Manmohan Singh weakens Zardari
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s lament that he has no partner in Pakistan with whom he can set up a negotiating table could have major implications for the credibility of the PPP-led regime. The remarks are an expression of no confidence in President Asif Ali Zardari’s ability to take other power centers along in any peace process with New Delhi. It might sound strange to many. Rulers in Pakistan— both uniformed and civilian— deride India but cannot live without its recognition of their leadership. I remember how bitter Balakh Sher Mazari was when P V Narasimha Rao did not congratulate him on becoming interim PM after Nawaz Sharif’s 1993 dismissal by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.
Rao’s studied detachment looked prophetic when the Pak Supreme Court reinstated Sharif, declaring Mazari’s brief tenure as unconstitutional. Like his predecessor’s aloofness, Singh’s comment that he wasn’t sure of Zardari’s control over the army must be based on ground reality. Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani remains, as his predecessor Pervez Musharraf, the most powerful arm of the troika that has traditionally governed Pakistan: the president, the prime minister and the army chief.
In the instant case, however, the Army’s supremacy is unquestionable, given the war its fighting against the Taliban in the North West, the exceedingly grave security threats to elected leaders and the kind of governance they are providing to an increasingly restless people. From all accounts, Zardari cuts a tragically comic figure in the Aiwan-e-Sadr. His party colleague and Premier Yusuf Raza Gilani is an average doer, forever struggling to match his limited talents with the role bestowed upon him by destiny.
In power in the key Punjab province, the principal Opposition, the PML (Nawaz) of former PM Nawaz Sharif might not have posed any threat to the PPP dispensation in the National Assembly. But Zardari is grossly weakened by the way the PML (N) scuttled parliamentary endorsement of the national reconciliation ordinance promulgated by Musharraf to provide him and his late wife Benazir indemnity against graft charges. One really wonders whether the Pak President is left with any bargaining powers with either the Army or the PM.
Sharif will disagree. But in seeking to have Zardari out on a limb, he has empowered Gen. Kayani at the expense of the elected regime despite repeated assurances that his first objective was to strengthen democracy by preventing another military takeover in Pakistan. “We would like democracy to succeed in Pakistan but we have to recognize that power today virtually rests with the army,” the Indian PM said in an interview on CNN.
From the present Army leadership, Singh has no expectations of the kind Gen. Musharraf was able to raise, given his limitless clout as President and Army Chief. The Indian Premier wasn’t even sure whether the Pak Army was serious in its war against terrorism.
To buttress the point, Singh repeated to CNN what he had told the Washington Post before leaving for his tour of the US (to meet President Obama) and Port of Spain (to attend the Commonwealth Summit). He claimed Islamabad wanted the US troops out of Afghanistan in order to reclaim political and strategic ground in that country.
But he cautioned the Obama Administration against such capitulation. That eventuality will embolden the Taliban no end for it’ll give them a sense of triumph over two superpowers— the erstwhile Soviet Union having been worsted in Afghanistan some two decades ago in what was the beginning of the Jehad the world’s now contesting.