Pakistani power struggle flares up
Protesters rallied in several cities after a court banned popular opposition leader Nawaz Sharif from running for office.
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The ruling party denies involvement. "Neither the president nor the federal government had anything to do with the Supreme Court verdict," said PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar. He noted that the PPP-led government had appealed on Sharif's behalf.Skip to next paragraph
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But that's not the public's perception, particularly in Punjab Province, the power base of Sharif's PML-N party. The government's decision to implement direct rule over Punjab in the wake of the decision rankled.
"It shows they have no love for democracy," Saba Jamil, a Lahore resident reacting to the barring of lawmakers from the provincial assembly. "What's the difference now between Zardari and Musharraf?"
A main street, Mall Road, was shut for trading as protesters chanted slogans and tore down posters of Zardari – though they mostly avoided touching depictions of Benazir Bhutto, his late wife and a former prime minister. Smoke from burning tires billowed into the sky.
Efforts by the US to work closely with Zardari have also eaten away at popular support for the government, say some experts.
"The kind of support he's getting out of Washington is making him more reckless," says Asma Jehangir, a prominent activist lawyer. "This kind of support for individuals within the government by the US is extremely unhelpful."
Popular perception in Pakistan is that Washington actually prefers working through a leader like Zardari, who has weakened public support, because such leaders are more reliant on US support.
But the ability of Zardari to chip away at the central concern of Washington – the militant havens along the Afghan border – is deeply diminished by his lack of popularity, argues Khalid Rahman, director of the Institute for Policy Studies in Islamabad.
"While Zardari has been trying to appease whatever pressure has been coming from outside, as far as the ground situation is concerned, he can't expect a sustained resolution of the issues from an unpopular government and unpopular ruler," says Mr. Rahman.
Pakistan's internal politics have already affected efforts to combat the Taliban with the controversial truce struck earlier this month in Swat in exchange for implementing Islamic law. The regional party that rules the restive North West Frontier Province threatened to withdraw from its coalition with the PPP if the central government didn't sign off on the plan, says Ismail Khan, Peshawar bureau chief for the English-language newspaper Dawn.
How the situation unfolds from here depends largely on the impact of next month's marches, says Rahman. One possibility is that the protests will compel the government to remove all of Musharraf's appointed judges and restore those he sacked. If that doesn't happen, he sees the possibility of fresh elections and a new government within four to six months.