As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, March 13, 2009

Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

This is actually good news. The US and the UK have been leading hard on the Zardari government to arrive at a deal in their increasingly boisterous political standoff, and there are tentative signs that such a deal is being made.

The chief of the army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, met Friday with Mr. Zardari, and with the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, in what politicians said was an imminent decision to lift executive rule in Punjab Province, one of Mr. Sharif’s demands for stepping back from confrontation.

Mr. Zardari placed the Punjab, the most populous province in Pakistan and the stronghold of Mr. Sharif, under the rule of the governor on Feb. 25, and effectively dismissed the provincial assembly, where Mr. Sharif’s party predominates.

Pakistani leaders were also discussing a Feb. 25 Supreme Court decision that disqualified Mr. Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz, from elective office, politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties said.

That decision has been widely criticized in the Pakistani press and among politicians as a political ruling carried out at Mr. Zardari’s behest.

It's a good start, but considering that the reinstatement of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, was what sparked mass protests both against Pervez Musharraf and Zardari, and that is not to be found in this deal, I wonder how successful it would be in stopping the marches. This may appease Nawaz Sharif, who Juan Cole thinks is not respecting democracy by threatening open rebellion against the elected government, but it doesn't address the larger question.

This report from Middle East Progress gets at many of the thornier issues, which are complex. One thing is clear, however; this situation, no matter how unstable, is better than another military coup. An excerpt:

Mr. Sharif’s PML-N lost out to the PPP in the 2008 elections due to a sympathy vote after Ms. Bhutto’s assassination. Unable to digest the prospect of sitting out in the cold for another four years (Musharraf had exiled him earlier for nine years), Mr. Sharif desperately wants the restoration of the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, in the fair expectation that the latter would hold all Musharraf acts illegal – including the reprieve from corruption granted to Mr. Zardari and several PPP leaders – and thereby compel a mid-term election later this year or next. Mr. Sharif is capitalizing on his rising nation-wide popularity in the wake of the plunging fortunes of the ruling PPP and its coalition partners, the results of a run of bad political decisions by Mr. Zardari, including retaining the chairmanship of the PPP while serving as president of Pakistan and having a party loyalist acting as prime minister. Mr. Zardari’s refusal to reinstate Mr. Chaudhry has led Mr. Sharif to join hands with a simmering country-wide lawyers’ movement in support of Mr. Chaudhry. The joint opposition has launched a “Long March” on Islamabad from all over the country, starting March 12 and reaching its destination for an interminable “sit-in” outside parliament in Islamabad on March 16 [...]

Pakistan is unraveling. The only recipe is more democracy, not less, so that civilian support for, and ownership of, the war on terror can be manufactured and strengthened. Western efforts must be focused on strengthening the economy (there is no substitute for jobs, well-being and upward mobility in ensuring a political stake in the system rather than Long Marches and terrorism) and retraining and re-equipping the Pakistani military to cope with insurgency. Above all, greater intervention is needed in discreetly but firmly knocking political heads together in Pakistan. The last thing the United States should consider is a wink and a nod to another army general to seize power. The war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban will eventually be won in the hearts and minds of the people.

Read the whole thing.

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