FAST Update Pakistan: Trends in conflict and cooperation Mar - Apr 2007



The situation in Pakistan has deteriorated in the past two months. On 9 March, President Musharraf called the Chief Justice (CJ), Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, to the military headquarters and suspended him over allegations of misconduct and misuse of authority - e.g. the appointment of his son to the senior police service. The case was submitted to the highest judicial body, the Supreme Judicial Council (SCJ), but on 7 May the Supreme Court, acting on 23 petitions filed, suspended the SCJ's proceedings against Chaudry. While, in principle, accepting the government's plea the Supreme Court proposed that a full bench should decide on the petitions challenging the composition of the SCJ. Chaudry's suspension has unexpectedly led to an outcry amongst lawyers; thousands of lawyers and members ofthe opposition parties protested on the streets in major cities demanding the president's resignation. These protests continued for weeks and were particularly strong during hearing sessions of the SCJ. Lawyers and opposition politicians claim that the president's move was motivated by the CJ's bold ruling against the privatization of the stateowned steel mill and his inquiries into some 141 disappearance cases (some concerning Baloch activists). Constitutional lawyers further argue that the suspension has undermined the independence of the judiciary (which is crucial in case the president's rule is legally challenged in the future) and that the president could have only suspended the CJ after an inquiry and recommendation by the SCJ. On 22 March, Rana Bhagwandas, a Hindu popular for his uprightness, was nominated as interim CJ.

Officially, the general elections remain scheduled for late 2007 or early 2008. According to a statement by the prime minister on 23 April, the president will be re-elected by the incumbent parliament before the elections. Speculations about a political alliance between Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the president were further fed by Bhutto's acknowledgement that secret talks with the government have taken place and that she was intending to return home by the end of the year. The closure in April of a special cell of the National Accountability Bureau investigating Bhuttos' assets abroad has been taken as an indication that the corruption charges against Bhutto might be dropped to facilitate her return from exile. In a deal with Musharraf, which could only be struck after the amendment of certain laws, Bhutto hopes to become prime minister. Analysts believe that the military is unlikely to support such a deal and that it would undermine Bhutto's democratic credentials. The opposition parties' Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy has lost validity after misgivings developed among Sharif's PML-N over the disclosure of a secret deal between Musharraf and PPP's Benazir Bhutto.

The relationship with its long-standing ally, the US, remains strained as the US keeps accusing Pakistan of harboring Taliban fighters involved in the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan continues to reject such accusations. Threats from the newly elected US democratic congress of cutting or putting conditions on aid to Pakistan, have further complicated the matter. President Musharraf keeps being caught between satisfying US demands for tougher action against foreign Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters on Pakistani territory and containing radical anti-US Islamists at home. The relationship with Afghan President Karzai is frosty and Afghanistan has raised strong objections against Pakistan's fencing of the common border. Surprisingly, the presidents of the two countries met in Turkey for talks on 30 April and 1 May and agreed to strengthen cooperation on combating terrorism. Relations with Iran are also tainted. Iran has started building a wall along its border with Pakistan to stop illegal border crossings. The relationship with India, on the other hand, is stable and peace dialogue on Kashmir and other pending issues are continuing. Pakistan's ties with China are still very good.