Chaos in Pakistan
Shia tribesmen yesterday laid out the 15 bloodied bodies on the ground in front of the governor’s house in Peshawar. Victims of military retaliation, the protesters claimed, after the beheading of six soldiers in the area four days ago. In Quetta there has been a three-day sit-in by Shia alongside the bodies of 96 people killed in a sectarian bomb attack. The communities are trapped in a no-holds-barred war between government forces and militants of Lashkar-e-Islam that reflects Pakistan’s lawless, disintegrating chaos.
Meanwhile in the capital Islamabad tens of thousands have rallied against corruption and for the immediate resignation of the government at the behest of an obscure preacher. And, as Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri issues ultimatums, the supreme court issues an arrest warrant for prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on charges related to his three-year stint as minister for water and power.
Rumour and conspiracy theories are the stuff of the country’s politics, and press speculation echoes the mood in Qadri’s crowd to suggest judge and preacher are acting in concert. And perhaps even with the backing of the country’s powerful army and its generals in a bid to destabilise the government just months ahead of elections. A year ago such rumours of a possible military coup plunged Pakistan into chaos. Now, once again.
Embattled President Asif Ali Zardari, who has nevertheless pushed through significant democratic reforms, can take little comfort from the military’s current ostensible commitment to civilian government. Smarting from its humiliation by the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden, closer scrutiny from the press, and supreme court challenges over human rights, its officer corps continues to wield huge political and economic influence, not least on foreign policy. Might it again be tempted to return to the old ways? Worryingly, an order to disperse Qadri’s supporters now encamped outside parliament might provide just the excuse some officers are looking for.