Under pressure from floods and courts, Pakistan's Zardari likely to keep his job
Ongoing confrontation between Pakistan's President Zardari and the high court has raised concerns about political instability, but some analysts say the lack of appetite for change means the government is likely to finish its term.
A longstanding confrontation between Pakistan’s civilian government and highest court over issues of corruption has raised concerns about a potential toppling of President Asif Ali Zardari's government. But the turmoil may not be what it seems.Skip to next paragraph
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The rhetoric on both sides has sharpened in a recent weeks over an ongoing effort to root out widely perceived corruption among politicians and the government.
Last week, Mr. Zardari told supporters he is “not afraid of jail mosquitoes” – a reference to the 13 years he spent behind bars in the 1990s and early 2000s as husband of then-opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, despite never having been convicted on corruption charges.
The Supreme Court, led by the popular Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, meanwhile, continues to loudly chide the government for not implementing its recommendations to fire high-profile ministers.
The so-called clash between the institutions has dominated headlines here and provided fodder for the country’s high-octane nightly news. It also has fueled gossip of imminent regime change among Islamabad’s elite. But for all the apparent drama, and despite the recent news that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) threatened to pull out of the coalition government of President Zardari after some 33 people were killed in politically motivated attacks over the weekend, some analysts here believe that, paradoxically, the country may be experiencing a rare period of political stability.
“For the past two years, we’ve had the same president, same prime minister, chief of Army staff, and chief justice,” notes Cyril Almeida, a political columnist with Dawn, the leading English daily. “That is a Pakistani version of stability.”
What's behind the drama
Last week, Chief Justice Chaudhry instituted a hearing on whether the government was planning to fire a number of judges, based on a television news report that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani swiftly denied and later took to national television to deny once more. Some analysts believe the report may have been a deliberate leak by the government to pressure the judiciary into giving a more lenient judgment.
At the heart of the clash is a controversial decree, known as the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which was passed by former President Pervez Musharraf in 2007. It was part of a political deal that allowed the late Mrs. Bhutto back into the country to contest 2008 elections without having to face charges related to money-laundering and kickbacks on government contracts.
The officials who were protected by the ordinance include Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, and senior diplomats, including Wajid Shamsul Hassan, the ambassador to Britain.