Asif Ali Zardari
A rumor of a possible military coup against Pakistan’s sitting though often invisible president, Asif Ali Zardari, made big headlines in the country this Christmas weekend. Leading newspapers claimed that a selection of top army brass had met in early December with leaders from the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), a party led by two-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Pakistan’s democratic institutions—a president, a parliament, a prickly judiciary—generally struggle for recognition and relevance. But not at the moment. The country recently saw three major campaign rallies just days apart. (Elections are slated for 2013, though they could be moved up.) First, Shahbaz Sharif—the chief minister of Punjab and brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif—led his party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), in an impassioned rally.
Compounding things, the international community has moved ponderously, even lethargically, to aid the survivors. According to Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Saudi Arabia has led all countries in providing aid, with about $112 million, followed by the United States with nearly $76 million, and then the United Kingdom's nearly $65 million. Pakistan's neighbor and regional rival, India, has offered very little, while Pakistan's all-weather friend, China, has ponied up a paltry $9 million thus far. The total sum, according to the NDMA, amounts to only $524.93 million.
It’s just about a week since President Obama announced that he had met his pledge to begin the American pullout from Iraq. It wasn’t exactly, as many commentators have observed, that he had announced his “mission accomplished!" But he did say that he would begin the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country, and it has begun.
[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner] From the New York Times story this morning on a scandal in Pakistan, where numerous government officials are accused of holding fraudulent academic credentials: “A degree is a degree,” said Nawab Aslam Raisani, the chief minister of Baluchistan Province and an ally of President Asif Ali Zardari. “Whether fake or genuine, it’s a degree. It makes no difference.”
On August 26, 2008, Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, touched down for a secret meeting on an aircraft carrier stationed in the Indian Ocean. The topic: Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The summit had been arranged the previous month. Mullen had grown anxious about the rising danger from Pakistan’s tribal areas, which Islamic militants were using as a base from which to strike American troops in Afghanistan and to plot terrorist attacks against the United States. He flew to Islamabad to see the country’s army chief of staff, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
In late August, a couple of weeks after a U.S. drone strike incinerated Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, the country’s most popular televised chat show, “Capital Talk,” hosted a panel to discuss national security. Among the guests was a squat, middle-aged woman with short black hair, streaked with silver dye, named Shireen Mazari. A defense analyst and public intellectual, Mazari is known for her hawkish nationalism--and deep suspicions of India and the United States.
One interesting wrinkle in the story of Baitullah Mehsud's assassination-by-drone is that Mehsud has long been a higher-priority target for Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, than he has been for the United States. This may have been for personal reasons. Pakistan and the CIA both believe that Baitullah Mehsud was responsible for the assassination of Zardari's wife, Benazir Bhutto. And ever since, Zardari has feared that he will be the next target. The Bush administration, however, was reportedly unwilling to send drones against Mehsud.
Earlier this spring, Nawaz Sharif threatened to topple Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's government. Since taking power in September, Zardari had been promising to reinstate Iftikhar Chaudhry, the chief justice of the supreme court, whom Pervez Musharraf had sacked on March 9, 2007. But Zardari, who feared that Chaudhry would try to either curb executive power or dredge up corruption cases, balked repeatedly. This annoyed Sharif--and many of his fellow countrymen--to no end.
Like Isaac, I don't find Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari very impressive or reassuring. I did think this was a snappy comeback to his questioning yesterday by David Gregory: MR. GREGORY: Is there a view, however, in Pakistan that the Taliban should be kept around for a rainy day, as it's been said, as a bulwark against Indian influence in neighboring Afghanistan? MR. ZARDARI: I don't think so. I don't think so. MR.