Generals in Pakistan Push for Shakeup of Government

  • Generals in Pakistan Push for Shakeup of Government
    Published: September 28, 2010

    The military, preoccupied by a war against militants and reluctant to assume direct responsibility for the economic crisis, has made clear it is not eager to take over the government, as it has many times before in Pakistan, military officials and politicians said.

    But the government’s performance since the floods, which have left 20 million people homeless and the nation dependent on handouts from skeptical foreign donors, has laid bare the deep underlying tensions between the military and the civilian leadership.

    American officials acknowledge that it has also left them increasingly disillusioned with Mr. Zardari, a now deeply unpopular president who was elected two-and-half years ago on a wave of sympathy after the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto.

    In a series of meetings with the civilian leaders, the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, scolded the president and his prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, for incompetence and corruption in the government, according to officials familiar with the conversations.

    The general also demanded that they dismiss at least some ministers in the oversized 60-member cabinet, many of whom face corruption charges from past cases.

    The civilian government has so far resisted those demands, and Mr. Zardari told the general that, come what may, he will not be maneuvered aside, according to a Pakistani official close to the president who was familiar with the conversations but did not want to be identified.

    After a meeting between Mr. Zardari, Mr. Gilani and General Kayani on Monday, the president’s office issued a statement saying they had agreed “to protect the democratic process and to resolve all issues in accordance with the constitution.”

    “Sanity had prevailed,” the Pakistani official said, meaning that General Kayani chose not to precipitate a crisis.

    Still, it is clear that General Kayani, head of the country’s most powerful and respected institution, has ratcheted up the pressure on the government in the past several weeks.

    Having secured an exceptional three-year extension in his post from Mr. Zardari in July, General Kayani appears determined to see to it that the government prevents the economy from entering a tailspin, which would further weaken the health of the nation and also the value of the military’s own vast landholdings and other business enterprises.

    Military officers in the main cities have been talking openly and expansively about their contempt for the Zardari government and what they term the economic calamity, an unusual candor, reporters and politicians said.

    “The gross economic mismanagement by the government is at the heart of it,” said Rifaat Hussain, a professor of international relations at Islamabad University and a confidant of the military. “And there is the rising public disaffection with the Pakistani Peoples Party under Zardari and Gilani.”

    As the military demands the overhaul, the Supreme Court is also pushing the government on the issue of corruption by threatening to remove the president’s immunity from prosecution, a move that would expose him to charges of corruption in an old money-laundering case in Switzerland.

    The government has defied the court’s demand to write a letter to the Swiss government requesting a re-opening of the case against Mr. Zardari, who once served 11 years in prison in Pakistan on unproven corruption charges. On Monday, the court granted an extension of two weeks for the government to reconsider its position.

    Much of the rising distain for the government has to do with the perception among the media and the public of the callous and inept handling of the floods by the nation’s wealthy ruling class.

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  • How the NY Times sees us. Any truth to all this or pure fantasy?