had met up with Ijaz and been given the BlackBerry with the messages and instructions. Haqqani had no option but to resign. Demands for his trial and hanging are proliferating. Zardari was, until the flight to Dubai, standing by his man. The military wanted his head. Haqqani's passport has been seized, but his wife, Farahnaz Ispahani, who is also a presidential aide, accompanied Zardari to Dubai.
Exhausted by war and the resultant suicide terrorism within its borders - in the opinion of many bled white economically by Zardari, his cronies and the bubble class that lives in its own world - Pakistan is in a terrible mess, worse than at any time in its recent history. Zardari's status as a widower of the slain Benazir Bhutto propelled him to the presidency. His main function appears to have been to carry out US instructions and make a lot more money. With the amounts he has accumulated over the years he should not be unduly despondent, unless the pending corruption case in Switzerland is re-opened.
There is little doubt that the army want him out. Will they replace him with the prime minister, Yousuf Gilani, as the frontman until the February 2013 elections? Or order a behind-the-scenes dissolution of the existing assembly and install an emergency national government for a year?
Two developments are worth bearing in mind. The Chinese foreign office issued (for them) a sharply worded denunciation of the US attack on the Pakistani border post. The party that is currently leading the opposition is Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, whose most popular pledges are independence from the US and a war on corruption. Never a dull day in Pakistan.
First Published: Dec 08, 2011 21:37 IST