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Pakistan Moves Toward Political, if Not Economic, Stability

Pakistan Moves Toward Political, if Not Economic, Stability

Pakistan, with its political stand-off with the US Government now at least superficially resolved — and with Coalition convoys once again resuming logistical activities between the port of Karachi and bases in Afghanistan — had, by the end of July 2012, begun to re-build its economic base. Pakistan’s economy had suffered a series of blows from internal insurgency — the reaction to the use of the military in the Tribal Areas at the insistence of the US — as well as from paralysis in the energy sector, and the impact of el Niño-related flooding from 2010 onwards.

But, at least, with the US literally out of the political equation in Pakistan for much of 2012, the Pakistan Government had been free to put its domestic political house in order in a way which now seems set to consolidate the power of Pres. Asif Ali Zardari.

But the Government of Pakistan has been operating under strong pressure from the Supreme Court for the past year or more. Long-standing Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was forced to resign on June 20, 2012, over contempt of court charges, and his successor, Raja Pervez Ashraf, began to face the same pressure from the Supreme Court. The result was likely to be that, when the pressures must be addressed, the Government of Prime Minister Ashraf would also resign, and the President will install a neutral, interim Prime Minister for 90 days while a new general election was organized.

This would mean new parliamentary elections for the National Assembly would be held just before the end of 2012.

The Supreme Court on July 25, 2012, gave Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf another two weeks to write a letter to Swiss authorities asking them to re-open a corruption case against Pres. Zardari, after Attorney-General Irfan Qadir told the Court that the order was “not implementable” because a serving President had immunity from prosecution. All of this has been a stalling game, allowing the governing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to ensure that it could prevail in a new election, and then — when Pres. Zardari’s term in the Presidency expired in 2013 — the PPP-dominated National Assembly and the strongly PPP-dominated provincial assemblies could vote Pres. Zardari a further five-year term in office.

Significantly, then, this current train of events was likely to bring about a re-election of the currently-governing coalition led by the PPP, which — it was clear by the end of July 2012 — was benefiting from a fracturing of support for the opposition parties. Ironically, the emergence of former cricket star Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) political party has been pulling support not from the PPP base but from the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has thus seen his chances of sweeping the PPP from power disappear.

Significantly, on July 19, 2012, the leader of the Opposition (and senior PML-N official) in the National Assembly Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan claimed that the PTI was a “test tube party”, a brainchild of former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, who retired from the Army and from the ISI in March 2012. PML-N sources have attempted also to indicate that PTI had been engaged in behind-the-scenes deals with PPP, although, in fact, PTI sources said that their party had been hoping to move voters away from both the PPP and PML-N, and a PPP victory would see no benefits to PTI, other than, perhaps, the start of a new bloc in the National Assembly. There seemed little likelihood, post-election, that PTI would be welcomed into any alliance with either PPP or PML-N.

But in Pakistan’s conspiracy-theory-driven rumor-mill, the PML-N’s charges against PTI and former ISI DG Ahmad Shuja Pasha would gather some support: the PPP, after all, would seem to benefit most from PTI’s electoral efforts. The reality, however, has been that Lt.-Gen. Pasha has historically avoided all attempts to coerce him into a partisan political position. Indeed, his studiously professional approach to national security, including his posting to ISI, has ensured that he is still, in the months following his retirement from the Army, seen as one of the unimpeachable and most intelligent figures in the national security community.

It now seems likely that Lt.-Gen. (rtd.) Pasha, in civilian attire, would be appointed Director-General of the Strategic Plans Division (SPD), the key secretariat for the National Command Authority (NCA) and the executive auth- ority in charge of, particularly, Pakistan’s military nuclear capabilities. The retiring DG (Lt.-Gen. [rtd.] Khalid Kidwai) had been appointed as a serving Army lieutenant-general, but had retired from the Army while in situ, and had been retained as a civilian. This civilianizing of the position now enables Ahmad Shuja Pasha to take the post as a civilian, and removes the post from being a serving three-star position. This, then, gradually strengthens the nominal position of civilian control of the nuclear deterrent, but ensures that a trusted military man was at the helm.

As nervous as US intelligence officials were in their dealings with Lt.-Gen. Pasha as ISI DG, there was never a concern that he was pro-Islamist, unintelligent, or corrupt. The privately-expressed concerns of officials such as (then) US Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden were mainly focused around the probability that Pasha and Pakistan Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani were so much on top of their game that they outmatched their US counterparts, who were never sure whether the Pakistanis were taking advantage of them. In hindsight, a number of serving US officials have admitted privately that early Pakistani cautions to the US against opening a new battle front in the Tribal Areas, for example, were valid and should have been heeded.

Pasha, the consummate professional, has remained extremely quiet since his retirement from the Army.

Analysis by GIS Station Islamabad.

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