By Sohail Iqbal, Pulse, July 24, 2008
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has reportedly threatened to finally quit the ruling alliance, if the sacked judiciary is not restored by the Independence Day on August 14 and the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) doesn’t take a decision on impeaching President Pervez Musharraf. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party, which withdrew from the coalition government in May, has conveyed to the PPP that it won’t rejoin the cabinet, if these two crucial decisions are not taken by the time when the nation will celebrate its 61st Independence Day, claims a report. The reported date coincides with an important day because the PML-N probably wants to present a gift to the nation on August 14, freeing the people of a dictator, who is at the lowest ebb of popularity, yet, refuses to give up power.
The differences among the PML-N and the PPP, which together in March had formed the strongest coalition in the country’s history, reached a climax when Sharif refused to accompany Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in a maiden visit to the United States to meet the outgoing President George W Bush. Sharif also did not attend the meeting of the ruling coalition this week on the pretext that he was busy looking after his wife in London. The PML-N leadership maintained that since the PML-N had already quit the cabinet, there was no justification for Sharif to go on an official visit to the US. Secondly, the Muslim League leadership doesn’t want to meet the American president realising the Bush administration doesn’t feel comfortable working with Sharif and his party. In the past few weeks, the statements from the PML-N leadership have become bitter and nobody is talking about the proposed constitutional amendment that aims at reducing the powers of the president. Sharif and Zardari, who few months ago appeared to be best of friends, are moving apart and there seems to be no common ground to bridge those differences and unite them again for the sake of democracy.
Zardari and Sharif have been moving in opposite directions, as the former is relying on the Republican administration to bail it out of its failures in the first 100 days of governance, while the latter is hoping the Democrat’s will return to power in the forthcoming US presidential elections, as Sharif in past has had friendly relations with the Democrats.
The most memorable thing in the first 100 days of the PPP-led coalition government is, perhaps, the inability of the alliance to kick-start a strong and stable government because both Sharif and Zardari have been playing nerve games, waiting for the other to break first. The egos of the political leaders have become larger than the interests of the country. Despite several meetings between the two leaders and their announced resolve to keep the coalition intact, the two parties have not been able to sort out their disputes over reinstatement of the judiciary and removing the president from his office. The two leaders have refused to budge from their stated positions leaving the country in a political, economic and security turmoil, while making the forces of Establishment stronger.
The PPP-PML-N split is without any doubt strengthening Musharraf, encouraging him to make public appearances and he recently enjoyed a trip to the hill resort of Murree and a game of golf with the Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. This was a clear indication that despite being extremely unpopular, the president was enjoying the support of the military, a reason that is keeping the PPP from making a drastic move against Musharraf. According to sources close to the PPP and the PML-N, the two parties were unhappy at the army chief playing golf with the president, as it betrayed his claim that he had pulled the army out of politics and that in future the armed forces will have nothing to do with politics. The army chief also held a series of meetings this month with newspaper editors and media chiefs, keeping them off the record. According to sources the army chief raised the point in these meetings that the political leadership was refusing to take responsibility for operations in the tribal areas against the militants and wanted the military to spearhead the action. These sources claim that some media chiefs objected that why should the political leadership take the responsibility when the military is refusing to transfer complete power to the civilian government.
Secondly, these sources say, the media chiefs also tried to convince the army chief to withdraw support to the unpopular president and let the civilian leadership take independent decisions. On this issue, sources said, the army chief did not utter a word leaving his guests in a state of confusion and disappointment.
Despite the fact that Zardari has declared Musharraf an illegal and unconstitutional president, he is unable to remove him given the pressures that he is facing from the Establishment and of his own weaknesses as a leader. Given Zardari’s inability to lead from the front, he is hoping that the president would resign voluntarily and walk away rather than face impeachment. While, the political questions remain unanswered, the government of Yousuf Raza Gilani has also not made any progress, which was reflected in his first address to the nation last week. He was unable to convince the public as to why the peace accords with the tribal militants had failed and the Pakistani Taliban were becoming stronger and stronger. He could not answer the questions as to why the nation has to suffer high fuel prices and inflation. The technical problems of recording his speech aside, the prime minister lacked confidence unable to see the public directly in the eyes and claim credit for the steps taken by the government.
As the political, economic and security situation nosedives, the PML-N doesn’t want to share the failures of the Gilani government. After all, the recent surveys by independent polling agencies including that of Washington-based International Republican Institute’s report, Sharif is gaining in popularity and Zardari is losing. Musharraf is already down and out in the race of popular Pakistani leaders, according to the IRI report. This situation suits Nawaz Sharif who can sit back and prepare for next elections -- the sooner the better for him.