NIGHTWATCH Extract: Pakistan Implodes

08 Wild Cards

Pakistan: On 2 January the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) announced the leadership’s decision to withdraw from the ruling government coalition and join the opposition in the National Assembly and in the Senate, Dawn News reported, citing an MQM spokesman.

The decision was made because the government failed to address issues important to the party, according to an MQM member. Prime Minister Gilani claimed the ruling coalition will not collapse, saying there is no threat to the government and that all parties are working to strengthen democracy in the country.

Comment: Readers will recall that the MQM withdrew from the cabinet last week but promised to remain a member of the government coalition for a time. The language always is an invitation for a new deal. Political negotiations over the weekend between the government and the MQM obviously failed to offer sufficient incentives to keep the MQM in the governing coalition.

Prime Minister Gilani’s statement that he intends to govern as a “minority government” means that he assesses the opposition as too fractious to force a vote of confidence. Meanwhile, the Pakistan People’s Party-led government may be expected to undertake negotiations with other opposition parties in order to restore its majority. The opposition, led by the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), will do the same.

A political stalemate is in effect. The lack of a majority means the Gilani government lacks the votes to pass important legislation, especially bills that might induce the opposition to unite and, thus, force a vote of confidence.

The timing of the political stalemate could hardly be worse for US interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US needs a reliable political leadership in Pakistan that is capable of providing at least minimal support for the Afghanistan effort. Promises of a minority government are not reliable because the government could fall and policy would change.

The US has invested billions of dollars in elected democracy since 2008. After three years, the Zardari-Gilani leadership has made no significant progress in making Pakistan more secure or economically stable. The Pakistani Taliban might be tempted to surge attacks and raise its visibility to further stress the political system.

Finally, the stalemate promises to confirm Indian assessments that the Gilani government lacks the ability to deliver on any political promises and is not a dependable negotiating partner. Pakistan has imploded politically.

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