Friday, December 18, 2009
Fears for anti-Taliban push as graft fracas engulfs Pakistan
Retired general and analyst Talat Masood said that there would be repercussions if the implicated politicians were determined to hold onto their portfolios and engage in lengthy court battles. 'A swift way out of the crisis would be for the implicated ministers to resign or a cabinet reshuffle take place.' –APP/ File photo
ISLAMABAD: A Supreme Court ruling quashing a corruption amnesty protecting politicians has thrown nuclear-armed Pakistan into turmoil as the nation's allies want it to focus on battling militants, analysts say.
Late Thursday, the defence minister was barred from leaving the country, the first fallout from a court decision striking down a 2007 law protecting people including President Asif Ali Zardari and reviving old graft cases.
The travel ban sparked Pakistan's ambassador in Washington to deny a coup looming in a nation that only emerged from a long spell of military rule last year and has been battered by political turmoil and surging Islamist violence.
Although analysts said whispers of a coup were completely unfounded, the havoc created by the ruling will unnerve Islamabad's Western backers, who have put Pakistan at the heart of the global fight against Al-Qaeda.
‘It undermines the reputation of the political elite... and uncertainty at this stage causes concern at the international level,’ said Hasan Askari, a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University.
‘The international community's major concern is how far the internal developments and political wrangling between the government and opposition would affect Pakistan's capacity to address terrorism and related issues.’
Pakistan launched multiple offensives against Taliban and other militants in the northwest this year, trying to quell an insurgency that has killed more than 2,700 people since the rebellion intensified in July 2007.
But US President Barack Obama's administration has been heaping pressure on Pakistan to also go after groups such as the Haqqani Network, the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants who target foreign troops in Afghanistan.
They have carved out sanctuaries in the lawless and rugged northwest tribal belt -- branded the most dangerous place in the world by Washington -- where they train and regroup before crossing the porous border to Afghanistan.
Political columnist Shafqat Mahmood said that so far, there was little sign that Pakistan's war on the militants was suffering.
‘The security apparatus, which is the military, is fairly autonomous so any kind of political back and forth and court cases will occupy the political class but it won't affect the security situation,’ he said.
But retired general and analyst Talat Masood said that there would be repercussions if the implicated politicians were determined to hold onto their portfolios and engage in lengthy court battles.
‘That will result in an uncertainty as to how the government will eventually shape and during this transitional period there would be difficulties as far as governance and security issues are concerned,’ he told AFP.
‘Logistics, financial allocations, the running of the country, the ownership of the war, the morale, attending to those people who are displaced and wounded -- all that has a very direct bearing on the economy, on everything.’
Askari said there were also positive aspects to the ruling, as it showed Pakistan had an independent judiciary willing to tackle high-level corruption.
The amnesty -- called the National Reconciliation Ordinance -- was passed in October 2007 by then-president General Pervez Musharraf, who was under pressure to hold elections and end about eight years of military rule.
It quashed charges against a number of politicians including Zardari and the current interior and defence ministers to allow them to stand for office.
A swift way out of the crisis would be for the implicated ministers to resign or a cabinet reshuffle take place, Masood said.
For the moment, Zardari remains protected from old graft cases because his position gives him immunity from prosecution but the opposition are calling for his resignation and his eligibility for the presidency could also be challenged in court.
Such legal cases could drag on for months but at the moment, columnist Mahmood said, Zardari seemed determined to ‘fight to the bitter end’. –AFP