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Sunday, 25 January 2009

What’s the endgame to political confrontation in Pakistan?

What’s the endgame to confrontation?

President Asif Ali Zardari and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif met in Islamabad on Friday but could not reach any agreement to end the growing confrontation between the PMLN and the PPP. This was on the cards because Mr Nawaz Sharif had declined to meet Mr Zardari, which meant that Mr Shehbaz Sharif had to allow the talks to make predictable shipwreck on his insistence that Mr Zardari must remove the 17th Amendment and reinstate Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

In terms of realpolitik, the PML wants the PPP to go away so that mid-term elections can be held at a time when the Sharifs are riding high on opinion surveys in the country. The big thing is the powerful lawyers’ movement which is willing to go to the extremes that professionals are normally not expected to go. The movement has announced a most aggressive Long March for the 9th of March, the day President Musharraf fired the chief justice in 2007. But March is the month when a part of the Senate is up for elections through collegial voting, giving the PPP the numbers it needs to consolidate its rule further.

If the PMLN is relying on the lawyers to pull its chestnuts out of the fire, has it planned the Long March in such a way that it forces a crisis big enough to force the PPP to bow out of political power? The PMLN is not letting on but others like Mr Imran Khan of Tehreek-e-Insaf Pakistan are threatening to make the Long March dangerous enough. There are also some like the highly organised Jama’at-e Islami that are willing to be more aggressive during their show of strength on the Constitution Avenue in Islamabad on March 9. But will it be enough of a storm to cause political change in parliament?

Is the opposition banking on the army once again to intervene after the opposition has created a law and order problem? The only time a political party enjoying a majority in parliament can be sent packing is when the army wants such a change. Not even Article 58-2(b) is effective unless that happens.
The PMLN cannot join forces with the breakaway PMLQ to deprive the PPP of more Senate seats; the PPP has just got the MQM to join the government at the centre. One is bent on winning through inflexibility; the other is endlessly adaptive. Unfortunately, all the parties prefer to gamble without thinking of the endgame as they go on ignoring the constitutional requirement of giving a ruling party its five years in the driving seat. (Daily Times)

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