“Punjabi Power” overwhelms Zardari
Tue Mar 17, 2009 10:47 am (PDT)
Manipal, India – Regular readers of this column will not have been surprised at recent developments in Pakistan, in which army chief Ashfaq Kayani enforced the surrender of the Pakistan People’s Party-led government to the demands of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) chief, Nawaz Sharif.
The core purpose of Kayani’s institution is to ensure the continued supremacy of Wahabbi Punjabis over all other groups in Pakistan, a mission that it has fulfilled thus far. Uppity non-Punjabis, such as assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, were shown their place for daring to talk of a genuinely federal structure for the country. Now it is the turn of her husband, President Asif Ali Zardari, to be at the business end of Kayani’s swagger stick.
The “honest” former – and soon to be reinstated – chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry, has been a member in good standing of the Punjabi supremacist brigade since his years as a lawyer. He detests Zardari and has only kind words about his champion and fellow Punjabi, Nawaz Sharif. This despite the fact that the Sharif family has acquired an asset base of close to US$2 billion, entirely because of its proximity to the military and other levers of patronage in Pakistan.
The Sharifs are far wealthier than the Zardaris, in a culture where wealth comes less from initiative or from enterprise than from muscle power. The difference is that the Sharif family is Wahabbi, and has been active in funding the Jamaat-i-Islami (Pakistan) since its early days in business four decades back, while the Zardaris are Sufi, a philosophy that places them in opposition to the military-backed Wahabbi network in Pakistan.
Sharif ally Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who from the start has sought to ensure the elimination of his nominal superior Zardari, also has Jamaat links, having been an early backer of the founder of Wahabbism in Pakistan, General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq.
According to individuals in the PML(N), the humiliating climb-down by Zardari came as a result of the silent backing given to the plans of General Kayani by Obama advisor Colin Powell and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both of whom backed the reinstatement of Justice Chaudhry and the return to power in the Punjab of the Sharif brothers.
What Powell and Clinton perhaps failed to take serious note of was the fact that the street uprising orchestrated by Kayani and Sharif had the support of the Jamaat-i-Islami (Pakistan), an organization that believes in the feasibility of establishing a Wahabbi Caliphate throughout the world, and certainly in India, a country ruled for more than six centuries by Mughal dynasties.
It is the Jamaat that has been orchestrating the opposition to Pakistan’s participation in NATO’s attempted war against the Taliban, and seeks a total Allied pullout from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Jamaat leaders have been in regular contact with the Sharif brothers and army headquarters since Zardari took office less than a year ago, working in tandem with Prime Minister Gilani to force the president’s removal.
Zardari is the individual who backed an unpopular policy of bringing to account the perpetrators of last November’s attacks in Mumbai, and gave tacit backing to U.S. efforts to take out the Taliban leadership through the use of airpower. Both these policies were sabotaged covertly by the Pakistan army, a fact not unknown to NATO commanders and to the incoming U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry.
By helping to reward what was essentially a mob masquerading as an expression of “democratic” sentiment, Hillary Clinton has opened the door to a future series of orchestrated street protests, this time by the Taliban and elements friendly to it. This, according to individuals within Pakistan tracking such developments, will “spontaneously” erupt should NATO come anywhere close to taking out the Taliban’s capabilities.
The Sharif brothers, with the blessing of the military, today control the streets. Tomorrow it will be the Taliban’s turn.
Zardari, aware of the financial vulnerability of the Sharif brothers, was confident that a show of strength would have brought them to heel, and that the military would not, in the present international climate, have dared to intervene the way it did in 1999 against Nawaz Sharif.
Ironically, it was those international forces who daily repeat the mantra of a “moderate” Pakistan that sided with the allies of the Jamaat-i-Islami (Pakistan), which – unlike its Indian counterpart, which is moderate and has issued a fatwa against terrorism – regards the Taliban as an associate entity. In Bangladesh, “democratic” protests similarly orchestrated by the men in uniform ensured the paralysis of civil authority and a steady expansion of the influence of jihadists.
Zardari represented an alternative that seems now to have been all but snuffed out. The next stage in the Kayani-Sharif drama is the stripping of presidential powers from Zardari, followed by more “spontaneous” demonstrations. These would lead to a fresh election, in which the Punjabis would return to center stage through the victory of Nawaz Sharif.
By then, Prime Minister Gilani will have understood the dangers of supping with a very short spoon, but it will be too late. The reality is that the PPP can survive the present assault only through unity, which the army seems determined to prevent.
However, it would be premature to write the epitaph of Asif Ali Zardari. Should the Pakistan president deem it necessary, he would be able to mobilize in huge numbers Sindhis, Pashtuns, Baloch and other groups that have been under the heel of the Wahabbi Punjabis since the1970s. Should he press for genuine federalism, and for a more equitable representation of disadvantaged communities within the Pakistan military, such steps would resonate among a people chafing under supremacists.
During the 1960s, what was then West Pakistan ran the eastern part of the country as a colony, using Bengalis in the military to help them in this task. After the liberation of Bangladesh in1971, India’s Indira Gandhi made the mistake of refusing Bangladesh hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s request that at least a few officers of the Pakistan army – 93,000 of whom were prisoners of war – be tried for genocide.
She also left alone the Bengali component of the army, which subsequently regenerated itself as the Bangladesh army, and from the start adopted the longstanding policy of subservience to the dictates of the men in uniform in Pakistan.
Gandhi had fallen under the spell of the charming Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the perfume-loving father of Benazir Bhutto, and lost in negotiations at Simla in 1972 all that her military had gained on the battlefield.
Nearly four decades after the Bangladesh debacle, the Bourbons in the Pakistan army have evidently learned nothing. Once the country was vivisected, the western part was itself partitioned into Baloch, Pashtun, Sindhi and Punjabi components, with the latter dominating the other three much as the West Pakistanis had ruled over the East during the two decades prior to the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.
As this column has emphasized, what is taking place in Pakistan is not a “war on corruption” headed by a fearless judge. Justice Chaudhry’s backers, the Sharif brothers, would not survive the Obama vetting process even for a few hours.
It is not a “battle for democracy” either. Zardari and his party were elected to power, and paralyzing a country is not – except perhaps in the view of the U.S. State Department – the prescribed method in a genuine democracy of resolving differences of opinion.
What has taken place is the assertion of Wahabbi Punjabi supremacy over the country, a victory that will have immediate consequences not only on NATO’s operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but on the unity of Pakistan.
(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)
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