Power struggle threatens Pakistan’s leader

Zardari attempting to fend off maneuvers by military, intelligence

[(Extract from the article)…The prospect of a military takeover — long an option in Pakistan — is overblown, say officials in both the government and the military. Kayani is indeed ambitious but he understands the consequences of a military takeover, particularly with regard to continued U.S. military aid, said one official…On the other side, Pakistani officials say Zardari understands the very real and dire consequences of firing Kayani]

By Robert Windrem, Senior investigative producer

Courtesy: NBC News, Mon., Nov . 16, 2009

Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders are tangling in a series of political confrontations that could lead to a constitutional crisis or worse after the New Year, officials in both Islamabad and Washington tell NBC News.

With the tenor and volume of debate rising over America’s commitment to Afghanistan, that struggle is complicating U.S. strategy to stabilize the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

It’s not only that dozens are dying every week in suicide bombings or that there are concerns that the Pakistani military will not be able to hold the territory it has won in hard-fought battles in South Waziristan. The more profound issue, say Pakistani and U.S. officials, is the fate of President Asif Ali Zardari, who is engaged in a seemingly never-ending battles with the country’s powerful military and intelligence establishments.

In recent weeks, say officials, opponents of Zardari have begun raising the stakes, setting up what some are calling a “soft coup … a legislative coup” – an attempt to force Zardari out.

End to amnesty

On Nov. 2, legislators opposed to Zardari, along with the military and intelligence community, thwarted an attempt by his Pakistani People’s Party to hammer through an extension of the National Reconciliation Ordinance.

The innocuously named law, pushed through at the behest of the U.S. in 2007, froze criminal prosecutions against Zardari, his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, and their allies. Without the NRO, Bhutto would not have returned to run for president. Not long after she did return, she was assassinated, and her husband succeeded her as head of the PPP, winning the presidential election last year. Parliament has until Nov. 28 to renew the NRO. But on Nov. 2, other parties in the PPP-led coalition, along with the parliamentary opposition and the military, thwarted Zardari. Analysts in Pakistan and the U.S. say there is no chance the NRO will be renewed by the deadline, and in fact, Prime Minister Yusef Reza Gilani said this week it’s dead.

As a result, say Pakistani officials, several cases involving Zardari cronies — some of them high-ranking officials — are likely to move forward. One Pakistani official familiar with all the parties said that while he can’t see the president stepping down, he expects a constitutional crisis early in the year, as the prosecutors close in first on his aides, then him. “Nothing before (next year), but almost certainly by then,” said the official.

One potential issue is whether Zardari has presidential immunity for any crimes committed before he was elected. He may have it for his time in office, but it’s uncertain that he does for any crimes alleged before he assumed office.

Deep rift in power structure

U.S. officials are said to be alarmed by the development. It cannot have come as a surprise, however.

The top of the Pakistani power structure is riven by deep, personal and professional animosity between military and civilian leaders. As one senior Pakistani official reports, Zardari and Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani “hate each other” — and each is trying to ensure that other can’t threaten him, often against U.S. interests.

The stalemate over the NRO extension is just the latest move by the military. What Zardari will do to counter that is uncertain, but he is certainly trying to get help from his allies in the U.S. government.

The prospect of a military takeover — long an option in Pakistan — is overblown, say officials in both the government and the military. Kayani is indeed ambitious but he understands the consequences of a military takeover, particularly with regard to continued U.S. military aid, said one official.

“This government does not believe we are trying to be supportive,” said an officer in the Pakistani intelligence community. “There are no political ambitions in the army. The past relationship between the army and government … the previous experiences have been very bad … This government still does not believe that a transformation has occurred.”

“We want them to do their jobs, we want to do ours,” he concluded.

But does Kayani want to be a kingmaker? Under one scenario, he eschews a coup but instead maneuvers to have a “government of national unity,” populated with technocrats, replace Zardari.

Both fear Sharif

On the other side, Pakistani officials say Zardari understands the very real and dire consequences of firing Kayani. So there is a stalemate and no clear leadership. Both sides fear Zardari’s chief political rival, the charismatic but more religious Nawaz Sharif, and would band together to thwart any power play he might attempt. At least, that’s long been Zardari’s plan. (Sharif is banned from serving as head of government under a constitutional amendment pushed through by former President Pervez Musharraf. Zardari promised to remove the ban but hasn’t followed through.)

But the NRO stalemate, say officials in Pakistan and the United States, is just the latest in a string of crises. Only last month, there was the controversy over whether the U.S. had put onerous burdens on Pakistan in return for a $7.5 billion aid package.

With Congress unhappy about reports that previous counterterrorism aid had been diverted to conventional forces and fearing that some of the money might be funneled to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development, the bill laid out restrictions and requirements on how the money was to be spent.

The military began a public relations campaign assailing the restrictions. The officer in the Pakistani intelligence community told NBC that clauses in the bill were believed to be “instrusive,” “derogatory” and a “legislative indictment – assumptions we’re not doing all we can against militants.”

So the military leaked the details of the U.S. objections. In a particularly telling choice of words, the intelligence officer said the leaks occurred because Kayani is, “in some ways, leading a political party. His public has to know why he does what he does.”

Not meant ‘to cause trouble’

The officer said it was not done “to cause trouble for government. It was to show rank and file (in the Pakistani military) that that army is taking a stand for what’s best for country, and to make clear these clauses we felt were detrimental to the long-term security of the country.”

Specifically, the officer as well as others in the Pakistani government friendly to the army said none of the three drafts of the U.S.-Pakistani agreement “were ever discussed with anyone in the Army or ISI” (Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence directorate).

Zardari’s people deny that. One official said Kayani was briefed “in full and in person” on the details of the bill and is playing the “babe in the woods” claiming to be blindsided for reasons that are unclear. He said that under Musharraf, who is also a former army chief, the previous aid bills had similar language and “no one cared.” This time, it’s a bigger deal because of the rift and lack of trust between the two leaders.

If that was the case, however, why didn’t Zardari leak the communications showing the military was briefed? asked one military official. Indeed, the military feels confident it will emerge as the survivor in all this, with Zardari’s popularity now measured in the teens in almost every Pakistani public opinion poll.

Courtesy and Thanks: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33893960/ns/world_news-south_and_central_asia/

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