Q&A with Ahmed Rashid: What's going on with Pakistan's prime minister?

Pakistani analyst Ahmed Rashid helps unpack the sudden dismissal of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and what it could mean for Pakistani democracy and US relations. 

B.K. Bangash/AP
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, center, waves upon his arrival at the Supreme Court for a hearing in Islamabad, Pakistan, April 26.

Pakistan's Supreme Court ruled that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was "disqualified" from holding office two months after finding him guilty of contempt of court today.

Mr. Gilani had defied a court order to reopen a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari, who belongs to the same political party as Gilani. This means that Pakistan effectively has no prime minister. 

The Monitor called up veteran political analyst Ahmed Rashid, author of "The Taliban," to ask him what this means and what the effects could be for Pakistan and its allies, including the United States

What just happened?

Prime Minister Gilani has been removed from office by the Supreme Court, and he will step down.

It now depends on President [Ali] Zardari to name a successor. The PPP [Pakistan People’s Party] has accepted that Gilani will step down, and tomorrow Mr. Zardari will appoint a new prime minister from the PPP. He will then be elected by the party as the new prime minister.

In the short term, the crisis will be resolved quite soon. But in the long term, the situation remains quite serious. There are huge questions of whether the court has the legal justification to overthrow a sitting government in this manner. We could be faced with the consequences of this for years to come. If Zardari agrees with this process, he could become vulnerable himself to corruption charges.

How might this get resolved: with new elections? With a replacement appointee?

There will be enormous pressure for Zardari to call early elections. Elections were scheduled for spring of next year, but there may be pressure to bring them [at] the end of this year.

Right now we don’t know the role of the army in all this. There have been claims that the army is behind the courts. At present the army will prefer to stay behind the scenes, but if the crisis escalates, they could take a bigger role.

It is quite possible that even if elections are held in the long term, the conflict between Zardari and the courts is likely to continue.

What does this mean for Pakistani democracy? Is this a backdoor coup?

I hope there isn’t a military intervention. Most people want elections soon, so that we can have a new government, with a new mandate, which can take power and provide a chance for Pakistan to come out of this political crisis.

Remember, this is just the political crisis. We also have an economic crisis, we have a civil war in Balochistan [the western region of Pakistan, which borders Iran] and we have a civil war in the NWFP [the North West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan].

We need a whole raft of issues to be addressed, and one way to get a government that can do this is through new elections.

What is this going to mean for the US-Pakistan relationship?

The diverse crises in this country have overwhelmed any kind of restoration of Pakistan’s relationship with the United States. The eminent crisis, for Pakistan, is not the relationship with the US, but rather, it’s the political and economic crisis.

The point at which Pakistan can deal with the restoration of relations with the United States is when Pakistan holds elections. Then we can talk about the US relationship.

What will this mean for regional security and the draw-down of US forces in Afghanistan?

I would like to see a restoration of better relations with the US so Pakistan can play a role in helping the US withdraw from Afghanistan, and to bring some peace and stability to the region. But this will be indefinitely delayed because of the political crisis.

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