Asif Ali Zardari may have emerged as a weakened President after giving in to opposition leader Nawaz Sharif’s demand for reinstating the Supreme Court Chief Justice and his days in power may be numbered,say analysts.
After a weekend of violent protests and a massive show of strength in Lahore by Sharif,who defied his house arrest to lead thousands of protestors towards Islamabad,Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced that sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry would be restored on March 21.
Gilani’s move reflected the growing isolation of Zardari within the ruling Pakistan People’s Party,over which he had exercised complete control after being named party chief in the wake of the assassination of his wife,former premier Benazir Bhutto,in December 2007.
“The President has been highly weakened by the latest developments. His actions were untenable and were rejected by the people and even his own party,” said Lt Gen (retd) Talat Masood,one of Pakistan’s leading political and security analysts.
Former ISI chief Hamid Gul felt that “If Zardari does not mend his approach to the problem,then he would have to say goodbye to President’s House very soon.”
“He (Zardari) is a very weak politician who does not understand the mood and the temperature of the people. He tried to run the affairs of the state by gimmickry rather than by principles and that is where he has gone wrong,” he told CNN-IBN.
Political analyst Harris Khalique said Zardari had been misled by aides who believed Sharif would not be able to organise a major protest and today’s developments should serve as a “reality check” for the President.
“If the common people can bring down a strong military dictator,they can also bring down a man with a serious credibility crisis,” Khalique said,referring to the movement by lawyers and opposition parties last year that led to the ouster of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
The developments had also proved that Zardari was “largely a successor” to the leadership of the PPP and “not a political leader in his own right,” he said.
Former premier Sharif had backed a “long march” by the lawyers’ movement to reinstate the deposed judges after the Supreme Court last month barred him and his brother,former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif,from electoral politics.
The Sharifs accused Zardari of influencing the verdict and said he had packed the Supreme Court with hand-picked judges.
Even as Zardari grappled with the new onslaught by his former ally,he has had to contend with growing dissent within the PPP. Gilani openly opposed the President’s move to impose Governor’s Rule in Punjab,which was ruled by the PML-N,while two senior ministers — Raza Rabbani and Sherry Rehman quit to express their unhappiness with Zardari’s functioning.
Analysts said Gilani,who was hand-picked for the post of Prime Minister by Zardari,had emerged stronger from the political crisis by convincing the President to reinstate the former Chief Justice. “Gilani’s stature has improved as he is now perceived as honest and reliable,” said Masood. Though his abilities as an administrator remained questionable,Gilani now had a “higher level of credibility,” he said.
“The Prime Minister will be more assertive now and he could help the parliament re-assert itself,” Masood said.
Khalique said that though the PPP had initially played a key role in the movement for restoring the deposed judges,it was now responsible for relinquishing that role to “right wing forces” that could seek further concessions from the government,particularly in the fight against militancy.
The lawyers’ movement was backed by hardline groups like the Jamaat-e-Islami,which opposes military operations against militants in Pakistan.
The analysts also welcomed the low-key role played by the army in defusing the political crisis. Over the past few days,army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani,who has worked consistently to distance the powerful military from politics,held several meetings with Zardari and Gilani to push for political reconciliation.
“The army’s role shows it has realised the importance of democracy. It has also realised that directly ruling Pakistan is not possible in the changed environment,” said Masood,adding the possibility of military intervention had “been put aside as the people are not prepared to accept it”.
Masood said he believed the military’s role in politics would gradually diminish due to a variety of external and internal factors,including fight against militancy.