Pakistan’s Political Developments in interview with Dr. Khalid Rahman
By: Vali Kouzehgar Kaleji
International Peace Studies Center (IPSC)
Khalid Rahman is Director General of the Islamabad-based think-tank, the Institute of Policy Studies. The Institute’s main areas of research include Pakistani society, domestic political scene, the economic perspective, Faith and Society and the global and regional geo-political situation. As Director General of the Institute, Khalid Rahman has over twenty five years’ experience of research, training and management. He has conducted over 500 seminars and roundtables organized by the Institute. He has been involved in organizing both the research and training programs of the Institute. His main research contribution has been on the national and regional politics which includes an active focus on Pakistan-China Relations. He has more than 20 publications (written/Edited) and a number of papers to his credit. He is also editor of the IPS Journal ‘Policy Perspectives’. As a trainer, he frequently conducts courses both in and outside institute. He is also on the boards of a number of social and development organizations.
Key words: Pakistan, Iran, Supreme Court of Pakistan, Pakistan Peoples Party, US-Pakistan, Sanction against Iran.
IPSC: Current months has seen Pakistan buffeted by numerous and serious political crises. The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Thursday ordered Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to appear in court on February 13 for a formal indictment on contempt charges. What’s your analysis about reasons of this event? And what are its consequences on political situation in Pakistan?
Rahman: The issue may be seen from two perspectives: technical and political. From technical point of view, the Prime Minister has committed the contempt of court by disobeying its orders, and therefore it appears that he would be indicted for it; the indictment would not only cause the Prime Minister to be declared as ineligible for the membership of the Parliament but would also confiscate his position as Prime Minister. In the meantime, it is probable that the PM would try to delay the case by submitting another review petition to the court; it is also likely that he would turn around the tables by resigning from his position. In any case, however, the PPP government would have to write, sooner or later, the letter to the Swiss Courts, as per the court orders.On the other hand, if seen from the political perspective, one has to accept that the Supreme Court has avoided taking any absolute step so far against the government, despite the government’s continuous noncompliance with the court orders. With this in view, it is difficult to determine whether Supreme Court would go for indicting the Prime Minister or would still abstain from taking a definite step in order to shun the chances of any break down.
IPSC: A separate court case against the government – the so-called Memogate affair involving an alleged plot by Zardari’s government to seek U.S. help reining in the Pakistani military – fizzled last month after the star witness, American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, decided not to travel to Pakistan to testify, citing security fears. But the court has continued its pursuit of the Swiss case. What’s your opinion about implications of this issue on Zardari’s government?
Rahman: Regarding the “Memo gate” Scandal, it is now an established fact that a memo was written by Ijaz Mansoor and it was against the national interest of Pakistan, and therein, he had some sort of communication with Hussain Haqqani, the ex-Pakistani Ambassador to US. ‘What nature of contact it was’ and ‘who was originally at the back of it’ are the real issues in the case, whereupon Supreme Court is trying to discern some truths. On the other hand, the way the government handled the entire situation i.e. by trying to evade this case, has caused the nation to sense the involvement of government in the whole matter, and thus its role therein is being questioned. However presently, the legal state of the memo case is taking a different turn since Mansoor Ijaz has refused to come to Pakistan to appear before the court, wherein his witness and the submission of evidences might have led the case to take some definite shape. Therefore, it seems that for the time being, the government has become successful in putting off the memo case.
IPSC: The Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kiyani planed to take the army back to its professional roots, which did not include political participations. But some Pakistani Politician such as Nawaz warned that if economic conditions worsen, and the country implodes around Kayani, his hand may be forced to intervene in the political process. What’s your analysis in this regard? Will army com back to power with cap date?
Rahman: General Kayani’s refrain from any direct interference in the political and governmental matters has led him to successfully restore the repute and reverence of the military among the nation. However it is a fact that the incompetence, inefficiency, corruption, and poor-performance of the current political government has roused great restlessness among the nation which in earlier days could have tempted the military leadership to take over. Despite that the majority of the public, all political leadership, civil society and a large circle of opinion-makers are not at all in favor of any kind of military interference in governmental matters. Also the profound engagements of the military in the security related issues do not allow it to go for some other adventure. The courts, in contrast to the past, also do not seem to be in mood to support the military take over; same is the situation in the international circles. Thus seeing in this whole context, it is almost next to impossible that the military would try to take over.
IPSC: The courts and the military appear determined to end the rule of the coalition government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party before it completes its term in February 2013, a struggle over power that has paralyzed the government and distracted it from other pressing issues, including the sinking economy. What’s your prediction about the political future of PPP?
Rahman:It would not be appropriate to say that the courts and the military are determined to topple the PPP government. Instead, in my opinion, no civil government in Pakistan has ever before got such a favorable environment to work in – ‘friendly’ opposition and no direct threat from military – as the PPP government has been gifted with. But unfortunately, despite all this, it has lost most of its public support — which is the real strength of any political government – owing to its poor performance and the large-scale corruption. As to the cases in the court, they are of a legal nature, which should thus be taken by the government on legal basis; but instead, it is trying to counter these cases politically, which is the real fault on part of the government. So far, the court has been handling the situation peacefully while avoiding giving any final verdict against the government; but in case, the court goes for taking any obdurate step, not only the government along with all its institutions, but also the military would be bound to acknowledge and obey the court’s verdict, in light of the constitution. However, all the serious-minded people in the country are desirous to avoid any such situation, and wish that PPP government would complete its term that may cause the democracy and the electoral process to flourish in the country.
Rahman: There is no doubt that a large number of people in Pakistan, particularly in Punjab, support Pakistan Muslim League (N). However PML (N), in capacity of the second biggest political party of the country and the opposition party in the parliament, has fairly disappointed the public, in general, who were looking forward to it to play an effective role by putting enough pressure in making better the performance of government and in giving relief to the public. Besides, the performance of the Punjab government is though better than that of the Federal government, it is however not that ideal. In the political field and in election campaign also, PML (N) is facing grave challenges to retain its real strength in view of the drift of right-wing voters towards the emerging political power, such as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf.
IPSC: Musharraf, who has been living abroad since he resigned in disgrace in 2008, has said he plans to return to Pakistan this month, despite possible arrest, in order to participate in a parliamentary election due by 2013.What does Pervez Musharraf want? Do you agree with opinion that there is “no chance” for Musharraf to stage a come back?
Rahman:In fact, Musharraf didn’t enjoy any considerable support at public level even during his ten-year rule in the country, His real strength was the support from Army; while at international level, some world powers also supported him for their own vested interests. It is strange that now he is showing keenness to take part in politics – which is impossible without the support of public – a major section of which, belonging to any school of thought, considers Musharraf as essentially responsible for the present crises of Pakistan. In such a hostile atmosphere for Musharraf in the country, it is also not possible for the military to go out of the way to ensure his security. Hence, the potential role of Musharraf seems to me not more than a mere occasional media presence.
IPSC: American-Pakistani relations took a turn for the worse in late November 2011 when a NATO air attack killed 26 Pakistani soldiers in strikes against two military bases. Do you think this matter can change US-Pakistan alliance?
Rahman: The May 2nd operation that killed Osama bin Laden (and earlier the CIA agent Ramond Davis case) had triggered a situation full of mistrust between Pakistan and US. The impact of the events created an environment wherein substantial discussions on security and stability issues were overshadowed by the discussion on U.S. operations and operatives in Pakistan. The relations between the two, in this background, seem to have gone at an all-time low in the aftermath of U.S. and the NATO cross-border attack killing 24 Pakistani soldiers, while the hot exchanges were also reported repeatedly from both sides in the aftermath of this attack.
Rahman: Thus the current phase once again represented two realities of U.S.-Pakistan relations: one of fragile friendship, and the other of increasing disbelief and contempt. As a matter of fact, Pak-U.S. relationship fluctuates between the immediate and the long-term range of issues. On one hand, the relationship is under a constant scrutiny of the day-to-day talking points, situation and tactics on ground, or internal controversies; on the other hand, there are long term issues that have remained largely unresolved. Talks are going on between the two but irrespective of what happens in the talks regarding the current Afghanistan situation, the enduring problems are not expected to be over as the U.S. would continue to ask Pakistan to review its strategic policy whereas Pakistan would continue to point out contradictions in American attitude. At present the U.S agenda in the region is highly unpopular in Pakistan, however U.S. has been constantly ignoring the fact that it should not expect a government to deliver on issues which do not carry a sizable support in the masses.
IPSC: As you know, US and EU imposed different sanctions against Iran. So Iran has reacted to growing international pressure by threatening to block naval traffic across the Strait of Hormuz, threatening a vital international oil route in the Persian Gulf that led to increase tensions between Iran and Western and Arab Countries. What’s your analysis about consequences of this issue? What’s your opinion about Pakistan Perspective and role in current situation?
Rahman: The efforts by America and its allies to pressurize Iran on various fronts is not something new, and it is expected to continue so in future; the economic sanctions on Iran should also be seen in the same connection. However, Iran has always countered these challenges very effectively, the major factor behind which is the harmony between its leadership and the public; and if Iran sustains this internal harmony, the impact of world sanctions would gradually sink to nothingness. In my opinion, the disunity among the Muslim World stands out as the main reason why a Muslim country like Iran is being so pressurized by America and its allies. This needs to be thus seriously addressed by all, including Iran, particularly in view of the changing world scenario where the balance of power is being transformed. As to the Pakistani people’s outlook over Iran issue, they understand the tactics being played by the US leadership very well, and this is why the majority of them tend to have the feelings of sympathy and cooperation with Iran, and are seriously desirous that the government of Pakistan would strengthen its ties with Iran, while shunning any kind of pressure.
IPSC: Thanks for your responses and cooperation.