One used to talk of Pakistan as a State drawn by a troika----the President, the Prime Minister and the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), with the COAS often acting as the arbiter between the President and the Prime Minister when a democratically elected Government was in power.
2.This image did not hold good only between 1996 and 1999 when Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister enjoying a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. He used that majority to amend the Constitution and deprive the President of the power to dismiss the Prime Minister and imposed on the State a powerless President (Mohammad Rafique Tarar), who would do his bidding.Pakistan came under a duality of leadership----the elected and on-paper powerful Prime Minister and the COAS, powerful on paper as well as in reality. When there was a clash of will and egos between the two, Gen.Pervez Musharraf, as the COAS, overthrew the Prime Minister and assumed the leadership.
3.If one keeps aside this brief period, the post-1971 history of Pakistan has seen repeated instances of an assertive Prime Minister being either overthrown by the Army or being dismissed or forced to quit by the President either at the instigation of the COAS as it happened to Benazir Bhutto in 1990 or with his tacit consent as it happened to Nawaz in 1993 and Benazir in 1996. The post-facto backing of the judiciary under the so-called doctrine of necessity enabled the President and the COAS to rid themselves of an inconvenient or assertive Prime Minister.
4. For the first time since 1971, the State of Pakistan is being drawn not by a troika, but by four horses----- the President, the Prime Minister,the COAS and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Since re-assumuing charge as the Chief Justice, a post from which he was unceremoniously thrown out by Musharraf, Mohammad Iftikhar Chaudhury has shown how powerful and popular a genuinely independent judiciary can become.So long as he heads the judiciary, neither the President nor the Prime Minister nor the COAS can count on the automatic support of the judiciary if they indulge in political wrong-doing.
5. Thus, one finds in Pakistan a President (Asif Ali Zardari), a Prime Minister (Yousef Raza Gilani ) and a COAS (Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani),each equally powerful on paper, but relatively powerless in reality. Despite the action of the Chief Justice in declaring post-facto the proclamation of the State of Emergency in November,2007, by Musharraf as illegal and in setting aside the illegal orders of Musharraf
relating to the judiciary, Zardari continues to be powerful on paper and retains many of the powers assumed by Musharraf, including the most important power to dismiss the Prime Minister , which was re-introduced into the Constitution by Musharrf. But with a powerful and independent Chief Justice in position now, he cannot be certain that his exercise of this power of dismissal will be automatically validated by the judiciary. As a result, he has no other alternative but to grin and bear an increasingly assertive Gilani unless he is able to organise a revolt in the party against Gilani.
6. The power of Gilani derives from the fact that Zardari would find it difficult to dismiss him, but his powerlessness can be attributed to the fact that he has very little popular backing in the country or political backing in his Pakistan People's Party (PPP)----like Benazir and Nawaz had in the country and in their respective parties. Gilani, a Seraiki from Multan, was Zardari's choice as the Prime Minister to keep Makhdoom Amin Fahim, a Sindhi feudal personality and a close political confidante of Benazir, out of power.The party by itself would never have chosen Gilani as the Prime Minister but for Zardari's support. Gilani entered office as a weak leader, who would depend on Zardari for his survival as the Prime Minister, but has grown in office as an assertive and politically influential Prime Minister against whom the President dare not act so long as he enjoys the support of the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and so long as Mohammad Iftikhar Chaudhury continues as the Chief Justice. But there is a limitation to his power imposed by his weak political base in the Party. The fear that in a confrontation, the party may back Zardari and not him acts as a check on Gilani. He is trying to neutralise this check by cultivating Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML).
7.Nawaz has been playing his cards more shewdly than he had ever done in the past.His humiliation at the hands of Musharraf between 1999 anbd 2008 has rendered him more mature and less impetuous. The man, who humiliated the judiciary when he was the Prime Minister between 1996 and 1999, has emerged as the upholder of the independence of the judiciary. The man, who in the past was prepared to side
with the Army against the PPP, has emerged as the well-wisher of the PPP. The man, who sought to concentrate all the powers in his hands between 1996 and 1999, has emerged as a seeming statesman for whom national and people's interests are paramount and not partisan political interests. He has retained his political manoeuvrability. He has neither assumed the mantle of the leader of the opposition nor accepted the role of a partner of the ruling coalition. The fear that in the event of a confrontation, the Punjabi and Seraiki MPs of the PPP might join hands with Nawaz acts as a check on Zardari.
8.Gen.Kayani, as the COAS, is powerful on paper, but not as powereful as his predecessors. The Army can no longer take the support of the judiciary for granted if he interferes in politics. The humiliation of Musharraf has had an impact on the minds of senior army officers. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, a former COAS had to run away from the country and seek to live in political exile in order to escape arrest, prosecution and conviction.In the past, powerful political leaders used to go into exile to escape the jail, but now a former COAS had
to seek exile to escape the jail. So long as the image of a humiliated Musharraf remains fresh in their mind, Gen.Kayani and his successors will hopefully think many times before indulging in political adventurism.
9. The powerful yet powerless syndrome has till now had a checks-and-balances effect on the running of the Pakistani State----the like of which it has never had since it became independent in 1947. Important decisions are being taken on the basis of a consensus reached by the President, the Prime Minister and the COAS----- whether it be in relation to the operations against the Pakistani Taliban or relations with
the US or tacit co-operation with the US in its operations against the Taliban or Al Qaeda. There seems to be no differences on these three issues. All the three have taken in their stride the increasingly active role being played by Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's special representative for the Af-Pak region, who goes around as if he is the viceroy of Pakistan.
10. But there are differences with regard to India. Zardari seems better disposed towards India than Gilani and Kayani. According to well-informed PPP sources, whenever Zardari made some friendly overtures to India, Gilani and Kayani jointly sought to have them neutralised.According to them, whatever little co-operation Pakistan has extended to India in the investigation and prosecution of the
Pakistanis involved in the Mumbai terrorist attack of November,2008, was due to the initiative of Zardari and his confidante Rehman Malik, who is the Interior Minister. They say that it is Gilani and Kayani, who have been acting as speed-breakers on this co-operation.They are surprised that Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh showed what they consider as unwarranted gestures to Gilani, who is not a well-wisher of
India, at Sharm-el-Sheikh and snubbed Zardari, who, according to them is a well-wisher of India, at Yekaterinburg in Russia.
11.Zardari's political role till now has been uncharacteristically low profile. Gilani has taken advantage of the relative inability of Zardari to act against him to inflict one affront upon another on him such as his disapproving the posting of a non-Foreign Service officer close to Zardari as the Ambassador to France or his sacking on charges of corruption the head of Pakistan Steel, who is also reputed to be close to Zardari.
12. Zardari has quietly put up with these affronts. His low-profile role and his seeming reluctance to call Gilani to order have resulted in conflicting images of Zardari circulating in the political circles of Islamabad---- Zardari, the isolated President, Zardari, the disinterested President, Zardari, who has been playing his cards intelligently, but silently and Zardari, who is biding his time before getting rid of Gilani.
13. Which image is correct---it is difficult to say. The equalibrium in the State of Pakistan has thus far remained stable. If it turns unstable leading to a confrontation with unpredictable consequences, Gilani would most probably be the trigger for it. Till now, he has been assertive, but not over-confident. If he turns over-confident, Pakistan could be in for another spell of political instability. (29-8-09)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, the Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )