Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s ruling party, facing intense pressure from Pakistan’s powerful generals, lobbied its coalition partners yesterday for support as tension raised fear over the stability of the country.
A disputed memo, allegedly from Zardari’s government, seeking US help in reining in the generals soured relations between the civilian leadership and the military to their lowest point since a coup in 1999.
Political sources said the government was planning to table a confidence motion in parliament in support of the civilian leaders.
However, some coalition partners of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) warned that Zardari and his allies should not push the military too hard, fearful of another huge crisis in the nuclear-armed country facing a Taliban insurgency.
“The government has told us about its plans to table a resolution,” a member of parliament from a major coalition ally of the PPP said.
“We will support any such resolution, as it will be a move to strengthen democracy in the country, but it will be difficult for us to support any resolution which targets any state institution,” the politician said, referring to the army.
Military sources say that while they would like Zardari to go, it should be through constitutional means, not another of the coups that have marked half of Pakistan’s almost 65 years of independence.
While analysts say the military would be capable of pulling off a coup, several factors prevent it from doing so.
The military’s image was badly damaged by the unilateral US raid that killed Osama bin Laden on Pakistan soil in May last year, which made the generals look impotent.
The discovery that bin Laden may have been living in a Pakistani town not far from intelligence headquarters in the capital infuriated US officials, hurting the military’s position with their traditional US backers.
Few generals want to repeat the mistakes made by Pakistan’s last military ruler, former president Pervez Musharraf, who resigned in disgrace in 2008 to avoid impeachment for violating the constitution.
The military sets foreign and security policy, even when civilians are in power, so it needs a major reason, such as a threat to its fundamental interests, to justify a coup.
The military is also reluctant to take power and assume responsibility for a host of problems such as a weak economy, widespread poverty and power shortages that would open it up public criticism.