Pakistan's political crisis could complicate fight against Taliban

The Pakistan political crisis worries the US government, which considers a strong Pakistan government key to winning its war in neighboring Afghanistan.

AP Photo
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, left, walks with his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani, right, upon his arrival at Chaklala airbase in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Dec. 17, 2010.

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Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani talked to opposition leaders Monday in an attempt to keep his government afloat after a key party left his coalition. The political upheaval could distract the government from its fight against militant groups, including the Taliban.

The US considers Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting the Taliban key to winning its war in neighboring Afghanistan, and will not be pleased by a government too weak, unpopular, or preoccupied to concentrate on the task.

Bloomberg reports that Mr. Gilani, of the Pakistan’s People’s Party, talked with the leader of the second-largest opposition group in Parliament Monday after the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) left Gilani’s ruling coalition the same day. The departure left the coalition without a parliamentary majority. The MQM’s departure is a second blow after a smaller party, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, left the coalition last month.

The Washington Post reports that even if Gilani’s party is able to keep its government from collapsing, the crisis will weaken it, “diverting attention” from its fight against the Taliban.

The United States, which has pumped military aid into Pakistan since 2001, pledged billions of dollars in 2009 to help shore up the civilian government, whose stability the Obama administration views as key to success in the Afghanistan war. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are based in Pakistan's border region, from where they launch attacks on NATO troops. But homegrown militants pose a rising threat to the Pakistani state.

The Post adds that widespread popular anger at the government – which could happen if legislative deadlock occurs – has in the past led to military coups in Pakistan.

The government of nuclear-armed Pakistan has no control over large parts of the country, where militant groups like the Taliban are strong. Government offensives against the group have failed to dislodge it, despite repeated claims of success, the Monitor reported. Such groups are still able to launch attacks, such as a suicide bombing by a female in the northwest tribal areas last month that killed at least 45.

Gilani also talked Monday with the younger brother of opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, reports the New York Times.

Pakistani daily Dawn reports that Gilani asserted that the “government will remain intact” even without its coalition partners. The MQM and other opposition parties have said they will not call a no-confidence vote, which could oust Gilani and lead to early elections. But Bloomberg notes that the government’s unpopularity will make it difficult for Gilani to find new partners. High inflation, lack of services, and the fight against insurgencies have all contributed to popular criticism of the government. MQM said it left the coalition over “bad governance” and a hefty hike on gasoline prices the previous day.

Pakistan’s political crisis may also harm its ability to implement reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in return for an $11 billion loan. The IMF had asked Pakistan to broaden its tax base. But “The government can forget pushing its bill for tax reforms after yesterday,” said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a professor at the University of Management Sciences in Lahore, reports Bloomberg.

Reuters reports that the possibility of an early election “would make it even harder for the government to tighten fiscal discipline to meet the requirements of the loan programme, which is increasingly critical for Pakistan as it grapples with a widening fiscal deficit and summer flood devastation.”

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