Pakistan: Pakistan is coping with three major internal political crises and one foreign crisis. Any one of these could prevent the first ever transfer of power in March 2013 between successive constitutional, civilian, elected governments in the history of Pakistan.
The Supreme Court, the National Accountability Bureau and the Prime Minister. On 15 January the Supreme Court of Pakistan directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to proceed with the arrest of Prime Minister Ashraf and 15 or 16 other senior officials on charges of corruption. The order was pursuant to a judgment on a complaint alleging corruption that began in October 2012.
The Chief Justice ordered that all concerned, regardless of their rank, who have been booked in the case be arrested and if someone leaves the country, then the Chairman of the NAB will be held responsible along with his investigating team,.
Comment: Ashraf was the Minister of Water and Power between March 2008 and February 2011. He and his cronies are charged with having received millions of dollars in kickbacks in return for approving the construction of two electric power generating plants. The corruption case against Ashraf began late last fall, but the Supreme Court delivered its ruling today.
The Court has no authority to order arrests, but it has the authority to refer its findings to the NAB for execution. Under article 24 of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, the NAB has original authority to issue arrest warrants for corruption under Pakistan’s Penal Code. Detainees may be held for 90 days.
The irony of all actions under the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, is that General Musharraf signed it shortly after he overthrew the duly elected government of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in October 1999. The Ordinance remains good law, oddly enough, even though Musharraf usurped the constitution and was forced to leave office in 2008 under the threat of impeachment under the constitution he usurped.
The irony of the judicial action against Ashraf is that Pakistan has a chronic shortage of electricity, which forces rationing and scheduled outages. Ashraf and his cohorts are charged with having profited from exploiting the shortages and outages.
Ashraf will be the second Pakistani Prime Minister to have been undone by the orders of the Supreme Court in the past year. Prime Minister Gilani was forced to resign in June 2012 for failing to execute Supreme Court directives.
Qadri vs the National Assembly. Although the Pakistani political elite is in disarray over the latest action by the Supreme Court, it is more discomfited by the preaching and activism of an Islamist preacher named Tahir ul-Qadri. Qadri recently returned to Pakistan from Canada to denounce the corruption of the Pakistani parliament.
Backed by over 50,000 supporters at a rally in Islamabad this weekend, he proclaimed that Pakistan has only two government institutions worthy of support: the Supreme Court and the Pakistan Army.
Comment: Pakistani news analysts have questioned the source of Qadri’s extensive financial support. One hypothesis is that he is a front for the Pakistan Army whose aim is to sample the attitudes of the populace towards elected government.
Another theory is that he is a front man for Musharraf’s return to Pakistan to save the country. Qadri was an apologist for then General Musharraf’s overthrow of elected government in October 1999. He also was a legal advisor to General Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime.
A more disturbing possibility is that Qadri’s protestors might be the spearhead of an Arab Spring-type movement in Pakistan. Some news outlets have mentioned that Qadri’s followers want to create a protest settlement in Islamabad that is like Tahrir Square in Cairo.
Governor’s Rule in Baluchistan. On 10 January two suicide bombers in Quetta, Baluchistan, killed 92 people and wounded 121. An earlier bombing near Quetta killed 19 and injured 25 people. What links the incidents is that the killed and wounded primarily were ethnic Hazaras who are Shiite Muslims.
In the aftermath of the 10 January killings, the Shiites in Quetta – numbering around 500,000 or more – refused to bury the dead, contravening Muslim custom. Large numbers of Hazaras camped outside the provincial capital building in Quetta until the government took action.
On 13 January, at the request of Prime Minister Ashraf, President Zardari suspended the elected provincial government for having failed to protect the lives of its citizens and imposed “governor’s rule.” This is similar to martial law except that the governor, normally an honorific appointed official, assumes all executive power in the province for 60 days to stabilize conditions.
Comment: Tension between Sunnis and Shiites is constant feature of the security situation in Quetta. Most Shiites in Quetta are Hazaras, who also populate the Afghan province of Bamyan, west of Kabul. In 2012, Sunni attackers killed at least 375 Shiites. Some Pakistani analysts have labeled the attacks against Hazaras and other Shiites as a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
There will be a police crackdown on law and order violations in Baluchistan during the next two months.
General Comment: The number of crises the Islamabad government must now manage would strain the crisis management capabilities of a modern state. The civilian government is being overwhelmed with crises.
The coincidence of multiple crises suggests that unidentified powerful interests seek to prevent a peaceful transition to a new elected government in March. What is not clear is why.
Phi Beta Iota: Emphasis added on Arab Spring coming to non-Arab Pakistan. Secular corruption is the foundation for religious schisms, and the Sunni-Shi’ite schism is exceeded only by the schisms among Hindus and everyone else. Prosperity enables dignity and dignity enables inter-faith harmony. The Pope chose not to focus on this at Assisi, and in our view made a mistake, once again proving that Hans Kung is right, the Pope is not infallible. Separatism seems to flourish when bonds of whatever nature are stronger than any faith in an external authority — external authority that loses legitimacy invites separatism.