After the floods, political stability in Pakistan is in danger
September 13, 2010
Many Pakistanis say their government’s reaction to the disastrous floods has been ineffective. The politicians are serving their own interests by protecting their own lands, pocketing aid money and helping supporters.
Analysts believe that besides the huge impact on at least 20 million people and to the country’s economy, Pakistan’s democracy is at stake. There have already been rumors of a possible new military takeover. It’s been only two and a half years since the Pakistani army withdrew to the barracks after ruling the country for almost a decade and handed over power to an elected government.
Military gets a better image
At that time, the military’s image was at an all-time low. But the flood has given the armed forces a unique opportunity to brush up their reputation by planying a leading part in distributing aid. Samad Khurram, who was an active participant in the movement that brought down military ruler Pervez Musharraf, says this is not good for the fledgling democracy: "When people see army men delivering aid, the credibility of the army increases. And in Pakistan, it’s always the politicians against the army. So if the army improves its standing and the politicians don’t do much, that’s always disastrous for democracy here. And the government has been terrible, its response has been terrible."
When the floods started, President Asif Ali Zardari was touring Europe and saw no reason to cut short his trip. The government has not been able to coordinate the aid and reconstruction efforts efficiently, and compared to Islamist groups, for instance, the big democratic parties are not very visible in the flood affected areas. Harris Khalique, a long-time political and social activist, sees a fundamental weakness on the part of Pakistan’s moderate political forces: "Unfortunately, liberals and seculars don’t have an agenda in this country. And the extremists and the terrorist forces are clear-headed and focused. They have certain goals to achieve, and they would use any means to get to where they want to get. And that is of course creating an idea of a Caliphate that never existed in human history, an idea of a just, egalitarian – of course, for men! – Islamic state. And they would do everything to attract people!"
Military government: an unlikely possibility
Samad Khurram argues that Pakistan’s democrats should continue to back the civilian government, suggesting that voters wait until the next election to punish politicians who have done little during the floods or have proved to be corrupt. He doesn’t believe a military coup is imminent: "I don’t think the army is going to take over, simply because some legal mechanism has to provide an umbrella for an army takeover. And that’s not going go happen, since the judiciary that was reinstated actually declined to take an oath on the Provisional Constitutional Order issued by Musharraf. So it’s very unlikely that these judges will actually accept a military takeover. And whenever the military takes over, it always goes to the Supreme Court to get it to provide some legal framework." Most political observers seem to share this assessment.
They believe that the army is more likely to use the floods to increase its already considerable political role behind the scenes. But this doesn’t mean the government is not under massive pressure. After all, the floods have hit a country already facing the challenge of widespread terrorism and a financial crunch.
Political stability imminent
Samad Khurram says there will be a number of threats to political stability in Pakistan after the floods: "People will eventually, when they haven't had food for months and are in a terrible condition and the government continues to do little, take to the streets and create a complete state of anarchy. It’s also possible that there might be separatist movements in different provinces and that might start gaining momentum. It’s possible that these extremist groups will become more powerful and they might get more support and volunteers. So you can never be certain. But the signs don’t look that good, to be honest." Harris Khalique believes that the coming three to six months will decide the fate of the present government.
Author: Thomas Baerthlein, Islamabad Editor: Grahame Lucas