Pakistan's Woes Have American Overtones

Ask a Pakistani to describe the country’s mounting raft of problems in one sentence, and his answer would be: it’s all about a letter.

The letter in reference is the one the present government in power in Islamabad is required, by the apex court of the country, to write to the courts in Switzerland to reopen the money laundering cases against Pakistan’s robber-baron President Asif Ali Zardari.

There’s a history to this riddle of a letter. It goes back to the twilight days of General Pervez Musharraf, the disgraced former autocrat of Pakistan. In 2007, he was close to completing his 5-year stint as President of Pakistan, a stint he’d virtually stolen from the people of Pakistan in a fraudulent referendum in 2002.

Musharraf seized power in a bloodless military coup d’etat in October 1999. He then went before the then supine and obliging Supreme Court of Pakistan to get constitutional validation for his unconstitutional act. The court favoured him under an infamous tool of convenience, the so-called law of necessity. His unlawful seizure of power was validated but, for a fig-leaf, the court asked him to get the people of Pakistan’s verdict, too. The ambitious general saw no problem in that; he managed the state’s power to ensure that the people didn’t inconvenience him.

However, by 2007-when he needed another vote from a parliament that he’d defied and openly denigrated as ‘uncivilized’-the ground realities in Pakistan had undergone a sea-change. The parliament nearing its own end was hostile and it was uncertain that it would give him a ‘yes’ vote without problem. But much more inimical to him was Pakistan’s newborn electronic media-entirely in the hands of the private sector-which was also rapidly shoring up the people’s vaulting discontent against Musharraf’s corruption-ridden cronyism. For Musharraf, on top of everything else, the most uncertain factor standing like a colossus in the way of his re-election without trouble was the Supreme Court, which over the years had morphed itself into a robustly independent court that didn’t shy away from asserting its role as the guardian of law and interpreter of the country’s constitution. In the court’s context, Musharraf’s biggest headache was its Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, who was too independent-minded and judicious to be of any help to Musharraf if he thought of resorting to any ultra-constitutional means of staying in power. From the autocrat’s narrow angle it was as good as finding himself hopelessly marooned in a blind alley.

But Musharraf was too addicted to power to reconcile easily to the inevitable, i.e. his imminent political demise. The commando that he was by training in the military, he tried to use his strong muscles to shoot his way out of trouble. Musharraf tried to bulldoze the apex court and fire its chief justice. But that desperate ditch attempt boomeranged against him and invited, in backlash, the wrath of the people. In the meantime, however, Musharraf’s American friends and mentors had come up with another novel idea, that took its inspiration from a formula of power-sharing.

The other party in the Washington-engineered deal for Musharraf was Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s charismatic leader who had been in self-exile for several years and had been using her wilderness to cultivate the Americans. She had a crystal clear perception of power in the context of Pakistan and knew that the road to power led via Washington, as per the history of Pakistan.

The Americans knew exactly how they wanted to ensure political tranquility in Pakistan so that their front-rank ally in the ongoing war against terror would continue to stick its neck out on their behalf. They wanted a loyal Musharraf to stay in his seat of power for another term byt not as its sole wielder and custodian. They had their finger on the pulse of Pakistan and knew perfectly well that their loyal vassal was no longer popular with the people and couldn’t be banked upon to steer Pakistan in the direction they wanted without opposition from its masses.

The power-sharing formula worked out by the Americans gave Benazir Bhutto an equal share in power with Musharraf, hoping that BB’s charisma and popularity would make up for Musharraf’s declining graph and keep the US fully in control of Pakistan’s affairs. Washington was guided by the mantra that power shared between two loyalists was a safer bet than relying on a discredited autocrat on a slippery slope. But BB demanded her own pound of flesh before signing on to the dotted lines.

 The price BB demanded in return for providing her crutches to a tottering dictator was a blank cheque for her notoriously infamous and avaricious spouse, Asif Ali Zardari. The thieving spouse had robbed Pakistan of billions of dollars in the two terms that his wife had been PM of Pakistan. All that loot was sitting pretty overseas-largely in Europe and US-in bank lockers, investment portfolios and glitzy real estates. BB sought white paint for all that ill-begotten black money.

Musharraf, in dire straits and fully focused on his one-point agenda of survival, obliged his putative partner-in-power by damning Pakistan and foisting on it the now infamous National Reconciliation Order (NRO) that has since become a bone of contention between various contenders of power and influence in Pakistan. Musharraf’s unilateral and arbitrary NRO became a boon for BB’s shaded spouse, Zardari, and his cabal of corrupt cronies, as it wiped the slate of corruption and money-embezzlement cases against them squeaking clean.  The notorious ordinance shelved all court cases against the gang of robbers and handed them a clean bill of health. They were, by virtue of this act, as good as newly-born, without any blemish or black spot on their resume.

However, the loathed and universally-reviled (in Pakistan) NRO was struck down as illegal and unwarranted by the Supreme Court, as soon as it had been liberated and rehabilitated to its erstwhile independence after the fall of Musharraf. The apex court, in a unanimous verdict in November 2009, not only threw out the wily dictator’s black law but also asked the government in power to write to the Swiss authorities to ignore Musharraf’s decision to suspend all money-laundering cases against the Pakistani robber-barons and reopen those cases. It’s been nearly 26 months since the court’s explicit order to the government to reopen the corruption cases in Switzerland but the government hasn’t moved an inch on its part. Why the government of Pakistan is so reluctant to act on the court’s directive is not a mystery.

The cases that the apex court wants reopened have Zardari-who succeeded Musharraf as Pakistan head of state-at their centre. There are dozens of cases registered in Swiss courts against the philandering Zardari who, since ascending to the highest office of Pakistan, is no longer known as Mr. Ten Percent ( his old sobriquet) but as Mr. Cent Percent, for the wholesale loot and plunder of the country’s fortunes that has become a norm under him. It’s understandable that Zardari, or his hand-picked and imbecile PM Yusuf Raza Gilani, would rather defy the directives of the apex court than commit what would be certain political death for them.

It was in this background that the Supreme Court of Pakistan had summoned PM Gilani to appear before it and answer the court’s query why he shouldn’t be declared in contempt of the court because of unabashed defiance of its decisions and verdicts in the NRO proceedings?

Gilani did appear before the court on the appointed date to seek extra time for preparing his reply to the court’s questions. The court didn’t give him all the time he requested for but has still given his lawyer a fortnight to prepare his reply and appear before the court again on January 30. It’s hard to say, at this stage, if the court would be inclined to give the power barons any more time than what it has favoured them with already with generosity. By the same stroke, it would be premature to predict the court’s ultimate verdict in the contempt of court proceedings against Gilani. In the event of the court finding him in contempt, Gilani will see his political career coming to an early demise.

In the meantime, the Zardari-Gilani duo has also tied itself into many loops, vis-à-vis the country’s powerful and highly disciplined armed forces; and that, too, has come to pass entirely because of the baneful influence of Washington over Pakistan. The so-called ‘Memo-gate’ scandal, surfacing in the past three months, has quickly engulfed Pakistan like a brush-fire rapidly consuming a whole forest. Memo-gate, on which a good deal has already been written in these columns, is a product of Pakistani politicos unhealthy reliance on their pay-masters and mentors in Washington to bail them out of any tight spots, or unsavory situations. With nearly all of its sordid details already in the public domain, it’s a case, in the layman’s conventional wisdom, of a corrupt and discredited bunch of inept Pakistani rulers running to their American patrons and pay-masters for succor against their own army for its alleged plans to unseat them from power.

Sealing the fate of the Zardari-Gilani clan and their underlings at the bar of the people’s verdict-though a verdict in the country’s highest court may still take some time-is the added impact of the highly negative perception of US in popular imagination as a principal culprit and villain for much of whatever is wrong in Pakistan today. In the popular perception the list of US ‘crimes’ is long and well catalogued. Musharraf’s NRO was made in Washington, the people’s sense says, and so if Zardari and Gilani are making a mockery of Pakistan it’s all because of US. Pakistan has become a killing field and favourite hunting grounds for the murderous Pakistani Taliban-and the toll it has taken of innocent Pakistani lives runs into tens of thousands-because Pakistan has been pandering to US in its so-called ‘war on terror.’

Thousands of Pakistanis have been killed in the drone attacks unleashed by Washington without mercy, and the ‘democratic’ government, headed by Zardari-who’s a votary of US-has added to the suffering of the people by remaining criminally mum on the issue and doing nothing to keep the US punishment of the innocent citizens at bay.

US has been at the back of the Zardari-Gilani duo’s defiance of the apex court, and, lately, open hostility to the country’s armed forces, because it wants to humiliate the much-disciplined Pakistan army for its temerity of standing up for Pakistan’s honour, name and dignity, and the rights of its people.

By the same token, the people of Pakistan have been at one in their unqualified approbation of the steps the highest judicial organ of the state, as well as the Pakistani armed forces, have taken to hold the US Quislings in the so-called democratic government accountable for their blatant pandering to Washington and disregard of the people’s will.

Political pundits in Pakistan and abroad may think and argue that the people of Pakistan are too simplistic and naïve in their prognosis of what bewails Pakistan. However, to the people of Pakistan what matters most is the glaring ground realities of their terrain and the conduct and performance of their rulers. And when argued on this basis, the people’s verdict that much of Pakistan’s woe-betide history has its provenance in Washington maes a lot of common sense, even though the pundits, hooked on their crystal balls, may think otherwise.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 February 2012 on page no. 18

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