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Flames Near Pakistani Tinderbox Doused - For Now

Pakistan's PPP government led by President Zardari and PM Gilani had little choice but to cede the bulk of the mass protesters' demands and announce the reinstatement of Chief Justice Chaudhry, unseated by Musharraf when the justice intended to rule the Musharraf presidency unconstitutional. If they government did not cede, it was all but certain that the standoff between protesters and Pakistani security would become bloody in Islamabad and the whole country would erupt in flames in reaction. This would have spelled the end of the PPP government, perhaps even the end of civilian governance and may have sparked civil war embers.

So in the interest of self-preservation, PM Gilani announced in a pre-dawn national address that Chaudhry was back in. The pre-dawn timing is evidence of the reluctance, announcing outside the hours most Pakistanis would view it live, perhaps hoping to blunt celebrations - a sign of the PPP government's defeat.

But quite curiously, one Pakistani commentator shares that he has it from reliable sources that Chief Justice Chaudhry will resign days after his reinstatement "in the interest of peace" and stability of Pakistan.

If so, the tangible gains of the massive Long March protests will be minimal. Or will they?

It has been reported that one of the effects of the Long March has been that Nawaz Sharif's legal status, currently banned from elected office, will be reconsidered by the courts. This is a development of great significance going forward, especially for US interests within Pakistan in the context of the Afghanistan theater and future relations with Pakistan.

Nawaz Sharif was reported to have received massive campaign donations from Usama bin Laden in his first runs for Prime Minister in Pakistan, and I have described him as al-Qaeda's useful 'bought and paid for' tool, though not a 'fellow traveler.'

Indicative of this, you will find no reports where Sharif has criticized the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Not in the course of discussion, not after bombings or attacks, not ever. And clearing the way for him to elected office - either as Prime Minister or President of Pakistan - bodes very ill for the United States and the West.

What does this mean to you and why should you care? The potential removal of even a Pakistani thorn from al-Qaeda's and the Taliban's side only makes them stronger in their havens, increasing their ability to plan, coordinate and train for attacks on Western populations on Western soil. Also, it would likely spell the ned of any use of Pakistani soil as a critical supply route for food, fuel, weapons, ammo and materiel for US and NATO forces in land-locked Afghanistan, crippling operations there as well.

In the next RapidRecon entry today, I will explain the relationship of the four sides of the latest Pakistani internal conflict: the PPP government, the Nawaz Sharif-led political opposition in the government, the 'Lawyers,' and the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance. Understand this and you will be able to decode reports of the next flare-up. And it's coming.

And next time, the Kiyani-led Pakistani military may emerge from its relative quiet and assert itself.

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