Thursday, February 26, 2009
Zardari Government Survives Turbulent Year in Pakistan
Although recent polls indicate it is deeply unpopular, Pakistan People's Party's government appears to have survived a very turbulent first year in office. The future of this government, however, remains uncertain with the latest Supreme Court ruling making the opposition PML(N)'s Sharif brothers ineligible to hold office. Just prior to this Court ruling, an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis said the country was moving in the wrong direction and nearly 60 per cent would rather prefer PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif as President than Asif Ali Zardari, according to a survey conducted by International Republican Institute in December, 2008.
A lot has happened in a year since the PPP government took office. Here's a brief run-down:
1. President Musharraf was forced out of office and replaced by Asif Ali Zardari who won the parliamentary approval by an overwhelming majority.
2. With rising militancy in all parts of the country, suicide bombings in 2008 surpassed 2007 figures, with 61 attacks killing at least 889 people and injuring 2,072 others, according to Pakistan's investigation agencies.
3. Pakistan's economy suffered greatly as the confidence of consumers, businesses and investors in the country plummeted to new lows. Pakistan was forced to seek and accept an IMF bailout with stringent conditions and close scrutiny.
4. Barack Hussein Obama was elected first African-American president of the United States in a historic landslide. Obama signaled a renewed focus on the Afghan war and South Asia as his priority, and appointed Richard Holbrooke as America's special envoy to the region. With the continuation of Robert Gates as defense secretary, the CIA continued Predator strikes in FATA and the Pentagon started beefing up the US troops strength in Afghanistan.
5. With deepening distrust of the US and Karazi government among Afghans, increased funding from poppy cultivation and rising civilian casualties, the Taliban insurgents made significant gains in Afghanistan, controlling 72% of the territory and tightened their ring around Kabul, the capital of the country.
6. The US blamed Pakistan for providing sanctuaries to the Taliban in FATA region. The American forces in Afghanistan intensified air strikes and made ground incursions inside Pakistan to target the Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters, killing many innocent civilians. The US military supply lines were repeatedly hit by the militants in Pakistan. Pakistan was forced to make peace with the Taliban in Swat valley by agreeing to implementation of Shariah law.
7. A British commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan told the press that "we can not win this war" in Afghanistan.
8. Pakistan's stock markets took a nose dive along with the major markets around the world. KSE-100 dropped to 5400 level, far below the peak of 15085.18 achieved while Musharraf was still in office.
9. The telecommunication, information technology, higher education, media and the middle class progress started during Musharraf-Aziz years continued to have its impact, in spite of horrible governance, lack of vision and absence of real leadership by corrupt and inept politicians.
10. Pakistan's food and energy crises took a turn for the worse as the prices soared. There were widespread blackouts and brownouts. Wheat shortages forced the expensive imports and the government had to cut back on subsidies as the foreign exchange reserves dwindled and the rupee rapidly lost its value.
11. History was made when Pakistan elected its first woman speaker of the National Assembly in 2008. But Pakistan's human rights and social justice situation continued to shock the conscience of the civilized world with the live burial of women by the tribesmen in Sind, the murder of Ahmadis encouraged by a fanatic TV host and the inclusion of some of the perpetrators as federal ministers in Prime Minister Gillani's cabinet.
12. Peaceful Kashmir protests erupted again after several years of quiet while President Musharraf attempted to settle the core issue between India and Pakistan. As usual, Indian security forces responded with lethal force, killing dozens of peaceful protesters.
13. People of Baluchistan continued to suffer as an earthquake struck and the local insurgency continued. Women and children were the worst affected among the victims. The Baloch insurgency still continues.
14. India blamed Pakistan as terror struck Mumbai, driving India-Pakistan relations down to a new low. War rhetoric pushed the solution to the major issues dividing India and Pakistan into the background. The Indian media whipped up the anti-Pakistan frenzy with the demands for "doing a Lebanon" in Pakistan. Some in India started talking about a limited war under "Cold Start" doctrine with "surgical strikes" inside Pakistan. In response, Pakistan put its military on alert with troop movements on the ground and fighter jets in the skies.
In a December, 2008 poll conducted by the US-based International Republican Institute (IRI), 88% of the respondents said Pakistan is moving in the wrong direction, while 73 per cent said the economic situation had worsened in the past year.
A total of 76 per cent rated the PPP-led government's performance on key issues as poor, up from 51 per cent in a survey conducted by IRI in June.
67 per cent replied in the negative when asked if things would be better now as there is a democratically elected Parliament and President in Pakistan.
While 59 per cent of Pakistanis surveyed said they would prefer Sharif as President, only 19 per cent backed Zardari for the job. 63 per cent also said they disapproved of Zardari's performance while only 19 per cent approved it.
In the wake of the court order barring Sharif brothers from holding elected office and the subsequent dismissal of the Punjab provincial government, the confrontation between Zardari and Sharif is likely to increase distraction from the nation's ailing economy, energy crisis and escalating insurgency of Al Qaeda and the Taliban that Washington was trying to persuade the government to focus on. It seems that Pakistan's political leaders lack any vision to see beyond their noses. Last year, Sharif was so consumed by his desire for revenge against President Musharraf that he joined forces with Zardari to oust him. Zardari took Sharif along for the ride when it suited him. Musharraf's presence as president stood in the way of absolute power for Zardari. However, the departure of Musharraf ensured that Zardari would now turn his attention to destroy PML(N) and Sharif brothers to consolidate his own power. Even Zardari's hand-picked prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani is reportedly frustrated with his autocratic and divisive style. The sad truth is that if Zardari and Sharif had their roles reversed, the results would not have been any different. Their attitudes and actions are very short-sighted and reinforce those who believe Pakistan's politicians are too selfish, incompetent and corrupt to govern the country for the benefit of its people. Unfortunately, the people of Pakistan and the region are in for a continued rough ride for the foreseeable future. I do hope, however, that the people of Pakistan are sufficiently resilient to withstand the ongoing crises and emerge stronger as a nation.
IRI Pakistan Poll December, 2008
Pakistan Year 2008 in Review
Pakistan Accepts Indian Charges?
Musharraf's Economic Legacy