Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Asif Ali Zardari, has for almost twenty years and more has been a figure of controversy in the political landscape of that which is modern Pakistan. The widower of Benazir Bhutto now occupies the most powerful office in the land – the presidency of Pakistan. Since winning the election in September 2008; he has presided over what is considered by some as a very fragile country, a growing ‘Islamist’ and militant fundamentalism seen by many as a threat to the West including Obama’s new America. Pakistan is exposed like most countries throughout the world to an economic meltdown which can only add fuel to any future political instability that has famously deposited this south Asian country’s name on many a front page of the worlds newspapers since its independence gained from India in 1947.
The economy is very vulnerable to the present world economic crisis even though the majority of its citizens (165,883,000) remain poor and heavily dependent on the agricultural sector for their livelihoods. Many factors, in particular heavy military spending, continuing sectarian and political violence, have slowed up modern capitalist economic growth or any sort of modernization in comparison to other countries that we in the West would consider compatible or expectable to a 21st centaury way of life. This is the 6th largest populated country in the world, and yet in the age of modern communications and flick a switch technology there are today 34 telephones per 1,000 people. In 2000 there were 14 million radios, and 19 million television sets with 219 daily newspaper titles with an average circulation of over 6 million in a country were 47 per cent are literate.
This is the partial back drop of today’s Pakistan that’s led by Zardari and his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The party interestingly describes itself as a centre-left organisation which is affiliated to the Socialist International. To-date, its leader has always been a member of the Bhutto family; founded in 1967 by Zalfifer Ali Bhutto who was its first Chairman. The party creed is “Islam is our faith; democracy is our politics; socialism is our economy; all power to the people.”
In recent days whilst writing this article; the country has been experiencing political instability and turmoil in regard to the reappointment of former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry, who was sacked by military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf in 2007. In March 2007, Chaudhry refused to submit to pressure from former military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, to quit his office. This instantly brought tens of thousands of people to rally around him in a movement that ultimately led to elections and Mr Musharraf himself being ousted. But the question of his restoration has since undermined an alliance between the two largest parties of the country, namely the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N).
Nawaz Shaif is the other major player here and leader of Nawaz (PML-N) the main opposition party in Pakistan. Its worth while looking briefly at his background as it sheds some light on who is who, but more importantly where they are coming from and who they really represent. Nawaz Shaif was born into the family of prominent Lahoe industrialists; he became prime minister in 1990, but was dismissed in 1993, clearing the way for the then opposition leader, Benzir Bhutto to form a Government.
After becoming prime minister again in 1997 with a comfortable majority, Mr Sharif brought about a series of constitutional changes.
These were seen as an attempt to stifle any institutional opposition to his rule.
He controversially reversed a constitutional amendment which took away the president's powers to dismiss the prime minister.
A power struggle with the judiciary also gripped the country after Mr Sharif fell out with the then Chief Justice, Sajjad Ali Shah.
Mr Sharif faced possible disqualification from office after charges of contempt of court were brought against him, but these were eventually dismissed.
In 1998, he was confronted by another stand-off after a former army head said the army should formally have a say in the running of the government.
Tensions with the army resurfaced in 1999 when the prime minister used his influence to withdraw Pakistani-backed forces from the Indian side of the Line of Control in Kashmir.
The army has always been a highly powerful institution in Pakistan.
Mr Sharif's overthrow by Gen Musharraf showed how dangerous it was for any politician to attempt to curtail its influence. A rightwing, industrialist, Sharif began his political career as a protégé of another US-backed dictator, the infamous General Zia-ul Haq. Under conditions where the US was working closely with the PPP, the PML (N)'s historic rival, Sharif criticized the US on occasion over the past two years for supporting authoritarian rule in Pakistan and violating Pakistan's national sovereignty. But he has always insisted that he stands ready to work with Washington and strongly supports the decades' long alliance between the Pentagon and the Pakistani military.
His removal from active politics and his subsequent imprisonment led to serious differences emerging within his Pakistan Muslim League (PML) party.
These threatened to become an open split with a decision by some senior party members - led by Mr Sharif's wife - to join an opposition alliance against the military.
The move - which would have meant joining forces with arch-rival Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party - was deeply controversial with some party members.
The split became a reality soon after Mr Sharif was sent into exile and the PML-N came into existence. Erstwhile party loyalists, led by veteran politician Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, announced support for Gen Musharraf.Before the 2002 general elections; the rebels formed the PML-Q (Quaid-e-Azam) with a strong pro-Musharraf stance. In 2002 PML-Q was elected and formed the government in 2002 and remained loyal to “Musharraf” until its subsequent defeat in the 2008 elections.
What becomes apparently clear when one scratches the surface of politics in Pakistan is the shear hold or grip that its ruling class has over the institutions of power and wealth concentrated in the hands of only a few from a very much privileged backgrounds in comparison to the millions who live in ever grinding poverty. Sharif has focused his opposition to the PPP government on the judges’ issue; it is precisely because he has no fundamental disagreement with the PPP-led government's support for the Afghan war or its economic policies. In other words this is simply an old fashion power struggle between the families of the political élite.
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