Pakistan: Zardari Falls, Kayani Rises

 

This article is written by C. Raja Mohan and was originally published in  Indian Express on December 18, 2009. Raja Mohan is Henry A Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress, Washington DC

Whether he quits or not, President Asif Ali Zardari has been so severely weakened that he no longer poses a threat to Pakistan's permanent establishment. In fact the Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani might prefer holding a de-fanged Zardari prisoner in Islamabad's presidential palace and run the country with the pliable Yousuf Raza Gilani as the Prime Minister.

Barely two years ago a discredited Army leadership under Gen. Pervez Musharraf was forced to compromise with the civilian political leaders. Now the Army is back as the arbiter of the nation's domestic politics amidst a civilian disarray.

Kayani may in fact be better placed than his predecessor Musharraf, who had all the disadvantages of being legally responsible for running the country. Kayani, in contrast, has all the effective power in without being accountable to any one.

In many ways Pakistan's story of the last three years has been about the rise and rise of Gen. Kayani. Three years ago, Musharraf seemed so firmly in control of Pakistan. But as the judicial crisis in Pakistan unfolded from March 2007, Musharraf was forced to shed his uniform and hand over the baton to Kayani.

Although he stayed on as President, the real power had passed from Musharraf to Kayani, who was the new chief of army staff. Within a few months, Kayani nudged Musharraf to quit as President and move on.

If Zardari, who was unanimously elected President of Pakistan, thought he was all powerful, Kayani showed who owns the remote in Pakistan. Last March, it was Kayani who forced Zardari to restore Ifthikar Chaudhry, who was ousted by Musharraf as Chief Justice.

Chaudhry and his Supreme Court have now declared null and void the political deal under which the Musharraf allowed the return of Benazir Bhutto and her husband Zardari to Pakistan and contest the elections which were to return the nation to civilian rule.

Benazir, it may be recalled was assassinated upon her return to Pakistan, and Zardari took charge of the People's Party and won the elections. It did not take long for the political wheel in Pakistan to turn the full circle.

Lahore's lawyers have surely won the point on the illegality of the Musharraf-Bhutto deal, which gave special protection to Benazir and her husband from the many previous charges of corruption. But they might be losing the larger struggle for establishing the civilian primacy over the military in Pakistan, as the nation's latest experiment with democracy begins to unravel.

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