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Pakistan Political Crisis, impact on Afghanistan

Raja Pervez Ashraf Prime Minister of Pakistan

Ahmad Shah Katawazai

Often overwhelmed by turbulent politics, Pakistan perhaps is passing through severe crisis from multiple fronts once again, putting the civilian government on the brink of collapse.

–          On one hand the Pakistan Supreme Court has ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in a corruption case on Tuesday. Last year the Supreme Court ousted Yousaf Raza Gilani, Parvez Ashraf predecessor in relation to corruption charges against Prsident Asif Ali Zardari.

–          On the other hand a preacher in the name of Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri,  little known in the politics of Pakistan  after spending eight years in Canada returned last month to Pakistan, suddenly emerged in political scene marching tens of thousands of followers into the heart of capital, asking for the government’s immediate ouster.

–          Militants have increased their deadly attacks against the government forces and minorities in Pakistan. Violent extremism and militancy within Pakistan once controlled by the ISI now is getting out of its hand, threatening Pakistan’s own security.

–          Baluchistan civilian government was sacked after massacre of shiite minorities in Quetta city of Baluchistan province, where the executive authority of the province were handed over to the governor appointed by the president.

Perhaps the Baluch movement is one of the most threatening nationalist movements for Pakistan which demands for a separate state “Since the 1947 creation of Pakistan, autonomy-minded Baluch nationalists have carried out five insurgencies, in 1948, 1958–59, 1962–63, 1973–77, and 2004–06.

–          Relations with India have gone worse after border skirmishes in which soldiers from both India and Pakistan were killed. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned yesterday that there can be no “business as usual” between the neighbors.

–          In Pakistan general elections are expected to be held in the next few months.

Ambiguities loom about the concert conspiracy of military-judiciary and the religious cleric Qadri in order to overthrow the civilian government and pave the way for army intervention.

It seems that the military is once again prepared for intervention and taking power in its own hands. Politics have seen major shifts which could fireback in negative consequences for Afghanistan and the United States.

Linking court order to Thair-ul-Qadri long march and extensive television advertising campaign, Senior official of the ruling Pakistan People Party termed the unfolding events as a conspiracy against the civilian government.

Perhaps the Judiciary and Tahir-ul-Qadri have acted in concert at this critical time when the elections are going to be held in the next four months. The army has always intervened in Pakistan politics and they have heavy influence in the political strata. The latest intervention of army in politics was the deposition of the Pakistan civilan prime minister in a coup in 1999 by General Parvez Musharraf.

Tahir-ul-Qadri during his speech to the tens of thousands people praising the military and judiciary made it clear that he wants the judiciary to bar corrupt politicians from running for office and that the army could play major role in the formation of the caretaker government. Qadir pro military statements and his service as a lawmaker in the early 2000s, when army chief Gen. Parvez Musharraf was leading the country raise doubts about his conspiracy and links with the military and intelligence agencies.

In Pakistan where Foreign policy in particular foreign policy towards India and Afghanistan is mainly controlled by the military, these latest unfolding shifts in its politics could have major consequences both for the West particularly U.S. and Afghanistan.

Impact on Afghanistan

An unstable Pakistan is likely to lead to more Instability and making stabilization in Afghanistan even more challenging.

Pakistan main objective in Afghanistan mainly carved by the military strata are:

1)  The foremost objective of Pakistan’s Afghan policy is to establish a friendly government in Afghanistan which will ultimately provide it with the so called “strategic depth” in the event of war against India.

2) Afghanistan which is located at the crossroads of Central Asia and South Asia is strategically very important; Pakistan is in effort to have an access to the Central Asian markets via Afghanistan.

3) Pakistan wants to use Afghanistan as a transit route for energy supply.

4) Similarly Afghanistan is a good source as consumer market for Pakistan where its products are used.

5) Last but not at least Pakistan does not want Indian influence in Afghanistan which could challenge its interests in the region and Afghanistan.

In matter of fact as long as Pakistan sees a stable Afghanistan as suspiciously synonymous with an encircling Indian-Afghan alliance, then Pakistan will oppose stability in Afghanistan.

This is the policy of Pakistan orchestrated and taken forward mainly by the military of Pakistan. Meanwhile much progress and improvement could be observed in  Afghanistan-Pakistan relations specially in reconciliation process.

Pakistan considered as a lynchpin in efforts for peace in Afghanistan and it is among the countries which has major stakes and has to play an important role in regional affairs and “political settlement in Afghanistan,”  both countries have agreed to form a joint Reconciliation and Peace Commission. The United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan established a Core Group in May 2011 in order to support the reconciliation process. In the December 2012 trilateral summit of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey in Ankara, “a proposal was floated to invite the Taliban to set up office in Turkey.”

In a good will gesture last week of Dec. 2012 “Pakistan released eight members of the Afghan Taliban from prison,”  including the former justice minister under the Taliban, in order to boost the peace process. It is hoped that the freed former Taliban officials would serve as emissaries, in order to clear the way for peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban leadership based in Pakistan.

Similarly month before, Pakistan released 18 prisoners at the request of the Afghan High Peace Council. While on the other hand “Members of the Afghan government’s High Peace Council and some of its allies met Taliban representatives in a preliminary meeting near Paris last month.”

A semi-secret meeting took place in France between 20 key Afghan players, under the auspices of a French think tank.

Reconciliation process and bringing back Taliban to the negotiation table is of utmost importance because stakeholders are worried that if the International troops withdraw from Afghanistan, the country could plunge in chaos and vicious fighting. This could have terrible consequences for the region.

These developments are taking place at a critical juncture when a U.S. drone strike in a Pakistan border region “killed the leader of a militant group accused of cooperating with Afghan Taliban fighters in attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan”  named Mullah Nazir.

Nazir was under sort of official protection because he promised not to attack Pakistani soldiers or government facilities. He “instead focused his efforts on attacks inside Afghanistan against NATO and Afghan government forces.”

With these new developments it seems that both Afghanistan and Pakistan are now jumping on a new peace roadmap and the new rapprochement is changing relationship between the two countries to a positive direction, which is fundamentally aimed to transform the Taliban from a military entity into a political one in order to enable them for taking part in Afghan political process.

All eyes at this time are on Pakistan’s critical role in preserving regional stability at this critical transitional period, where on one hand militancy inside Pakistan is threatening its own security while on the other hand instability in Pakistan could hamper or fiercely affect the U.S. troops exit from the region.

For the West stability in Pakistan is crucial because of two main factors

1)         Pakistan which possesses nuclear arsenal, in no way the west is ready to put it at risk of taking over by the extremist elements

2)         It could hamper the withdrawal of United States forces which according to American establishment they want to speed up the withdrawal process.

In sum another political crisis, Military or semi Military coup could seriously impact the recent developments in Afghanistan especially the reconciliation process and the U.S. troop’s withdrawal from the country next year.

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