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Is Pakistan’s “Soft Coup” Scenario Playing Out?

You hear a lot of rumors and scenarios in Pakistan, but one that keeps popping up is what might be called the “soft coup” option.  The version that backers of the military keep floating involves a declaration from the Supreme Court, backed by the army, that the civilian government has violated some essential point of law and should be replaced by a group of technocrats who would lead a caretaker government until new elections.

From the military point of view, this would be close to ideal.  The PPP government that it hates would be disgraced and out on its ear.  The new civilian rulers would lack a political base of their own and so be amenable to any and all military suggestions.  Yet because there would still be a civilian government, the military would not have to take up the problems of civil government (fixing potholes, running schools, improving electricity infrastructure and so on). And since everything that happened was blessed by the Supreme Court, the military would not be risking its aid from the US.

There are signs today that some form of this scenario is beginning to unfold and the LA Times has the story. President Zardari is widely unpopular and pretty much universally believed to be corrupt.  Elected on a wave of sympathy after the assassination of his (abler, better respected) wife Benazir Bhutto, Zardari heads the party that, if politics worked in Pakistan, would be natural home of democratic sentiment. The military overthrew Benazir’s father and executed him; there is no love lost between the PPP and the military.

Zardari, however, has governed so poorly that even longtime friends and allies have thrown up their hands. The much prophesied, much leaked plan to remove him through the courts (Pakistan’s Supreme Court has much more power than its US counterpart, and instead of waiting for issues to come before it through appeals from other courts, it can take up matters and issue decrees at its own initiative) now seems to be moving forward.

It’s not possible to tell yet whether this is a threat aimed at keeping him in line or represents a serious judgment by the country’s real powers that he must go but any chance for strong civilian leadership from this administration has come to an end.

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  • Anthony

    Are we talking days, weeks, months (national elections in march – PPP expects to do well) before Zardari’s administration is replaced…. Switzerland money laundering and Haqqani charges linger and both provide opposition cover (judicially).

  • Mathieu

    One qoetsiun that always lingers in my mind: are conditions ripening for the military to (even reluctantly) assume some sort of power? It seems that throughout Pakistani history, military authority often fills voids created by unrest.

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