Pakistani purge

The coup in Pakistan seems to have wide popular support -- with the proviso that military rule should be temporary.

Topics: India, Taliban,

Pakistan plunged into a deep political uncertainty after the
military staged a successful coup Tuesday to dismiss the 32-month-old government
of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Major political parties and people at large have
welcomed the army takeover. But while they hold Sharif responsible for the
current turmoil, there is also a growing concern over how long army chief Gen.
Pervez Musharraf will hold power.

“Last time, the army took over in 1977 and
promised to hold elections within three months, but it took them 11 years to leave,” said Mohammad Hussain, a retired bureaucrat. “I wonder how long this regime will stay — the victim will only be democracy, which has failed to take roots in the country.”

Sharif’s ouster casts a shadow of doubt on the upcoming peace negotiations with
India. The two nuclear powers have had a protracted fight over the region of
Kashmir, and tensions have resulted in threats of nuclear attacks in the past.

Two-time prime minister and Pakistan People’s Party chairwoman Benazir Bhutto called on the military to hold elections and go back to the barracks. “I fully blame the prime minister,” she said from her home in London,
where she is in exile; Pakistan’s courts have charged her with corruption. “But the existing situation is fluid and dangerous. Pakistan appears to be in a state of civil war.”

Tahirul Qadri, the head of the Pakistan People’s Movement, an Islamist party, said, “It was Sharif’s blunders that forced the
army to take over, I congratulate the army a hundred times for getting rid of
this fascist ruler.” The Pakistan People’s Movement is one of 19 parties that
formed a Grand Democratic Alliance last month to oust the Sharif government.

Sharif’s is the fifth government since 1985 to be dismissed before its
constitutionally mandated five-year term was up. Four others were axed by the president
under special constitutional powers scrapped by the Sharif government soon after
it took over. The military has ruled Pakistan for more than 20 of the 52 years
since the nation’s founding.

Political analysts believe the coup grew out of a series of miscalculations and political blunders by Sharif’s government. They note in particular the mishandling of the ongoing conflict in Kashmir — particularly Sharif’s decision to withdraw troops from the disputed territory after an agreement with the United States in July.

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“Sharif ordered the pullout when the Kashmiri
mujahedeen were at an advantageous position against the Indian Army, The government decision had caused much resentment among the army ranks,” said Daudur Rahim, editor at a local news agency — adding that he is saddened to see his
countrymen look to the military to intervene in issues that should be sorted out
politically and in a democratic way.

“Sharif had become an unpopular leader due
to his authoritarian attitude,” commented Afasarul Mulk, a local leader of the
Pakistan People’s Party. “Although I would oppose army rule and favor the
democratic process, I have no regrets for Sharif’s ouster. He was a dictator in
the garb of democracy.”

In addition, critics said Sharif had failed to control a recent upsurge in the
sectarian violence that has left more than 50 people dead, with a majority of the victims coming from the minority Shiite community. This led the religious political parties,
particularly those representing Shiites, to call upon the army to intervene.

“The Sharif government’s failure to control the situation further eroded its
credibility — the government should have resigned,” observed Babar Ali Sher,
a Shiite and owner of a car rental business in Islamabad.

Sharif also made enemies with many Muslim groups inside Pakistan
when he blamed Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban party for involvement in sectarian violence in Pakistan. The radical Taliban, who are Sunni Muslims, enjoy massive support among the strong Islamist lobby within the army — the same lobby that opposed Pakistan’s withdrawal from Kashmir this July. Sharif had asked the Taliban to shut down terrorist training camps and stop the influx of terrorists to Pakistan — indicating a change in Islamabad’s position. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the only countries that have recognized Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan.

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