Political Rift in Pakistan Risks Stability, U.S. Mission

A ruling by Pakistan's Supreme Court could upend the country's political system

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Pakistan President Asi Zardari and much of his cabinet may be in jeopardy, owing to the Pakistan Supreme Court overturning the National Reconciliation Ordinance, a blanket amnesty act covering 8,000 Pakistani officials for almost any crime between 1986 and 1999. The protection was meant to help the country move beyond what was an incredibly difficult and tumultuous period. Its overturning opens the possibility for prosecuting a number of officials, including President Zardari and much of his cabinet. The ruling also re-opens a money laundering case pending against Zardari in Swiss courts.

Zardari's political opponents are calling for him to resign and face trial. Under Pakistan's Constitution, Zardari is immune while serving as president, but other officials are not protected. Zardari is holding fast, but other top officials are not faring as well. Most recently, Pakistan's Defense Minister was stopped at the airport trying to flee to China. The political turmoil overtaking Islamabad threatens to complicate struggling American efforts to partner with Pakistan in fighting the Taliban there.

  • We Need Zardari Protected Commentary's Max Boot explains, "That he may now face criminal prosecution undermines his standing and makes it harder for him to direct Pakistan's military and intelligence forces to move against the Taliban and other Islamist terrorist groups." He writes, "Bottom line: with Zardari growing weaker, there is even less chance of meaningful Pakistani action against the Quetta Shura or the Haqqani Network."
  • I'm Not Worried So says Juan Cole, usually no optimistic on matters of South Asia. "This sort of political crisis does not frighten me. They will just have new elections if it comes to that, and someone else will be president. Likely it will be Nawaz Sharif of the Muslim League , who has a grudge with Taliban now, as well."
  • Zardari Already Relinquishing Powers Foreign Policy's Maria Kuusisto writes, "Zardari has little option but to relinquish some of his powers if he wants to survive. [...] Until recently, Zardari has refused to see the writing on the wall, thinking that he can manage the political pressures against him through a combination of political and judicial manipulation. However, on Nov. 29, Zardari handed over control of the National Command Authority (NCA), which is the agency in charge of the deployment and development of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, to [Prime Minister Yusuf Raza] Gilani. This could signal that Zardari is finally starting to realize he has few options but to give up his key powers. But he needs to act quickly, as the opposition and the military are growing inpatient."

  • Amazing He Survived This Long Foreign Policy's David Rothkopf recently named Zardari one of 2009's top political winners, explaining, "I'll admit it, I'm no fan. He's a lousy president. He's totally unreliable. His government is a feeble joke and barely keeps a lid on the most dangerous country in the world. But he's still alive at the end of 2009 and still in office and frankly, both defy the odds in a big way. Everything's relative."

  • Weaker Zardari A Loss For India The Hindu Daily laments, "In the coming days, as a result of the Supreme Court verdict, Mr. Zardari will come under tremendous pressure to resign. He is the least popular of the country's political leaders, already weakened by several controversies. It is unfortunate that Mr. Zardari is also the only Pakistani leader today who has articulated a bold new vision for ties with India and has had the courage to stand up to jihadist militancy."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.