The threat of an overt military coup may have waned a bit over the last couple of days but that does not mean that the government, and far more importantly, democracy is now safe. If anything, the dangers have become more acute and actors who should be working to protect the system may well end up undermining it. First, there is the Supreme Court. The chief justice has been admirable in his continued insistence that he would not countenance military rule, but his court’s decisions are providing the military with its biggest opportunity to thwart civilians. In a meeting with his top commanders, Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani decided to throw the full might of the military behind the court, and is now willing to use his soldiers to enforce any possible anti-government verdict on the National Reconciliation Ordinance. So, in the end, there may be a situation much like the one that is being discussed as a possibility, with the government eventually being made to yield through a court order.
Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N seems to be equally blind to some of the dangers they are posing to the democratic system. Among the options that the opposition party is weighing include introducing a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, mass resignations from the assemblies and street protests. Despite being the party that has been most cognisant of the military’s designs on political power, the PML-N has now decided that its own thirst for power is a more vital cause than a full-throated support of democracy. For the PML-N, early elections are crucial to arrest the PTI’s growing rise in popularity and if that means unintentionally doing the army’s dirty work for it, then that is a cross the PML-N is willing to bear.
The PPP, for now, is on the offensive against the army but on the defensive against the Supreme Court. Removing Nadeem Lodhi from his post as defence secretary was a bold move, one that may have precipitated a coup in years past. But taking the fight to the military means that the PPP has to back down on the NRO case and give in to the wishes of the Supreme Court. It is a difficult balancing act, but if the PPP can pull it off, it will save not only its own government, but it might just end up shifting the balance of power between the military and the civilians in favour of the latter for years to come.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2012.