Pakistan’s military is hoping to oust President Asif Ali Zardari but without a repeat of the coups that have been a hallmark of the South Asian nation’s 64 years of democracy.
The Reuters news agency reports that tensions are rising between Pakistan’s civilian leaders and its generals over a memo that accused the army of plotting a coup after the United States raided the compound of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town in May.
The memo, which was allegedly written by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, is said to have solicited American help to stave off a military takeover. The ambassador denied involvement but resigned over the controversy.
It wouldn’t be the first time that the military has sought to run the country. Pakistan has had three army coups since it won independence and separated from India in 1947. The last president, Pervez Musharraf, was an army general and led a military government between 1999 and 2007. His successor as army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, has promised to keep the armed forces out of politics but enjoys tremendous influence as the nation has been on a war footing since the conflict in Afghanistan began ten years ago.
The war on terror has pushed the Muslim nation onto the brink of civil war. The majority Punjabi army is reluctant to expand operations in the western tribal area where the people are of Pasthun descent and insurgents battling NATO forces in Afghanistan are known to shelter. The army’s offenses in the region are estimated to have displaced up to half a million people.
The war has spilled into Pakistan proper with assassinations and bombings taking place in major cities including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have died as a result of the conflict.
On top of that, the country suffered flooding and devastation twice this year and last, draining the fractured civilian government in Islamabad of the resources it needed to hold the country together.
Zardari was absent from Pakistan before this week. Despite rumors of a coup already haven taken place, he went to undergo medical treatment in Dubai.
His position is largely ceremonial but the president wields considerable power as the leader of Pakistan’s ruling party. His forced departure would be a blow to the civilian authorities and could throw the country into turmoil.