Pakistan: PPP itself will not want the new PM to last long

By: Shubham Ghosh
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Pakistan's democracy gets a new premier but the way the latest political drama unfolded, it clearly shows what a sham the popular system of governance is in our western neighbour. The country had to struggle to find a replacement for Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was recently disqualified by the country's Supreme Court for flouting its order of not reopening graft cases lodged against the President, Asif Ali Zardari. The entire nation, it seems lacks a single clean politician to wear the PM's mantle.

New PM 'tainted' too

Even the new incumbent, Raja Pervez Ashraf, a Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader from Rawalpindi, is not above corruption charges. Nicknamed 'Raja Rental' by the Pakistan media for overseeing expensive rental power projects that produced very little, Ashraf had been a under-performer as the country's water and power minister. His power as the water and power minister was also revoked by the court in Feb 2011. He was, however, not the first choice for the PM's post but the PPP projected him after an arrest warrant was issued against Maqdoom Shahabuddin over an alleged drug scam, who looked certain to become Gilani's successor till then.

Ugly power struggle continues

Power struggle in Pakistan will be as ugly as ever. The civilian government has been brittle as ever for the country never saw evolution of a democratic political culture. Created to cater to an individual's idealism, the country was thrown into the folds of unscrupulous opportunists soon after independence and the inefficient civilian rulers gave an opportunity to other forces like the army and judiciary to intervene. Since then, the civilian government has remained a poor second in the race for power. From Iskander Mirza till Yousuf Raza Gilani, civilian leaders have been successfully uprooted by other centres of power, denying very little chance to democracy.

How long will Ashraf survive?

Now, the big question is: How long will Ashraf survive at the top post which is not really at the top. He has pledged to maintain cordial relations with the opposition, the US, China, India, the EU and the Islamic world in foreign relations and to ensure free, fair and transparent elections next year. He also said his priorities would be Baloch insurgency, inflation and power crisis on the domestic front. Sounds good but the reality is that, after Gilani's ouster, the boosted anti-PPP forces would not delay to dethrone the new 'puppet-king'.

PPP will continue to pay for Zardari

What worsens the situation more is the very PPP. In a state of siege from within, thanks to Zardari himself, a leader who was once called 'Mr Ten Per cent' for his alleged indulgence in financial irregularities during his late wife Benazir Bhutto's premiership in the early 1990s. With a maligned leadership at the helm, the PPP is in a weaker position to fight back to an advancing judiciary or army. Politics of confrontation is the last thing the PPP want, said the new PM for if that leads to a bigger turmoil resulting in the PPP losing the power, Zardari's problems would be worse. Sacrificing a pawn or two for the king is a better bet.

Longer the turmoil, the better

Ashraf's nomination also reinstates that. Observers say the PPP intentionally chose a candidate like Ashraf knowing he would not continue in office for long. It would pick insignificant and corrupt men for that would keep the judiciary and the army busy fighting lesser battles and the media attention would remain diverted from the more substantial problems that the country is facing. Meanwhile, Zardari would help to get a breather and by the time the new election-time comes, the PPP would project the judicial activism and army action against its incumbents as a poll plank to gain popular sympathy.

A failed Pakistan will be dangerous

Opportunists will continue to exploit the political turmoil in Pakistan to make private profits, but the country will be pushed more into the brink. If Pakistan, a country with much geopolitical importance and nuclear capability, continues as a failed state, both politically and financially, the entire region could witness dangerous consequences. The Afghanistan situation is still volatile and with the US deciding to pull out from there by 2014, it would only worsen. The Taliban and other terrorist forces, with regaining prominence in Afghanistan bordered by a rudderless state of Pakistan, would be more than happy. And for New Delhi, any crisis to its west would give it sleepless nights for sure.

Gilani's comparatively stable regime of four years was hinting at a positive push to the Indo-Pak issues, particularly in economic terms, and the sudden disappearance of Gilani would again create a vacuum. The peace initiative was gaining momentum and an overall strategic shift could be noticed in the bilateral relations. The latest crisis in and an uncertain future in Pakistan could damage all the good work. Pakistan-US relations could also be badly affected for already they were at an all-time low.

End of hope?

It took the death of a popular leader, Benazir Bhutto, for Pakistan to make a remarkable though slow transition to a comparative political stability. Now, with things looking down again, it seems Pakistan was set for its voyage into darkness again. What is even more threatening is that with a steep erosion in the centrist leadership, the country might soon meet extremist consequences and reach a point of no return. The future of Jinna's dream looks bleak.

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