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Pakistan: After Lahore attack, Zardari's exit is certain
Wilson John
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March 06, 2009

The Lahore attack signals the unravelling of President Asif Ali Zardari's [Images] government and a prolonged period of disturbance in Pakistan which, by default, would bring the Pakistan army [Images] back into the saddle, with or without its chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.

Two sets of scenarios are possible in the days ahead, all of which, incidentally, make Zardari the fall guy.

The scenarios stem from the prevailing economic, security and political situation in Pakistan and a growing concern in Washington about a failed government in Pakistan pulling down the US administration's plans for Afghanistan and the region. Pakistan is already President Barack Obama's [Images] headache and there is a sense of acute urgency in Washington for bringing back a semblance of order in the country. An unsettled Pakistan can become the new president's first foreign policy failure.

One of the scenarios, which is least disturbing, and not necessarily bad for the people who had voted for democracy in the February 2008 elections, is the ouster of Zardari as president while retaining Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani and the Pakistan People's Party-led government in Islamabad [Images]. Over-ambitious and desperate, Zardari has been gambling away the people's mandate, and the army's confidence in him, quite recklessly. In a little over six months of his rule, Zardari has managed to transform himself from 'Mr 10 per cent' to 'Mr 100 per cent liability', not only to the country, the army, and the people, but also to its own party.

For all his cunning, Zardari's plan to oust the Sharif brothers with the help of his crony judges in the Supreme Court was timed badly. It was quite obvious that such an action was bound to attract a violent reaction from the Sharifs who have considerable support in Punjab, and within the armed forces. The massive show of strength by Nawaz Sharif's [Images] Pakistan Muslim League-N in the Punjab assembly early this week was a clear indication of Zardari's folly.

There are indications that the US administration is keen on Zardari patching up with the Sharifs and not precipitating the situation any further. The political instability triggered by the Sharifs' ouster and the threat of a long march later this month have raised fears of a prolonged spell of disturbance which, the US believe, would seriously undermine its war on terror. These concerns were discussed with General Kayani when he was in Washington.

The Pakistan army chief was also sounded out about the possibility of taking charge of the situation if it turned worse in the months ahead. By all accounts, Kayani is reluctant to take charge at the moment; the ignominious exit of his predecessor, General Pervez Musharraf [Images], is too fresh in the collective memory of the people. The army is keen to clear up its image sullied during Musharraf's last two years and will prefer not to take up the political challenge at a time when such a move will definitely be against popular sentiments. A coup by Kayani, therefore, is a remote possibility but cannot be discounted if the situation in Pakistan continues to spiral out of control since the Obama administration is poised to commit several billion dollars as aid in the coming months.

A change in Pakistan, however, is inevitable in the weeks ahead. The big question will be whether such a change will make Pakistan a more stable country or push it further towards a failed State.

Wilson John is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation.

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