x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pakistan's realignment of power

The return of Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry as chief justice heralds a process of political reform in which power can shift from the presidency to parliament enabling implementation of a 'Charter of Democracy'. Power might never be relinquished without a struggle but the people of Pakistan were able to celebrate with relief as President Zardari decided to loosen his grip just in time to avoid a major clash with mass opposition.

Power might never be relinquished without a struggle but the people of Pakistan were able to celebrate with relief as President Zardari decided to loosen his grip just in time to avoid a major clash with mass opposition. While US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was reported to have applied pressure on Pakistan's political leaders over the weekend, suggesting that US aid would be in jeopardy if the crisis was not swiftly resolved, on Monday US officials praised the president's decision to reappoint the chief justice as a "statesman-like" move. "The restoration of Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, the chief justice, is but the first act in a process of political reform that will shift power from the presidency to parliament," Tom Hussain noted in The National. Although the return to authority of the lionised judge is now the cause of national celebrations, as The Financial Times noted, the chief justice was not always viewed with such favour. "Only four years ago Mr Chaudhary's appointment as the top judge handpicked by Pervez Musharraf, the former military ruler, was greeted differently. There was disquiet, even foreboding, that the general's man was heading the judiciary. "An unexpected turn of events doused these fears. Gen Musharraf fired his judge and the unassuming Mr Chaudhary emerged at the centre of Pakistan's most robust civil society movement. In a country where civil society was supine until two years ago, lawyers rose up round him as a champion of the rule of law. "The decision by Asif Ali Zardari, the president, to reinstate Mr Chaudhary in the face of growing street protests has raised hopes of a new era of judicial independence at a time when a weak secular legal system is losing ground to sharia law, its religious equivalent. Though the compromise late on Sunday was a personal defeat for Mr Zardari, outside his offices it was viewed as a step towards stronger democracy in Pakistan." Farhan Bokhari said that: "within a year of his appointment, Mr Chaudhary took an independent stance on issues considered sensitive by the military and its former chief of staff [General Pervez Musharraf]. He started pursuing cases of people who had gone missing, thought to have been taken by the country's intelligence services investigating the war on terror. Privatisation deals also came under his scrutiny. "The decision to pursue these cases drew the wrath of Mr Musharraf, who dismissed him in March 2007. The sacking, and show of independence, earned him a reputation as a hero. "On taking office as president eight months ago, Asif Ali Zardari resisted pressure to reinstate Mr Chaudhary, fearing that an activist chief justice might challenge wide-ranging powers inherited from Mr Musharraf. Mr Zardari also feared Mr Chaudhary might revive corruption charges, put aside when he and Benazir Bhutto, his subsequently assassinated wife, returned to fight the elections."

"The American withdrawal from Iraq marks the beginning of one of the largest relocations of military hardware and manpower in recent years. But much of the equipment will not be returning to the United States," the Los Angeles Times reported. "Instead, some will remain with the Iraqi security forces and some will be shipped to Afghanistan. But as important, millions of tons of armor and weaponry will be used to restock huge US-run warehouses across the Middle East - in case it is needed in the future." For many Iraqis the US plans raise doubts and questions. Abdul Wahid Rahman, a political analyst from Tikrit, spoke to The National. "Mr Rahman predicted possible problems with a US withdrawal as Washington argues with Iran over Tehran's nuclear programme. "If that dispute were to come to a head, Iran could work to undermine Iraq and ensure that US troops get bogged down again or have to leave an unstable country under fire, something that would humiliate the US military. " 'Iran has unquestionably interfered with Iraq's internal affairs in the past,' Mr Rahman said. 'And Iran continues to have great ambitions here and in the Gulf region.' "The Kurds have made no secret of their concerns about a US withdrawal, viewing the army as a guarantor of their autonomy against the centralising tendencies of Baghdad. "The Kurds are concerned that, without US soldiers, an Arab-dominated government will use military force over such contentious issues as Kirkuk, the oil-rich city the Kurds claim as theirs but which Baghdad insists should not be part of the autonomous Kurdish region. "Sami Shoresh, a former culture minister in the Kurdistan Regional Government, warned a civil war could ignite." At the bitterlemons-international.org web site, Wayne White, a former deputy director of the US state department's intelligence office for the Near East and South Asia, said: "This year will bring a series of events that could bear heavily on the Obama administration's new withdrawal plan for Iraq. One such juncture is the July referendum on last December's US-Iraq agreement: so much opposition to the agreement arose from various quarters in Iraq that the Iraqi Parliament had to agree to submit the pact to a popular referendum. Should the agreement fail to pass this coming July, the deadline for a total American withdrawal might move up to July 2010 from December 2011, a potentially sizeable disruption of the plan. "Of more immediate concern is the agreement's requirement that American combat troops withdraw from Iraqi cities and towns by the end of June. In mixed areas, US forces are still separating or 'sitting on' populations of various ethno-sectarian communities that remain, in many cases, hostile toward or deeply suspicious of each other. No one knows to what degree this withdrawal will result in the onset of violence. Most observers apparently expect at least some violence, but do not know whether such outbreaks can be contained by the Iraqi security forces. "The failure of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to achieve much of the communal reconciliation that Iraq so desperately needed (the main goal of the reduction in violence since mid-2007) has greatly aggravated this potentially explosive situation. And it is difficult to know whether parliamentary elections in late 2009 will foster stability and reconciliation or will merely increase uncertainty."

"The allegations in Turkey's biggest legal case are the stuff of a dark thriller: mysterious murders, hit lists, stashed grenades, a plot to topple the government and, behind it all, a network of conspirators with links to the state as well as organised crime," the Associated Press reported. "The arrest of 219 people in a sweeping, two-year investigation is part of a struggle for control in Turkey, where an elected government run by pious Muslims is undermining military-backed elites that owned the country after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a war hero, created a secular state out of chaos in 1923. "On March 10, prosecutors filed a second indictment in the case against Ergenekon, an ultranationalist gang that takes its name from a legendary valley in Central Asia believed to be the ancestral homeland of Turks. "Suspects include academics, journalists, businessmen, retired generals and a few active-duty officers, most of them known to be secular-minded foes of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan." In a background report on the plot published after the first indictment, Der Spiegel said: "The idea, as prosecutors see it, was for Turkey to sink into fear and chaos before being rescued by an army coup that would reinstate peace and order. The armed forces, after all, see themselves as protectors of the nation they inherited from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern-day Turkey. The Turkish military has staged coups three times in the country's recent past: in 1969, 1971 and 1980. "The trial, currently underway at a court outside of Istanbul, began in October. At first, it was somewhat muddled, the 2,500 page indictment was full of holes and inconsistencies. Still, the trial of the century presents a unique opportunity to finally shed light upon the backroom dealers responsible for political murders and decades of terror in the name of the state. "It is a state of affairs known in Turkey as the 'deep state' and it existed long before the Ergenekon investigation, which began two years ago after the discovery of a weapons cache. There have always been paramilitary organisations that took it upon themselves to protect modern Turkey from alleged enemies both outside and inside the country - against Greeks and Armenians, then Leftists, and now against Islamists. "In the past, inquiries were always blocked, as in the case of the Susurluk affair. The case involved a deadly accident in which a former police chief, a politician from the True Path party and an internationally wanted mafia leader were found in the same car together on the outskirts of a town called Susurluk. The incident remains unsolved, leading many to fear that the Ergenekon case could meet the same fate."

pwoodward@thenational.ae