Islamabad, Nov. 24 (Reuters): Pakistan’s new Prime Minister looks precariously placed, with a fragile coalition to protect, a formidable Opposition to appease and a powerful President watching his every move, commentators said today.
A day after being sworn into office, 58-year-old Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali must juggle the demands of myriad smaller parties and defectors who helped him muster a narrow majority in Thursday’s vote for the premiership.
The stout, bearded man from the tribal southwestern province of Baluchistan put political arithmetic to one side today, urging officials to get more supplies to victims of Thursday’s earthquake which killed 23 people in remote northern Pakistan. He told state-run PTV that he was prepared to ask other countries for aid, if the need arose.
Jamali, from the pro-military Pakistan Muslim League (PML), has voiced support for President Pervez Musharraf’s decision to back the US hunt for Taliban and al Qaida operatives in Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan.
Economic policies popular in the West are also likely to survive, with the appointment of the respected outgoing finance minister, Shaukat Aziz, as special adviser to Jamali.
But many have predicted that the new government, which ended three years of military dictatorship under Musharraf after a bloodless coup in 1999, would not last its full five-year term.
“Jamali has... formed the government, but is still hanging precariously by the ledge, from which he could fall should as few as eight members from his coalition move over to the Opposition,” the Nation newspaper said in an editorial.
Jamali only won the minimum necessary 172 votes in the 342-seat National Assembly with the help of smaller parties and the defection of 10 members of the main Opposition party.
There was a heavy price to pay. Three of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) “turncoats” were handed key ministries in the new Cabinet — defence, interior and petroleum.
Jamali faces an opposition made up of two main elements — the anti-military PPP led by exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a coalition of six hardline Islamic groups opposed to the presence of US troops in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Leaders in the West will have breathed a sigh of relief to see the religious right sidelined, and its leader, pro-Taliban Fazal-ur-Rehman, failing in his bid to become Prime Minister.
But political analysts argue that the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) bloc would have been less of a force in government than in Opposition. In control of the North West Frontier Province and a dominant factor in Baluchistan, the MMA’s fierce anti-US and conservative Islamic agenda will be harder for the government to control, they say.
One point most observers agree on is the continued domination by Musharraf of Pakistani politics.
The general extended his rule by five years in a controversial referendum, has the right to dismiss Parliament, institutionalised the military’s role in decision making and is seen as having close ties with the PML.
“As long as they (the new government) are prepared to play ball with General Musharraf, there can be no doubts about how long it should last,” said political commentator Ayaz Amir.
“Dangers will only arise when they are prepared to buck the system. If they try to buck the presidency, there is bound to be trouble for them,” the retired army major said.
But an official played down Musharraf’s future role. “He (Musharraf) has expressed his hope that this new Cabinet will take Pakistan to heights that would realise its full potential,” his spokesman, Major-General Rashid Qureshi, said. “He is there with whatever sort of support is needed to help Pakistan and take Pakistan forward.”