The Game Goes On

President Asif Ali Zardari gave his second address to parliament today.  Again, it was in English, so a majority of Pakistanis had no idea what he was saying.  Not a great idea since Zardari faces a credibility gap with most Pakistanis, many of whom see him as an American puppet.

Vis-a-vis the Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), Zardari made one concession and left many issues up for negotiation.  Zardari is weakened, but will use the remaining leverage he has over the PML-N to ensure that he has an advantage over his chief rival.

Zardari pledged today that the Peoples Party (PPP) will join a PML(N)-led government in Punjab.  It is positive that Zardari has faced reality, instead of fighting it and, as a result, destabilizing the entire system.  After three months of courtship, the Chaudhries and Zardari failed tie the knot.  This is a result of the internal divisions of the Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) and the growing strength of the PML-N in Punjab.

Zardari also added that governor’s rule over Punjab will be lifted, but did not specify the date. He vaguely reiterated a pledge to give up his power to dissolve parliament (known by the section of the constitution in which it’s addressed: Article 58(2)b.  The issue will now go into the hands of a parliamentary committee, where there is plenty of opportunity for dilly-dallying.  The committee will “propose amendments in the constitution in the light of Charter of Democracy.”

Keep in mind that the Charter of Democracy doesn’t just call for the end of Article 58(2)b.  It also calls for giving the prime minister the power to appoint military service chiefs.  This becomes key when Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani faces retirement at next year.  Will Zardari give up that authority to Prime Minister Gilani?  Not likely.

If Zardari consents to a neutered presidency, the rumor in Islamabad is that he will seek the office of prime minister.  Constitutionally, an ex-president cannot seek elected office till two years after he leaves the presidency.  Obviously, he cannot run for a National Assembly seat while serving as president.  So Zardari would need a constitutional amendment to play this trick.  He has a some leverage to negotiate an exchange with the Sharifs and other parties.

But once in the National Assembly, Zardari will be trapped.  The National Assembly will become the ultimate dueling center — especially if former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is declared eligible for elections and runs for an NA seat (e.g. NA-52).  Prime Minister Zardari would not have the same constitutional protection of President Zardari.  A president can only be impeached or forced to resign; a prime minister can be removed by a vote of no confidence or (at the moment) be dismissed when the assemblies are dissolved.  Zardari will not fare well if a situation in which he’s prime minister and Nawaz is opposition leader.  Imagine Zardari having to face question time.  The PPP co-chairman will have no place to hide and will be mauled by the so-called “Lion of Punjab.”

END NOTE: If there’s one issue I believe Zardari can deliver on, it’s Balochistan.  He has an opportunity to quell the insurgency and meaningfully address Baloch grievences.  There has been some progress, but — as the Solecki kidnapping demonstrates — Baloch youth are increasingly becoming radical (secularly).  But Zardari has the respect of many Baloch leaders as he is an ethnic Baloch and a civilian politician.  Furthermore, the PML-N seems like it will be a willing partner to address some core Baloch concerns such as provincial autonomy, the concurrent list, and army operations in the province.

Hashishistan National Army

Politicians and policymakers love to throw around numbers.  Presented convincingly, they can mask the complexity and dismal nature of the ground reality.  Quantity and dollars spent do not necessarily equal quality, as this video shows.

The presentation, by Journeyman Pictures, shows U.S. Embedded Tactical Trainers (ETTs) and their struggle to weed Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers off of hashish and get them to approach the task of securing their own country with greater seriousness.

There are several ironies.  One, Afghanistan has a flourishing drug trade, which the ANA — ostensibly –  is to play a role in combating.  And two, the American soldiers are more keen on defending Afghanistan than the ANA soldiers.  [Notice when the American trainer tries to motivate the Afghan officer by appealing to Afghan nationalism and resentment against Iran and Pakistan.]

The American trainers are quite young themselves.  Their professionalism is visible.  So age is not a major factor.  As the Afghan officer states, the problem is with recruitment. The ANA attracts misfits and underachievers, not potential leaders.  Nor does the institution seem to be able to shape wayward youth into potential officers, let alone adequate NCOs.  These young Afghan soldiers apparently remain in the ANA (if they do not desert) because of the focus on quantity, not quality.

Without meaningful change in recruitment, the ANA will remain full of these lethargic stoners.  It will be a half-baked army unprepared to carry the baton passed on by departing U.S. troops.  Without a viable ANA, Afghanistan would require a longer foreign presence or the country will become militiastan again.

Rethink Afghanistan: Pakistan

Below is the Pakistan-focused second part of “Rethink Afghanistan,” a documentary by Robert Greenwald’s production company, Brave New Films.

The film presents a somewhat diverse spectrum of opinion on Pakistan as it pertains to the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.  Its central and most compelling point, which is expressed most clearly at the end by Stephen Kinzer, is that winning the war in Afghanistan cannot be done at the expense of losing Pakistan. The stakes are far greater in the former country than in the latter.

There are some shortcomings.  There’s the barrage of stock video footage of enraged, bearded protesters that comes at the end.  Also, Steve Coll incorrectly suggests that there’s a singular Taliban (and contradicts his own recent writing).  Concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are overhyped. But the documentary is worth a look.

Victory for Civil Law in Pakistan a First Step

Here’s an excerpt from my latest external piece, published at World Politics Review:

A movement led by black-coated lawyers achieved a defining victory for the rule of civil law in Pakistan on Monday with the restoration of illegally deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. This highly popular movement provides an opportunity to strengthen the Pakistani state, improve the judicial system’s responsiveness, and resist creeping Talibanization.

You can read the remainder of the article here.

Post-Long March Analysis (Public/Updated)


PPP-PML(N) rivalry continues. Bitterness remains high. Trust between the two parties has almost completely eroded.

a. Nationally, there are many outstanding issues between the two major parties. The most important of these is the electoral disqualification of the Sharif brothers.

b. More importantly, the battle for Punjab—Pakistan’s largest province—still goes on. There are major unresolved issues between the PPP and PML-N concerning Punjab. These include: future of controversial Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer; and the question of which party will form the next provincial coalition government.  The PPP seeks to create a governing coalition in Punjab with the PML-Q, a troubled party once allied with former President Pervez Musharraf.

c. There have already been actions made by both parties that indicate growing belligerence:

1. On Tuesday, the federal government unilaterally appointed a new chief election in violation of a PPP-PML(N) pact Gilani committed to follow.

—      According to the Charter of Democracy (COD)—signed by Nawaz Sharif and the late Benazir Bhutto in 2006—the prime minister must consult with the opposition leader (which would be the PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar) in picking CEC nominees. Also on Tuesday, Gilani pledged to work with the PML-N to implement the COD. The dissonance between actions and words will further antagonize the PML-N.

—       The utility of the COD is ignored in Western policymaking communities. The agreement provides a set roadmap for the PPP and PML-N to transition toward stable, democratic rule. It addresses a range of issues, including: civil-military relations, provincial autonomy, governance reform, center-periphery relations, accountability and anti-corruption, and government-opposition relations. If implemented, the COD will reduce the need for third party intervention and increase political stability. However, elements of the pact do pose a challenge to the army’s corporate autonomy.

2. Senior PML-N officials, including Nawaz Sharif and Khawaja Asif, continue to make aggressive statements against Zardari. Sharif spoke of undoing “this decayed, outdated system.” However, they remain positive about Gilani.

Gilani plays important role and will be tested again.

a. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani remains an intermediary between former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Asif Ali Zardari. Gilani remained in contact with the Sharifs during the Long March.

b. Gilani deftly survived the Long March without earning the ire of Sharif or Zardari.

c. However, if the Sharif-Zardari conflict reheats, Gilani might eventually be forced to choose sides or risk being caught in the crossfire.

d. This puts undue pressure on Gilani—seen as lacking intelligence and gumption—to maintain systemic balance. But Gilani is not and will not be without guidance.


a. Zardari is bitten and worn. He wants to regain strength. During the weekend, he refused to budge; he didn’t want to negotiate from a position of weakness. But he, essentially, continued to weaken as the crisis lingered on. The lesson has not dawned on him. He will not go down without a fight. Zardari has demonstrated a lack of ability to engage in political competition without seriously endangering political stability.

b. Predictions of Zardari’s demise are too early.  Many prefer a weakened/neutralized Zardari.

c. PPP needs a fall guy. Taseer could go as soon as governor’s rule is lifted. Rehman Malik is unlikely to go. Plays key role as civilian ‘balancer’ to the ISI for Zardari and others.


a. PML-N has gained morally from this. But tangible political gains were limited. Position remains precarious.

b. Nawaz’s breaking of the police cordon—watched by many on television—is what inspired many Lahoris to fill in the crowd. It kept growing, even on the way toward Gujranwala/Islamabad. Just another example of how new media/television was essential to the march’s success.

c. The Sharif brothers work very well as a team.

d. After failure to achieve political gains during the Long March, the party has adopted an aggressiveness signaling a return to the dangerous zero sum game. Inclination toward compromise remains though.


a. Kayani is now invested in the political process more than ever. No possibility for a smooth retreat, even if there is a will.


a. The lawyers movement was a national movement. It was not just restricted to Punjab. The foot soldiers were the lawyers from bar associations in every major city, including Peshawar and Quetta. Consider the leadership of the movement: Ali Ahmed Kurd (Baloch); Aitzaz Ahsan (Punjabi); Munir Malik (Urdu-speaking, I think); Abdul Latif Afridi (Pashtun); Athar Minallah (Pashtun); Iftikhar Chaudhry (Balochistani).

b. In fact, I would contend that the lawyers movement is one of the most diverse social movements in the country’s history. It, and more broadly, the push for the rule of law, can serve as an integrative force for Pakistan. Equal justice under the law can bring together Baloch and Punjabi, Urdu-speaking and Sindhi, Pashtun and Hindko-speaking.

c. Additionally, the movement brought together persons and groups from a broad ideological spectrum. Uber-liberals Asma Jehangir and Iqbal Haider, and Islamists Liaquat Baloch, and Munawar Hassan were all on the same side. Islamists were singing along with Iqbal Bano’s rendition of Faiz’s anti-establishment poem, Hum Dekhenge.

d. Pakistan’s judicial crisis is essentially over. A handful of issues have not been resolved, but the lawyers movement seems to have backed away from its maximalist positions.


a. Those that described the movement as Punjab-only were the political losers: ANP, JUI-F, MQM, and PPP. The ANP and PPP had, in fact, supported the movement prior to fall 2007/winter 2008.


a. The Islamists are not coming. The center-right, not the hard right, has been bolstered.

b. The rule of law can serve as an integrative force in Pakistan. Pakistan’s smaller, ethnic nationalist parties such as the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) and the Sindh Awami Tehreek viewed the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry very favorably.

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Soundtrack to the Lawyers Movement

Sadly, at least twelve persons were killed in a suicide attack two hours ago in Rawalpindi.  One ‘war’ has effectively ended, but another goes on.

Nonetheless, celebration of the win in the first old war continues.

Right now in neighboring Islamabad, GEO News is hosting a concert by the band Laal to mark the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The music of Laal, I believe, was the soundtrack to the lawyers movement.

The four-member band is very interesting.  Its lead is a classically-trained singer, who is also a Ph.D. student in economics at Oxford.  Another group member is in a doctoral program at SOAS.  Others in the group are also accomplished.

Pakistan has had a good deal of political music.  But Laal seems to be the most overtly political.

Band members are all socialists.  They put to song poems by anti-establishment leftists, such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib.

But, despite their socialist orientation, they teamed up with the paragon of Pakistani commercialism, GEO and its parent entity, the Jang Group.

The site has free MP3 clips of their ten tracks.



Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry will be restored — without conditions — by an executive order, according to Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of the Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N).

The quiet, patient man is on his third life, having been deposed twice previously by former President Pervez Musharraf.  Let’s hope he serves his term completely, without obstruction, and for the public good.

Kudos to the lawyers movement — one of Pakistan’s most organized, disciplined, and strategically-keen social movements.  Kudos to the political parties, third party groups, and street and Internet activists who stuck by their side.

Umeed-e Sahar by Laal


Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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