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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2524

Political Scene in Pakistan

By Dr.Abdul Ruff Colachal,

Amid “terror attacks” killing many in the country, Pakistan's parliament convened on March 17, as promised by President Pervez Musharraf, and within minutes, it was apparent that the session in the coming days will devolve into a showdown between the newly-elected lawmakers and beleaguered President Musharraf. The opposition lawmakers said they would take their oaths under the constitution "as it was on November 2, 2007." Party members slapped their hands on tables in thunderous applause. Neither Sharif nor Zardari has a seat in the assembly, and they watched the opening day ceremonies from the visitors’ gallery. A party member reminded the assembly how Bhutto used to say that "the ultimate revenge is democracy", that is use people and poll to take revenge on your political opponents.

President Musharraf has termed the convening of the new parliament as a historical event and expressed confidence that Pakistan would continue to make progress on the path of democracy and economic growth. The PPP, which emerged as the largest group with 120 seats in the 342-member House, is set to form government with its coalition partners. According to an agreement signed by the PPP and PML-N, the candidates for prime minister, speaker and deputy speaker will be from the PPP.

Opposition Conclave

Murree Declaration signed on March 09 by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif is an important event and its enforcement could change the course of politics. This is the second most important document signed by the two parties. First was the Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed in 2006, which is regarded as the best piece of paper produced in the country after the 1973 Constitution. Both documents show a bipartisan manner in which the two big parties want to pursue the common objective of democratic and constitutional rule.

Under the Murree Declaration, both parties agreed to restore the judges of the supreme judiciary, including deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry, as it existed on November 3, 2007. The PML-N and its leader Nawaz Sharif have been very vocal on this issue, though they are vague over the issue. The media, civil society, lawyers, the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) and the PML-N are only stressing on the restoration of judges. The issue related to the constitution is only mentioned as a passing remark.

Zardari and Sharif also vowed to uphold the Charter for Democracy, a document that would restore the powers of the prime minister. Many of those powers were stripped away when Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup, including the power to dissolve parliament and appoint military chiefs. In a recent interview with CNN, Pakistani Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum said that Musharraf is legally protected for deposing the justices and other judges following his emergency order on November 3. Qayyum said all of the president's decisions made during a six-week state of emergency are legally protected and that there is no legal way to restore the deposed judges.

Zardari, meanwhile, has showed statesmanship in his attitude to the present regime and future plans. There has been silence in political circles as Asif Ali Zardari announced his positive approach to Musharraf, his relations with Kashmir and India. Zardari has so far played a pro-active role in softening the opposition anger towards Musharraf’s presidency, on the one hand and balancing with opposition interests, on the other.

Premier, Spraker and Deputy

Although there are any aspirants for the top slop, Zardari is all set to be come the premier in due course. After meeting Zardari late on March 17 night, Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) President Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who has been sidelined now for premiership after grooming him initially, said he too had proposed that PPP co-chairman should become prime minister. There was no word from the party on Zardari's reaction to Fahim's proposal. Senior PPP leader Syed Khurshid Ahmad Shah has said that the nominee for premiership will be announced by March 20.

As it is known, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari has also expressed his ambition to assume the premiership as soon as he is cleared of his graft charges and he expects it would take about 3 months. Meanwhile, the Accountability Court No 3, Rawalpindi, acquitted on 14 March Asif Ali Zardari in the BMW car reference, the last corruption reference against him, suspending all the previous orders related to the confiscation of his property. The court, in its judgment, observed that the alleged involvement of Zardari in importing a BMW car from England and evading the customs duty could not be proven. In the BMW case, Zardari was accused of impersonating as a student and importing a 1993 model armored luxury vehicle with the intention to evade duties that caused the national exchequer a loss of Rs 10 million. The Sindh High Court (SHC), in its ruling, had recently directed the attorney-general and the NAB authorities to withdraw the corruption cases filed in Switzerland by the Government of Pakistan, and the SHC would take up the case on March 21. Pakistan media report that Zardari would be the premier.

The Pakistan People's Party on 18 March nominated 51-year-old Fahmida Mirza, a medical graduate, and Faisal Karim Kundi as its candidates for the posts of speaker and deputy speaker respectively of the Lower House of Parliament. Given the majority of the PP-PMLN in the Assembly, Mirza is all set to become the first woman speaker of Pakistan's National Assembly. Polling for the posts will be held through secret ballot at 11 am on March 19 and the new speaker will take charge as custodian of the House the same day. The nominations were made by PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari very late on 17 March night following weeks of consultations with the party's MPs and its allies.

Mirza comes from a political family of Sindh province. She is the wife of Zulfiqar Mirza, a member of the Sindh provincial assembly and a close aide of Zardari. She won in the February 18 polls from the coastal district of Badin. Kundi, who was elected to the National Assembly for the first time, is a youngster who was personally groomed by slain PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto He defeated Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal secretary general Maulana Fazlur Rehman in the polls in the latter's traditional stronghold of Dera Ismail Khan.

Looking to Future ?

Hinting at a eventful Parliament ahead, PML (N) Quaid Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif says the parliament and the incoming coalition government will take decisions in national interest without being influenced from abroad. It is unclear if the coalition could actually get its measures through both houses of parliament. Despite opposition gains in parliamentary elections last month, a coalition led by Musharraf's party retains a considerable number of seats in the Senate.

Even as they take on Musharraf, the new coalition will have to tackle the issue of security in the country. A series of deadly attacks since December has killed more than 400 people, and each week has brought chaos and instability to the nuclear-armed nation.

Under Musharraf, Pakistan has been a key U.S. ally in its battle against the so-called “Islamic extremists”. Washington has reportedly sent billions of dollars in aid to Musharraf's government. The Bush administration's priority for Pakistan is to deprive al Qaeda of the sanctuary it has established along the country's rugged border with Afghanistan, and to reverse the momentum the Taliban has achieved in attacks on both sides of the border. Yet given that many Pakistanis disapprove of the way Musharraf has carried out his end of the "war on terror," analysts say it's unlikely that a new government will move as aggressively on counterterrorism issues as the U.S. would like

An Observation:

By all means, the PPP is all set to form government at the centre with the backing of former premier Nawaz Sharif's PML-N and the Awami National Party, which draws its support from the ethnic Pashtun minority. The combined opposition is five seats short of a two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament, having won a total of 223 seats in the 342-member National Assembly (the PPP has 120 seats, the PML-N 90, and the Awami National Party (ANP) 13 seats). The position of other parties is: Muttahida Qaumi Movement has 25 seats, the Muttahida Majlas-e-Amal six seats, the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional five seats and the Pakistan People's Party-Sherpao, National People's Party and Balochistan National Party-Awami one seat each. The PML-Q, which backs Musharraf, is the third largest group in the National Assembly with 51 seats.

Musharraf imposed a state of emergency and suspended constitutional rule on November 3, 2007. He also amended the constitution soon afterward to provide himself and the military blanket immunity for actions taken during the emergency rule. He shed his uniform heeding to the opinion of the media, international suggestions and assumed the presidency as per the constitution. The conciliatory approach being adopted by PPP toward President Musharraf has undoubtedly has set the stage for a fruitful coordinative administration in Pakistan. This approach, in fact, has helped change the charged political atmosphere in Pakistan. Tension that characterized the political scene of Pakistan until quite recently has calmed down now.

The recent turn of events have reduced the level of tensions in the political field of the contry with the emergence of a new set of issues before the opposition leaders of Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN), now busy debating other crucial issues before the parliament. The leaders are coming together to form the central as well as provincial governments by concentrating on removal of the differences that have cropped up in each party as well as in their negotiations for power-share, rather than fighting with Musharraf right now. Regional turmoil should occupy the full attention of the new House, as much as the economic as well as security matters of a weakening Pakistan, ill-focused by a “friendly” India,

Amid the confusion being generated by the post-poll adjustments made for the final selection of premier and speaker, one thing is becoming amply clear: the opposition led by PP leader Zardari has shelved their major goal of removing Musharraf from presidency, at least for the time being. That is indeed a positive signal for Pakistan and its people; both have suffered a great deal. Musharraf, who has declared his support to the new government, was also elected by constitutional means and is not a threat to legitimate interests of either Pakistan or Kashmir. But a unified leadership is in Pakistan's as well as Kashmir's advantage.

In coming weeks, opposition parties plan to tackle the issues of regional development, economy and security. Does that really mean they are going to evolve a cooperative, constructive mechanism to push the nation ahead, in stead of washing dirty linen in international public?

Dr.Abdul Ruff Colachal, Research Scholar, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

- Asian Tribune -

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