Commenter Ali Ahmed Kurd took me to task the other day for possessing insufficient knowledge of Pakistan when looking at the current clash between President Asif Ali Zardari and leading opposition figure Nawaz Sharif. I plead guilty then and my plea stands. But the situation in Pakistan is getting real. In Lahore, former Prime Minister Sharif — whom judges, possibly at Zardari’s behest, banned from running for future office — defied house arrest and began leading supporters on their so-called Long March to Islamabad, where they intend this week to demand the reinstatement of cashiered judges — particularly former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, whom Zardari fears will investigate him for corruption. Violence has already broken out between the tens of thousands of protesters and police, but some police in Lahore decided not to enforce Zardari’s crackdown on Sharif’s followers.
This is pretty much exactly what the Obama administration doesn’t want: widespread political instability in Pakistan on the eve of its revamped Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy.
There’s a base of support in the United States for Zardari owing to how beloved his deceased wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was in the west, despite his longstanding reputation for corruption. But some in his party are urging him to resign in order to spare Pakistan the confrontation in Islamabad with Sharif, as The Wall Street Journal reports:
What began four days ago as a political standoff between Mr. Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is now “beginning to look like an endgame” for the deeply unpopular president with cabinet ministers quitting and popular discontent growing, said Safdar Abbasi, a senior member of Mr. Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party. Analysts and politicians cautioned that it could play out over months rather than days, however.
The State Department insists that it wants to bring the standoff to an end and is agnostic about how Zardari and Sharif resolve the dispute.
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