Amid the incessant violence, the turmoil on both the eastern and western borders of Pakistan, economic hardship, blackouts and political quibbling, the only thing that had so long seemed certain was Pakistan being able to keep its date with a historic transfer of power — from one democratically-elected government to another. The political chaos that has gripped the nation raises a huge question mark against that possibility. Only days after the federal government dissolved the provincial government in Balochistan in response to popular pressure after the bombings in Quetta, events are threatening the survival of the Pakistan People’s Party government in Islamabad. The call for the dissolution of the PPP government from the Shia cleric and rabble-rouser, Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri, is now being echoed by the innumerable people who have thronged the Blue Area in Islamabad. The sudden arrest order against the prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, issued by the supreme court after a gap of one year in a corruption case against him, has lent an edge to that demand. The timing of the court order against Mr Ashraf that eerily coincided with Mr Qadri’s long march against the government raises questions not merely about the fate of the present civilian government, but also that of Pakistan’s fledgling democracy. Coming only two months before the elections, these events place the Pakistan army in a peculiarly advantageous position that may be courtesy some deft manoeuvring by the army itself. The parachuting of a cleric, who vouches for a greater role for the army, into the thick of national politics, the increasing cry for army control from a disaffected, bombed people, the escalation of hostilities with a neighbour that redoubles sympathy for the armed forces — all enhance the status of the Pakistan military vis a vis that of a bumbling civilian government. That the judiciary has stepped in at the right time to add to the predicament of the government is of no less significance. All through Pakistan’s history, the judiciary has more often sided with the army than it has supported the country’s democratic governments.
All this may not mean the end of democracy for Pakistan. But it is quite certain that the reins of power will revert to the country’s armed forces, which will try to wield control first through a caretaker government and then a more pliant civilian government after a managed election.