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.
(Page 2 of 2)
Though some political leaders, such as the prime minister, have been visible, politicians across the spectrum have taken hits for failing to return to their constituencies quickly after the crisis began.Skip to next paragraph
"The chattering classes have been saying this can't go on, and that Zardari has to be removed," says Ayaz Amir, an opposition member of parliament. "The stock of the government, which was not very high to begin with, has fallen pretty low. Fewer and fewer people are taking Zardari seriously," he says, referring to interviews Mr. Zardari gave to the foreign press that were widely perceived as muddled.
But could the Army handle the responsibility?
Still, says Mr. Amir, the scale of the disaster is such that the burden of leadership may be too much for the Army. "Any government will fall short of what is required or what people expect," he says, "even if we had the most perfect government."
"The Army's profile is going up," Amir continues. "Its PR is going up. When Kayani undertakes a visit, it's much better choreographed, and that creates an impression that the Army is really much more efficient, although we have no tabulated figures on the relief effort taken by the Army or the impact on the overall situation."
He doesn't think the Army would step in. "I think they are pretty happy and pretty comfortable seeing the civilian process bleed like this," he says.
Army takeover could be problematic
Internationally, a military takeover would be viewed adversely and could hurt the fight against the Taliban, says retired Army Gen. Talat Masood, now a security analyst. "It may be possible that if President Zardari continues to make major blunders, like he did while the floods were ravaging the country, that may result in everyone deciding he's had his innings," he says. But, he adds: "The military is already overstretched without having to deal with running the country. Militants would be very pleased if a thing like that happened."
The Army's image took a hit when Musharraf plunged the country into a judicial crisis in 2007. It has begun to improve in the past two years after its moderate success against the Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan. Such hard-won respect isn't likely to be risked so early.
[Editor's note: the original version of this story misstated the year the country plunged into judicial crisis.]
And Kayani, regarded as a consummate professional, probably knows "what the limitations in any misadventure may be," and the international approbation Pakistan could face, particularly from Europe, if the democratically elected civilian government were thrown out.
It is possible that part of the discourse is manufactured by those with an interest in a nondemocratic setup. "The massive devastation caused by a natural disaster is simply being manipulated by wanna-be ministers in a wished-for unelected setup," says Farahnaz Ispahani, a senior parliamentarian from the ruling party and Zardari's spokeswoman.
In the end, Pakistan's military may decide it prefers to remain seen and not heard: "The Army still controls substantial parts of the government in Pakistan; they get to call the shots both domestically and internationally," argues a Western diplomat who asked not to be named.
As evidence he cites Pakistan's ever-growing defense budget and the widely held view that the nation's defense and foreign policy come under the purview of the Army. "When they can get the same results behind the scenes," he says, "why come on the scene?"