For now, the Zardari government is all set to complete its term in Pakistan
Since its birth in 1947, Pakistan has been plunged into one crisis after another. The process began shortly after the early death of its founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and the assassination, soon after, of its first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan. When politicians failed to frame the constitution or even to provide a stable government, the army dictators took over and ruled the country, directly for half its life and indirectly for most of the time.
After General Yahya Khan, who took over when Ayub Khan’s dictatorship was overthrown in 1969, became the real architect of Bangladesh by refusing to honour the massive verdict in favour of the East Pakistan leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who had won a majority in whatever was left of Pakistan after the liberation of Bangladesh, led the first duly elected civilian government. But because he outdid even the military despots in establishing personal and authoritative rule, the country revolted against him. This enabled his handpicked army chief, Zia-ul-Haq, a Uriah Heep-like figure, to first overthrow and then execute him. Following Zia’s death in a mysterious plane crash in 1988, Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, and her main political rival, Nawaz Sharif, were each elected prime minister twice but both were abruptly dismissed every time.
Against this bleak backdrop, the way the latest crisis, which threatens the life of the present elected — if also weak and corrupt — government, headed by Benazir’s widower and Pakistan Peoples Party leader, Asif Ali Zardari, has been resolved merits appreciation.
The crisis began with the sudden arrival in Pakistan of a mysterious cleric, a Canadian of Pakistani origin, Tahirul Qadri. He crusaded for the immediate removal of the Zardari government and its replacement by an interim government, to be formed in consultation with the army, that would stay long enough to cleanse the “corrupt-to-the core” electoral system along the lines he suggested. For four days running, Qadri and tens of thousands of his followers occupied the heart of Islamabad.
Most surprisingly, and in sharp contrast to what usually happens in Pakistan in such situations, there was neither any violence by the crowds nor brutal repression by the state. Qadri, acting from within a bulletproof shipping container, gave a masterly display of overblown rhetoric. Many, indeed most, Pakistanis feared that the cleric — whose Islamist credentials are unexceptionable