The Pakistani army may or may not decide to take power once again in Islamabad. Off and on, for decades, Pakistan has been ruled by its military, usually with American support or acquiescence. During the 1980s, General Zia ruled Pakistan, after seizing power in a coup d’etat against President Bhutto, later hanging him, and he Islamicized Pakistan, squashing the country’s secular tradition, then cooperating with the CIA and Saudi Arabia in the 1980s jihad against the USSR and its Afghan allies. In the 1990s, General Musharraf seized power, and he ruled for more than a decade, overtly and covertly supporting the Taliban’s rule — and, after 2001, the Taliban-led insurgency. To this day, for reasons of state, Pakistan’s army continues to support the Taliban.
A new round of political upheaval has been triggered in Pakistan, with the Supreme Court’s decision to void the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that provided a get-out-of-jail-free card to key civilian leaders of Pakistan. Included among those leaders are its utterly corrupt president, Asif Ali Zardari, and several top officials, including the minister of defense and the minister of interior. Those ministers, and others, have been told by the authorities not to leave town, i.e., they are forbidden to travel abroad, and pressure is on Zardari to resign.
If Pakistan has any hope of breaking the military’s stranglehold on power, that hope rests in the civilian parties, including Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party — the party of the late President Bhutto and his daughter, Benazir, Zardari’s late wife, who was assassinated on her return from exile — and the more religious-centered Pakistan Muslim League (N) of the Sharif brothers, including Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister. Neither the PPP and the Muslim League, however, are true mass-based political parties. Instead, they have become vehicles for the personal and political ambitions of the corrupt families who control them. By default, the leadership of the democratic, civilian movement in Pakistan has fallen instead to the lawyers’ movement and to the courts, but it’s hard to see how those forces could emerge as a credible political movement that could lead the country. In Pakistan, nominally a democracy, actual democrats are few and far between, and it will take a long time for any of Pakistan’s political parties and movements to put down roots and grow into true democratic parties. Meanwhile, it isn’t clear that the army will allow that to happen.