Is Pakistan's turmoil about to get a whole lot worse???
Just when they seem to be making some progress against the Taliban...
Pakistan faces fresh political turmoil with the end of a legal amnesty for politicians, a move that will divert Islamabad from the anti-terrorism fight and create an uproar aimed at ousting the pro-Western President.
A controversial law, brought in by military ruler Pervez Musharraf back in 2007, wiped away long-standing criminal charges pending against many political and bureaucrats, including current President Asif Zardari, the widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who became leader last year. But a court ruling means that the amnesty will end November 28, creating a legal minefield as old charges are suddenly revived.
Ministers and other senior officials who benefited from the amnesty, known as the National Reconciliation Ordinance, including Mr. Zardari, top presidential aide Salman Farooqui, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, and prominent Home Minister in the Sindh provincial government Zulfiqar Mirza. Altogether, about 5,000 people saw charges dropped against them as a result of the ordinance.
Soon ministers could find themselves hauled before the courts over criminal cases dating back to the 1990s, ranging from murder to corruption, or they could rush to seek pre-arrest bail.
Although Mr. Zardari enjoys legal immunity as President in theory, some believe that this does not protect him from cases instituted before he became head of state, and it brings into question his eligibility to have become President in the first place. His opponents contend that without the amnesty, now declared invalid, he could not have stood for president. Lawsuits that challenge Mr. Zardari's right to be president are already primed to go.
The President, for his part, is determined to hang on, telling friends that he'll only leave the presidency “in an ambulance.” It means that, just as the United States is trying to persuade Islamabad to sign on to its new Afghanistan policy and Pakistan is fighting Taliban extremists within its own borders, Islamabad will be consumed by political intrigue.
The political opposition, the powerful media and the military, Pakistan's dominant institution, are all lined up against Mr. Zardari, hoping to use the crisis to force him to relinquish most of his powers to the weak Prime Minister, or even eject him from the presidency.
The real confrontation runs deeper: a battle between the civilians and the military for the levers of power. At stake is the continuation of a government that decided to take on Islamic extremists and, more fundamentally, democracy in Pakistan. The country has been ruled by the army for most of its existence, with the most recent military strongman, Mr. Musharraf, only giving up power in 2008, after nine years of rule.
“Can Pakistan afford this sort of political battles at a time when the armed forces are engaged in a state of war against insurgency in many parts of the country?” newspaper columnist Ikramullah, who goes by one name, wrote yesterday in The Nation, a Pakistani daily. “The [democratic] system is at stake.”