Categorized | South Asian Politics


Posted on 26 June 2015 by admin

Asif ZardariAsif Zardari

Dr. Hasan Askari

        There is no shortage of controversies in Pakistani politics. The latest controversy started on June16 when the former President and Co-Chairman of the PPP, Asif Ali Zardari, lashed out at the Rangers and the Army for their decision to expand the security operation in Karachi to target the sources of funding of terrorist and criminal activity as well as hit their political and bureaucratic links.

Though Zardari did not name the Rangers and the Army, he left no doubt as to whom he was addressing. The selection of words and comments was unwise and inappropriate.

    Zardari’s comments focused on the rapidly changing security situation in Karachi where the Rangers, backed by the Army, decided to target the sources of financial support of terrorist and criminal activity in Karachi and the links of these people in the political and bureaucratic circles.

They also planned to take action against money making activities of political leaders and bureaucratic officials and their civilian partners.

The underlying assumption is that a network of individual criminals and organized gangs engage in various types of money making activities.

The Rangers want to cut-off the channels through which money changes hands or political and administrative support is available to those engaged in a number of illegal activities like land grabbing and selling it illegally, charging money for getting their tasks done from the government, enabling others to grab others’ property, use violence or threat of violence to extort money and to support violent and terrorist activity.

    The MQM was the first to be targeted under this policy when its headquarters and close-by buildings were searched in the second week of March 2015. A large number of people were arrested.  Some of them were detained for a long-term investigation. Now, the fear in the political circles is that such operation is going to extend beyond the MQM and it will target the PPP and the close associates of the Sindh Provincial Government.  In fact, the Rangers raided offices of land development authorities of the Sindh government that perturbed the political elite.

  The Army and the Rangers had raised the issue of links between violence, political power, money and political and religious parties in the Apex Committee meetings in Karachi. The Corps Commander Karachi hinted on this issue when he discussed law and order in Karachi in an open meeting. Similarly, the Director General Rangers talked of Rupees 230 billion involved in the close links between politics and criminality.

    Asif Ali Zardari’s statement was meant to deter the Rangers and the Army from taking any action against the political leaders and their close associates. He threatened to create a difficult situation for the security authorities that go after political leaders under the pretext that they protected and patronized criminal and terrorist activity.

     The Rangers and the Army were not threatened by Zardari’s statement because the political forces got divided on these issues and adopted the political position that served their party interests.  The PPP and the MQM appeared close to each other on the issue  of the Rangers targeting the political forces.. Others either supported the Army and criticized Zardari or stayed away from this controversy.

      The PMLN’s reaction was interesting. It distanced itself from the PPP and expressed its solidarity with the Army and the Rangers.   In the past, the PMLN and especially Nawaz Sharif were very critical of the military. They used to criticize the military on account of the Kargil war (1999) and the military takeover by General Pervez Musharraf.

    Now, Nawaz Sharif and his associates publicly supported the military and condemned the statement of Zardari. Nawaz Sharif had learnt over the last two years, especially from the “Dharnas” by Imran Khan in 2014 that his government could not survive without the military’s support. He surrendered a good part of decision making power to  the military in return for letting him serve as the Prime Minister. It suited both. The military got greater autonomy in policy making and Nawaz Sharif secured his prime ministership.

   Nawaz Sharif refused to meet Zardari because he thought that his meeting might be viewed by the military as his support for Zardari’s statement.  Some of senior leaders of the PMLN publicly denounced Zardari that undermined the cordial relations between the PPP and the PMLN.

    The PPP leaders moved out quickly to control the damage caused by Zardari’s statement. Some attempted to soften the statement while others argued that why  should the Rangers focus on Sindh only when corruption exists in other provinces also.  Still others questioned the mandate of the Rangers to take punitive actions against civil servants and the political leaders.

    The current political temperature in Pakistan will go down in a couple of weeks. However, the bitterness caused by these events is expected to impact the politics in the future. We will have to see if this incident brings  an end to the PMLN-PPP partnership?

     Distancing itself from the PMLN may enable the PPP to stand on its feet and become a genuine opposition.   The PPP will also have to pay attention to the deep anger of its activists against the leadership. If the PPP wants to turn the current crisis into a long term asset it will have to cope with its organizational and leadership problems and control misgovernance and corruption in Sindh.

     Further, the PMLN will find itself more isolated and its capacity to withstand military pressure will further decline. Therefore the policy of supporting the military may further weaken the autonomy and power of the Sharif government.

    The military is the major beneficiary of Zardari’s ill-advised statement and the decision of the PMLN and some other rightwing political parties to support the military. This has divided the political forces and strengthened the political weight of the military.

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