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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Pakistani President Weakened by Political Showdown

By Judith Latham
19 March 2009

Pakistan’s President signed an order this week reinstating the popular Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who was fired in November 2007. The order allows Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry and several other deposed judges to return to the bench on Sunday, March 22.

When Chief Justice Chaudhry and the other justices were fired by former President Pervez Musharraf, it set off a street protest movement that culminated last year in his resignation and the subsequent election of President Asif Ali Zardari. But President Zardari, widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, himself became the object of last week’s political protests.

Analysts say former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may be the ultimate winner in this struggle
On Monday, after nearly a week of protests, Pakistan’s legal community and supporters of opposition leader Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-N won their key demand – restoring the deposed Supreme Court justices.

Perspective from Pakistan

Barry Newhouse, VOA correspondent in Islamabad, calls Mr. Zardari’s recent decision ironic. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Newhouse says that President Zardari had been insisting for months that it was not possible to do and it would require more dealings with Parliament. He says the worry of President Zardari and some of his supporters is that it could endanger his own presidency, since he was granted immunity from prosecution on grounds of corruption by a Pakistani court.

US officials and Pakistani Army Chief Ashfaq Kiyani are widely seen to have urged President Zardari to restore the deposed Supreme Court justices
Newhouse says members of the Pakistani media have been nearly unanimous in interpreting these events as weakening the power of Mr. Zardari. He notes that the media in Pakistan have been “very aggressive” in promoting Justice Chaudhry’s case and in covering the protests that led up to Monday’s decision. But Newhouse says it is unclear how the situation will play out because Mr. Zardari’s chief political opponent is former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently blocked from holding elective office.

An American Perspective

The international community has welcomed the peaceful outcome of Pakistan’s political standoff.

Barry Newhouse observes that Washington – from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to special envoy Richard Holbrooke to the U.S. Ambassador in Islamabad – maintained close contact with both Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif throughout the standoff. According to Newhouse, many Pakistanis believe that Washington was instrumental in producing a political deal. Furthermore, the Pakistani army chief is widely seen to have urged – if not forced – the political leaders to reach a compromise.

A British Perspective

British journalist Ian Williams says in Britain, where many Pakistanis live, people have been closely following Punjabi politics and Nawaz Sharif’s power struggle with President Zardari and his supporters. Mr. Sharif’s family is from the Punjab Province in Pakistan.

Williams says most people in Britain view the Pakistani President as “completely inept.” In addition, some think that his “only qualification” for the job was his marriage to Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007. Williams says Nawaz Sharif is “riding triumphantly” because President Zardari failed to honor the promises he made earlier to reinstate the judges unconstitutionally dismissed by Musharraf. Williams notes that British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has welcomed the news about reinstatement of the judges.

An Indian Perspective

Jehangir Pocha, editorial director of INX News in New Delhi, says that Indians have also been closely monitoring the political unrest in neighboring Pakistan. He says people in India are concerned that Pakistan may be “sliding into anarchy.” And they worry that troubles there could “spill over the border” – perhaps in the form of flows of refugees or violence. Pocha says that Indians are concerned that Pakistan may be “veering on the edge of a failed state.”

Political Implications

VOA’s Barry Newhouse suggests that Nawaz Sharif may be the ultimate winner in this struggle and that his political reputation has been enhanced both at home and abroad. Newhouse says that the way Mr. Sharif has handled himself in the past few weeks has done a lot to “rehabilitate his image internationally.” Newhouse also notes that by Washington’s appearing to back the Pakistan People’s Party it may have actually prevented the Pakistani government from taking a “firmer stance against the violence and militancy.”

There remains a lot of skepticism whether the current government will be able to rein in its extremist elements, especially in the border regions with Afghanistan. But Barry Newhouse suggests there is now more “appreciation for the threat” that militant groups pose to Pakistan.

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