Pakistani Lawmakers Vote in Support of ‘Democracy’
January 17, 2012
By: Garrett Nada | Printer Friendly
On January 16, Pakistani lawmakers passed a resolution generally supporting the country’s democratic system, which had a calming effect on the tensions between civilian and military leaders that flared up in November over the Washington Post’s publication of a supposedly confidential memo warning of a military coup and asking for the United States’ (US) “direct intervention” to prevent it. According to the Associated Press, the resolution pledged “full confidence and trust” in the political leadership and reiterated that all state institutions must act within the limits of the constitution, hinting at the army’s attempt to get involved in politics.
Since Pakistan’s founding in 1947, its army has been one of the strongest state institutions. According to the BBC, the whole country has been placed under martial law three times (1958, 1969 and 1977) and the army led coups against the civilian government in 1958, 1977 and 1999. No civilian government has ever completed a full term in Pakistan. Even when the army has not been in direct control of the country, it has exerted considerable influence over the civilian government and acted with impunity at times.
The relationship between the military and civilian government has been particularly strained ever since the killing of Osama Bin Ladin in May 2011 and the NATO airstrikes in November 2011 that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border. This weekend though, ahead of the democracy resolution vote, a number of meetings between army officials and politicians have taken place, including one with President Zardari and Army Chief General Kayani, which may suggest that relations are improving.
Given Pakistan’s history of coups, the threat of a coup cannot be dismissed outright. However, according to CNN, most analysts say a military takeover is “highly unlikely this time around.” Reza Sayah cites five reasons for why there will not be a coup; the public will not support a military takeover, the Pakistani news media is watching the situation closely, the independent judiciary is also watching, Pakistan’s key allies (including the United States and Saudi Arabia) will not support a coup, and finally, the army has safer options. The army may wait for the next round of elections to see what will happen or the Supreme Court may oust Zardari without the army’s help.
Despite the unlikelihood of a coup, there is a possibility that the government will fall without army intervention. The Pakistani Supreme Court is currently investigating the unsigned memo in question. According to CNN, Zardari’s government could be in danger of being ousted if the court finds evidence of government involvement. He, along with thousands of other politicians and bureaucrats, also faces pressure from the court on old corruption charges that also could pose a threat. Former President Musharraf granted politicians amnesty by a decree in 2007, but in 2009 the Supreme Court ruled that the decree was unconstitutional. Up until now, the government has not attempted to reopen the cases. The court recently threatened to censure the government if it did not take action, a sign that the judiciary is growing more assertive.
Prime Minister Gilani has already been charged with contempt by the court. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the charge also relates to the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision to rule Musharraf’s amnesty decree unconstitutional. Gilani has agreed to appear in court, “out of respect for the institution,” but has not guaranteed that he will obey the court’s orders. If convicted, he faces a possible prison term and the loss of his position. Gilani warns though, that if his government falls due to a judicial decision that other institutions will also suffer.
Asian News International reported that in order to avoid escalating the current political crisis, President Zardari has agreed to an opposition demand to hold early elections as early as this fall. Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif is thought to be pushing for an earlier date, taking advantage of Zardari’s precarious position. According to Voice of America, the Pakistani parliament is also currently reviewing its relationship with the US in the aftermath of the November NATO airstrikes. The Pakistani government delayed a visit by US Special Envoy Marc Grossman until the review is completed, suggesting that relations between the two countries has hit a low point.
For previous news on Pakistan, please see:
Pakistani President Vows to Fight for Democracy
The Washington Post - In Pakistan, a deep civil-military divide
CNN - Amid tensions, Pakistani lawmakers vote to support 'democracy'
BBC - Pakistan's army and its history of politics
CNN - Five reasons why the army won't take over Pakistan
The Sydney Morning Herald - Election may be only political circuit-breaker
VOA - Pakistan Delays US Envoy's Visit