Pakistan's political future questioned after the flood
As Pakistan struggles to recover from what may be the worst flooding in its history, the future of the country's leadership has been called into question.
Will the fallout from the worst natural disaster in Pakistan's history result in the downfall of its fragile civilian government?Skip to next paragraph
That question is front and center as the perception grows among Pakistanis that the government response to flooding has been lackluster and insufficient.
More than 17 million people have been affected by the floods, and about 17 million acres of farmland are under water. Amid the crisis, the military has been out front, driving high-profile rescue efforts with some 60,000 Army troops.
That is turning debate to the question of how best to govern a country that has experienced military rule for roughly half of its 63-year existence. Spurred by dismay over politicians who were slow to address their constituents' needs (and a president who continued to tour Europe as the crisis grew), momentum in favor of military rule appears to be picking up among Pakistan's upper-middle classes – historically the group least likely to favor democracy. "At least the Army gets the job done, unlike the politicians who only seem to care for lining their pockets," says Ali Sajjad, a textiles businessman in the city of Lahore.
Others argue that international disapproval and domestic wariness of the Army after Gen. Pervez Musharraf's military rule, which ended in 2008, will keep a coup at bay. Debate over the political future looks set to continue as the daunting dimensions of recovery from the flood become apparent.
A more functional 'political dispensation' ?
Najam Sethi, editor of the respected Friday Times, recently jumped into the debate, writing that Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani may wish to initiate a "more functional and stable political dispensation." The way Kayani could go about doing that would be either via a coup, he argued, or by replacing the present administration "with a more honest, efficient, and neutral lot," creating a "national unity" government of retired bureaucrats and experts.
Altaf Hussain, a powerful political leader from Karachi, in late August called upon patriotic generals to take "martial law type action" against corrupt and feudal politicians. Mr. Hussain's Muttahida Quami Movement party is a key ally in the present ruling coalition.
"The drumbeat is a familiar one; you see the same calls from the middle classes for accountability and less corruption," says Badar Alam, editor of Pakistan's Herald magazine, who likens the atmosphere to that of 1999, when Musharraf ousted then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
This time, President Asif Ali Zardari's decision to continue his diplomatic trip to Europe as the flooding began enraged ordinary Pakistanis.