Pakistan’s Power Struggle – The Real Movers and Shakers

April, 2010
By Joyanto Mukherjee

The first quarter of 2010 has already seen the situation in Pakistan take several turns.  The recent Pakistani Delegation visit to the US which saw COAS General Kayani lead the delegation, the statements by Pakistan with regards to Afghanistan and its call for an ‘active’ role in the country and the recent U-turn by PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif with regards to the 18TH Amendment have been a few highlights over the past three months. Other developments over the same period have now effectively highlighted the major players in the struggle for power, those who will determine the overall future of the country.

The emerging candidate for the major power-holder in Pakistan to emerge is COAS Chief General Ashfaq Kayani. Though he is not the surprise name on the list, the fact remains that he has actually gathered a lot of momentum with regards to control in the past few months. He has not yet directly intervened in the political matters of the country, but has actually played it safe by keeping in direct contact with Prime Minister Gillani and hence has kept an eye over the functioning of the current government. Gillani, in return, has used this closeness to keep President Zardari in control, especially when it came to all major decisions regarding the Army like replacing the Army Chief and other officers. Zardari was expected to use the powers vested in him and change the current Army and ISI Chief, but the Kayani-Gillani partnership in many ways thwarted his plans. Hence Zardari extended ISI Chief Shujaa Pasha’s tenure by one year. Kayani has also maintained a direct rapport with PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, major political leaders, Washington and Kabul. Washington too has understood Kayani’s importance and has hence started to keep him closer than Zardari. The next few months will reiterate the fact that General Kayani will have a major say in all the major developments in Pakistan, but the last thing he will do is bring down the government as the current atmosphere is absolutely not conducive to a military coup. A coup is not necessary if efficient tabs are kept on all the major external and internal players, a fact which the COAS has already addressed. 

After being touted as the most important political figure in Pakistan thanks to his role in the Long March last year, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif’s presence was hardly felt as a worthy opposition for quite a few months. His visit to Saudi Arabia and his so-called ‘quelling down’ of his rhetoric against Pervez Musharraf after the visit actually brought down his importance within the political circles. But his recent U-turn with regards to the 18th Amendment brought the limelight back on Sharif. He has been very selective in his direct attacks on Zardari and has also been careful in his attempts to shake the government with threats of withdrawing support. Many expected Sharif to be active as his party sat in the opposition, but his actions and certain degree of silence actually raised a lot of questions about his intentions. Even though the 18th Amendment will be tabled in the parliament, the consensus was achieved only after Sharif’s wishes were adhered to. The trump card Sharif holds is Iftikhar Chaudhary, the person Sharif was highly instrumental in re-installing as the Chief Justice of Pakistan. His closeness with the judiciary again has managed to keep a silent check on the plans of Zardari as the judiciary has been very active in repelling many a government policy and keeping it under control. With Zardari’s wings being clipped at a considerable rate and Washington lowering its interest in the President, Sharif will now use the forthcoming period to make serious political inroads in Balochistan and the NWFP, strengthen his party’s presence in those provinces and start taking Zardari head-on with regards to policies and issues. The 18th Amendment and its ramifications may well play into Sharif’s hands to finally initiate his role as an active and effective opposition. 

The other person who is also emerging as a future power-holder is former President Pervez Musharraf. The media has been relentlessly trying to predict his eventual return to Pakistan, but to no avail. Recently, the former President has actually been very active, with Musharraf the formation of his new party. His desire to come back to the country and participate in elections is known to everyone. But the timing of his return is pivotal. Musharraf’s role in the future on Pakistan is very crucial as his ambitions directly collide with those of Nawaz Sharif, the person he deposed and humiliated. The fact remains that All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), Musharraf’s party, has actually been cleared by the Election Commission which gives Musharraf the necessary leverage of initiating his recruitment. The PML-Q, barring the Chaudhary brothers, has a soft corner for Musharraf as does the faction of the PML-Q which has broken away. Other independent and smaller parties too will turn to the APML for resurrecting their own political ambitions. Though he has said that he will not return to Pakistan unless the situation changed ‘radically’ it goes without saying that the former President holds all the right credentials to have a huge say in the future of the country. 

All this leaves President Zardari with a lot to ponder. Each month has seen his power dwindle and the 18th Amendment is being touted as a major deterrent to his position. But this was the same person who was never expected of even completing a year as president, so his continued presence actually speaks about his grit and determination of holding on till the next elections. Pakistan faces different political situations once every few months and hence one can expect the coming months to usher a different set of possibilities. But whatever happens, these players will always be involved and ready to stake claim for power.