The democratically elected government of Pakistan led by PPP has completed five years in office and now prepares itself for the polls on May 11. This by itself marks a major milestone in the history of Pakistan. Stephen P Cohen, a veteran American political analyst, would, however, qualify this by saying that this stage marks a modest kilometre stone. The Government of Pakistan tried to undo some dangerous trends of the past, according to Stephen Cohen. The PPP evolved a policy of normalcy with India and control over groups that had in the past tended to derail the process of normalisation of relations between the two neighbours.
The PPP came to power after a landslide victory in 2008, after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. In the forthcoming elections on May 11, apart from the PPP, the Pakistan Muslim League(N) led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Tehreek-e-Insaaf party headed by former cricket star Imran Khan are the main contenders.
The PPP-led government, which held office for five years, had brought about important constitutional amendments such as promotion of federalism which ensured the end of domination of Punjab province over the rest of Pakistan.
The PPP regime, however, failed to end the domination of the military over the government, much less bring the military machine, particularly the army, under the government's control. A huge percentage of the country's budget is allocated to the military.
With all these, no wonder, the army retains the upper hand on vital policies regarding Afghanistan and the nuclear programme. Pakistan is the only country where the civilian government has let the military run its own business. The military-based enterprises include real estate and other commercial activities. Christophe Jaffrelot, a well-known political analyst of King's India Institute, London, has commented on why the army should take the risk to dislodge the civilians from power when it can continue to rule and loot the country in so many ways without taking the risk of accountability and, therefore, unpopularity.
The judiciary in Pakistan is the most dominant wing of the state today. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Chaudhry, successfully resisted Gen Musharraf who had tried to dislodge him after the Supreme Court made an issue of the disposal of public companies at a throwaway price. The Chief Justice had received the support of thousands of lawyers whose demonstrations in the streets had prepared the ground for the continued supremacy of the Supreme Court.
Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry even took on President Zardari also when Prime Minister Gilani was directed to write to the Swiss authorities and issue orders to start an investigation in respect of President Zardari's bank accounts in Switzerland.
Army senior Generals were summoned for a meeting by the army chief, Ashfaque Parvez Kayani, in the first week of March. They were concerned over the worsening law and order situation in Karachi, and the attacks on Shias in Quetta and elsewhere, which left about 250 people dead in the country. There was extensive violence in Karachi, with more than 150 houses of Christians being burnt down as well as two churches and several shops belonging to Christians getting destroyed. Gen. Kayani met President Zardari after the meeting and conveyed to him the anxiety of the army authorities over the rapidly deteriorating situation and urged Zardari to take urgent steps to deal with the situation.
Observers believe that Pakistan's well-known problems continue and that there is a race between growing incompetence and problems, and these challenges persist in Pakistan. The country is beset with serious issues like insurgency, sectarianism, struggling economy and the larger problem of Afghanistan.
Stephen Cohen believes that India needs a stable and forward-looking government in Pakistan, which also enjoys the confidence of the army.
Pakistan's former Ambassador to Washington, Hussain Haqqani, who is now said to be a hunted man in Pakistan itself, commented recently that Washington and Islamabad should give up the pretention of being allies and acknowledge that their interests simply do not converge enough to make them strong partners. Instead, he said, the US should leave Pakistan to its own devices so that it can discover for itself how weak it is without American aid and support, and thereby enable Pakistan to return to the mainstream, suitably chastened about its limitations. By coming to terms with such realities, Haqqani continues, Washington would be free to explore new ways of pressuring Pakistan and achieving its own goal in the region.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Zardari's son and President-designate of the Pakistan People's Party, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, had a tiff with his father and left for Dubai in a huff. Bilawal reportedly commented in one of his interactions that even he would not vote for the PPP in the forthcoming elections, since it was not clear where the party was heading. A few days after Bilawal's exit, President Zardari himself left for Dubai to assuage the feelings of Bilawal and bring him back to Pakistan. Father and son returned to Pakistan on April 2. The PPP has now programmed to kickstart its election campaign from the place in Sindh where Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's ancestors lived.
Bilawal himself will not be able to contest the elections, or even vote since he completes 25 years, which is mandatory for voting age, only in September 2013. However, being the party chief, he will be very much part of the election campaign.
In this confused scenario, Gen. Pervez Musharraf returned to Pakistan from London on March 24 after an absence of more than four years. He announced that he had returned to Pakistan to contest the elections and "to save Pakistan". He lacks popularity and a political base. He also faces threats from the Pakistani Taliban and allied extremist groups. It may be recalled that he survived two well- planned assassination attempts. He will not now have any special security to protect him.
The forthcoming elections in Pakistan would hopefully bring about a stable government which can take forward the process of normalisation of its relations with India.
(The writer is an Advisor to Observer Research Foundation and a former Governor)
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