Political turmoil in Pakistan



Pakistan’s Supreme Court has banned the main opposition party’s leader from holding political office, threatening political turmoil in the nuclear-armed South Asian state.

This past week, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that former Prime Minister and current opposition party leader Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) and his brother are barred from holding elected office.  The ruling has resulted in widespread violent riots amidst familiar charges of dictatorship against the ruling coalition led by Asif Ali Zardari, head of the People’s Party of Pakistan (PPP).

Following the ruling, Sharif’s brother Shahbaz has been removed from his post as Chief Minister of Pakistan’s most populous province Punjab, which borders the capital Islamabad.  The governor of Punjab, a Zardari loyalist, has imposed emergency powers ostensibly to quell the uprising, but in actuality, further enraged anti-government passions in the only province that heretofore was not under direct control of the ruling PPP coalition, passions that have spilt into the capital itself, where protesters have rioted against Zardari.

Nawaz Sharif has publicly called for an uprising against government rule, similar to the uprising that toppled President Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorship last year.  In fact, it was Musharraf’s government that instituted charges against Sharif, in part due to his alleged rule in ‘hijacking’ his then rival’s airplane (Sharif was toppled by Musharraf via a military coup in 1999).  Yet, Musharraf ordered amnesty for Zardari, who himself was twice jailed on corruption charges during Sharif’s tenure as Prime Minister.

The legal machinations threaten to plunge Pakistan into yet more political turmoil reminiscent of the 1990s, wherein no less than four civilian governments collapsed.

The threatened impasse has already caused widespread concern over whether the Pakistani government can survive.  On the day the decision was released, the Pakistan stock exchange plummeted 5%, further exacerbating the effects of the worldwide financial crisis.

The Pakistani government is threatened on all sides: anti-American militants hold large swaths of land in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA); the United States is attacking targets within Pakistan with increasing frequency and total immunity from Afghanistan; relations with nuclear-armed neighbour India sporadically spike, as a result of last year’s terror attacks on Mumbai; and the western powers are increasingly focusing on Pakistan as the geographical focal point of their continued wars against both al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Outside of Zardari, however, there are few political options now.  Although Zardari has negotiated with anti-American militants and local Taliban elements within Pakistan, Sharif is seen as even closer to these groups as his party has traditionally exploited religious sentiment to achieve political leverage.  And the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, is viewed as a wildcard, playing all sides, including relationships with regional militant groups.

In the end, Western powers are likely to choose the shortsighted option: supporting a Zardari dictatorship in exchange for both assurances of increased cooperation against local militant groups, and impunity for American missile strikes within Pakistan – the exact same deal the U.S. and its allies struck with Musharraf.

Similarly, expect local anti-American militant groups to be the big winners.  Collapsing central authority coupled with local resistance against foreign military attacks will almost certainly result in a rise in the popularity of anti-American militant groups amongst the local Pakistani populace.


SUMMARY OF EVENTS: February 23 – March 2, 2009



Canadian fighter planes scrambled to intercept an approaching Russian bomber less than 24 hours before U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Ottawa last week, Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay said on Friday.


Mexico is sending up to 5,000 new troops and federal police to Ciudad Juarez, the country’s most violent city, where law and order is on the brink of collapse in a war between gangs supplying drugs to the United States.

United States

Less than a month after signing an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, President Barack Obama has quietly agreed to keep denying the right to trial to hundreds more terror suspects held at a makeshift camp in Afghanistan that human rights lawyers have dubbed “Obama’s Guantanamo”.

More than 70 United States military advisers and technical specialists are secretly working in Pakistan to help its armed forces battle Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the country’s lawless tribal areas, American military officials said Monday.

The U.S. Department of Defense has denied Tuesday allegations over running a secret project to train Pakistan’s army in counter-insurgency operations.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to move forward with a commission to investigate torture during the Bush administration.

The U.S. Army is to invest $6 million in riot equipment, a fact that has furthered fears that troops will be used inside the U.S. in order to quell any civil unrest resulting from the ongoing economic crisis.

U.S. authorities capped a nearly two-year campaign against one of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels with 52 arrests on Wednesday, and said they had crippled its U.S. distribution network.

The U.S. military is “fully prepared” to shoot down any North Korean ballistic missile, the head of the U.S. Pacific Commands says.

The Central Intelligence Agency’s new director outlined spy policies Wednesday, including an aggressive campaign in Pakistan, that underscored considerable continuity with the Bush administration.

President Barack Obama consigned the Iraq war to history Friday, declaring he will end combat operations within 18 months and open a new era of diplomacy in the Middle East.



President Alvaro Uribe Thursday restricted the eavesdropping powers of Colombia’s intelligence service, which faces allegations of unauthorized spying, but stopped short of disbanding it.



A British resident held at Guantanamo Bay for more than four years returned to Britain a free man on Monday and accused the U.S. government of inflicting “medieval” torture on him — with British collusion.



A former Estonian defence ministry official who sold NATO secrets to Russia has been sent to jail for 12 and a half years after a secret trial.



Chinese police have discovered explosives under a bridge in Tibet, sources said on Tuesday, as ethnic Tibetan villages high in the grasslands of western China faced a tense traditional New Year.

North Korea

North Korea said on Tuesday it was preparing to launch a satellite on one of its rockets, which analysts have said would actually be the test-firing of a long-range missile designed to strike U.S. territory.

South Korea

Communist North Korea has completed deployment of medium-range missiles and expanded its military to 1.2 million, according to South Korea, calling the threat from its neighbour “direct and serious.”



Nearly 50 people were killed when paramilitary troops in Bangladesh fought among themselves during a mutiny in their headquarters over a pay dispute, a government minister said on Thursday.

Security forces in Bangladesh on Friday uncovered at least 38 bodies of murdered army officers in one grave as the death toll following a deadly mutiny in the capital rose.


More serving Pakistani army officers may be named as conspirators in the Mumbai terror attacks, according to officials dealing with the case, after an 11,509-page charge sheet identified two high-ranking Pakistani military personnel who directed militants during the three-day killing spree.


Pakistani Taliban militants announced on Tuesday an indefinite ceasefire in the Swat valley in the northwest of the country, a day after the army said it was ceasing operations in the region.

Pakistani militants in the country’s northwest are understood to have received 480 million rupees (6 million dollars) in compensation after agreeing to a cease conflict with government forces for an indefinite period.

Thousands of people have rioted in Pakistan for the third day in protest over a court order banning Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the country’s biggest opposition party, from running for office.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan soldiers battled Tamil Tiger rebels house-to-house in the last town the separatist rebels control, seizing more territory and pushing them closer to a final standoff, the military said on Friday.



Egyptian police said on Monday they have arrested three suspects over a bomb attack at a famed Cairo bazaar that killed a French teenager and wounded 25 people, most of them tourists.

Manjit Singh is a contributor to Geopoliticalmonitor.com

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