NIGHTWATCH Extract: Pakistan Failing, Waziristan Rampant

08 Wild Cards

Pakistan Failing

For the US, the political instability means that the government will remain unwilling to order the Army to undertake operations in the tribal areas anytime soon. The Army opposes such operations which it considers not part of its mission, as waging war against Pakistani citizens and a police chore, not a defense task.

The Gilani government is likely to collapse in 2011. It has become accident prone which means its best efforts to shore up the coalition are unlikely to reduce the instability and might worsen it.

Pakistan: Security. The Daily Times reported that the Pakistani Taliban claim they have kidnapped 23 tribal elders from South Waziristan have not been seen since 17 December. The men were abducted because they met or attended functions with Chief of Army Staff General Kayani in South Waziristan on 7 December as part of his initiative to demonstrate that South Waziristan is secure.

NIGHTWATCH Comment: Kayani’s trip backfired. The actual kidnapping occurred in North Waziristan where the 23 elders traveled to meet a Pakistani Taliban delegation, at the latter’s invitation. What is unexplained about the kidnapping is why the men went at all. In any event, the fact that they went when the Taliban called prime facie evidence that Waziristan is not secure, meaning free of Pakistani Taliban coercion.

Politics. One of the core members of the ruling government coalition, which is led by Prime Minister Gilani’s Pakistan People’s Party, withdrew its two ministers from the federal cabinet on 27 December but promised for now to remain in the federal coaliltion and in the Sindh Province parliament.

The MQM told the Pakistani media that it was withdrawing from the cabinet because of corruption, rising prices, and lack of attention to the problems of the people. Its leaders said it was not withdrawing from the governing coalition to avoid causing political instability.

“The coordination committee has unanimously concluded that the ministries it has in the federal cabinet are of no use since the recommendations and proposals (of MQM ministers) are being ignored without citing any reason. A decision will soon be taken about quitting the federal government and future relationship with the Sindh government as a coalition partner.”

NIGHTWATCH Comment: This is the second defection from the coalition in two weeks. On 14 December the JUI, a small Islamist party, withdrew from the coalition because its single minister was dismissed by Gilani for malfeasance in organizing pilgrimages to Mecca. The government responded as if it was glad to see the troublesome Islamists depart. They were powerful in northwest Pakistan during Musharraf’s regime.

The MQM, which dominates Sindh Province and especially the Karachi, is a key coalition member because its 25 seats in the National Assembly give the PPP a majority. Should the MQM decide to join the opposition, the government could fall.

The coalition currently holds 181 seats – including the MQM’s 25 – in the 342-member National Assembly. It needs 172 to preserve its majority and the right to lead the government.

The larger issue is a popular perception that the Gilani government is not serious about solving Pakistan’s problems, is too concerned about placating the US, and has accomplished little in three years. The government is not popular, so more defections may be expected.

The implications of an unstable government are serious. Most important, it is one of the conditions that invites a military takeover of government. At this juncture, a military government would be cheered by most Pakistanis, just as they cheered Musharraf’s coup d’etat in 1999.

Another coup would undermine three years of international efforts to strengthen elected civilian government in Pakistan and throw the country into severe turmoil once again. The judiciary would be undermined and the Islamists always thrive under Pakistan Army protection.

For the US, the political instability means that the government will remain unwilling to order the Army to undertake operations in the tribal areas anytime soon. The Army opposes such operations which it considers not part of its mission, as waging war against Pakistani citizens and a police chore, not a defense task.

The Gilani government is likely to collapse in 2011. It has become accident prone which means its best efforts to shore up the coalition are unlikely to reduce the instability and might worsen it.

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