Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Pakistan’s Political Rivalry Turns Serious: Zadari-Sharif Rift Causes Nation-Wide Protests; Sharif Under House Arrest

Posted by K.E. White on March 15, 2009

A consequential weekend is brewing in Pakistan: fueled by divisions over the Supreme Court, Pakistan’s opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has called on supporters to publicly protest President Asif Ali Zardari.

How serious is this? Well Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just had an “unusually long [phone] conversation with Zardari and Sharif” urging the two leaders to find common ground and avoid “another roud of political instability in Pakistan”. [Times of India article]

Clinton’s comes amidst reports that Sharif Sharif has been put under house-arrest. This latest escalation comes after Sharif’s public outcry against the Zardari-appointed Supreme Court’s ruling barring him from public office in Pakistan.

Is there a better to alienate a rival political party than by summarily banning its leader from future election? To be fair, Zardari has yet to completely emulate past practices: former President Prevez Musharraf took the additional step of exiling political foes.

From the Washington Post:

As the political brinkmanship continued, police in the capital prepared to stop protesters from reaching the city Sunday, and the army remained on alert. Officials blocked highways with huge shipping containers, and flights were grounded.

But thousands of opposition supporters, egged on by Nawaz Sharif and a national lawyers’ movement, continued streaming toward Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, where they rallied by torchlight in the darkened city and prepared to leave Sunday morning for their “long march” on the capital. They have vowed to demonstrate until Zardari restores a group of deposed senior judges.

Despite Zardari’s late-night offer, analysts said the confrontation in this nation of 172 million appeared to have gone too far to be defused.

The struggle centers around Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, the former chief justice of Pakistan who was fired two years ago by Pervez Musharaff. His removal triggered wide-spread disaffection which lead to Musharaff’s removal, but Zardari has yet to reappoint him to the Supreme Court. Hence the  two leading liberal parties of Pakistan, Zardari’s PPP and Sharif’s PML-N, are at one another’s throats.

Why? WaPo reports:

Many Pakistanis say Zardari fears that Chaudhry would reopen old court cases against him and nullify many of his year-old government’s actions. Analysts said Zardari’s stand has also been strengthened by U.S. ambivalence about the former justice, an unpredictable maverick who has questioned the disappearance of terrorism suspects.

At the gathering in Raiwind, Sharif related a history of broken promises by the president and said he had reneged on a Charter of Democracy both men had signed to create a civilian government one year ago.

“We were trying to bring Pakistan out of a dictatorial regime. It was the first time in our history that the two major parties had gotten together. But Mr. Zardari kept backing out of his promises,” Sharif told the journalists here. “I am not joining the long march to reach the presidency only to bring back the independent judiciary.” But if Zardari “pushes us to the wall,” he added, “we will not go home and be silent.”

Aides to Sharif said he plans to join the march, in which caravans of vehicles will set out from a lawyers’ association office in the Lahore High Court complex. But police are expected to stop the procession, as they have been blocking caravans from other cities all week, and Sharif could well be placed under house arrest.

It appears the two leading liberal parties of Pakistan are on the verge of a violent altercation—a worrisome development for Pakistan’s young and fragile democracy. Such divides were how former President Musharaff climbed to power in 1999.

So how is current Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani reacting to Pakistan’s lastest affray?

Not well; but in an interview last Friday US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen stated that Kayani is “committed to a civilian government” in Pakistan.

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