A Bad Week for Pakistani Politics

An influential Pakistani governor is assassinated and the country’s coalition government one step closer to collapse.

With an Islamic insurgency raging in its cities and millions of its citizens still displaced from widespread flooding, Pakistan’s leadership is increasingly losing control of its own country. Add political paralysis the mix, as well as the prospect of government collapse, and the situation inside Pakistan becomes even more dangerous.

The first bulletin comes to us from the halls of power in Islamabad, where a major political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, abruptly withdrew its support for the coalition government of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. Pakistani politics have always been susceptible to this type of behavior: the main parties in the country view each other more as rival street gangs than legitimate political actors. The MQM and President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — two large members of the government — are especially hostile toward one another. At times, the hostility has exploded onto the streets of Karachi where gunmen from each party have targeted the supporters of the other. This past October alone, members of the MQM have shot and killed dozens of Awani National Party (ANP) supporters who are primarily ethnic Pashtuns from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Evidently, this political violence was not enough. Politicians from all major Pakistani factions have now taken their grievances inside parliament, where they should have been all along. Yet those grievances rarely get solved. Decades of tension that should have been solved long ago is left to fester. It has now exploded with the departure of the MQM. If Prime Minister Gilani and President Zardari are unable to retain their slim majority, Pakistan’s military may take matters into its own hands.

The second story coming out of the country is the apparent assassination of the most powerful governor inside Pakistan, Salman Taseer.

Taseer was the governor of Pakistan’s largest and most strategically important province, Punjab, and officials are already describing his death as the most significant since the killing of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Bhutto’s death was attributed to the Pakistani Taliban; Taseer’s was orchestrated by one of his very own bodyguards.

This story is still developing, but it is having a shockwave affect on the Pakistani media. Taseer was quite the media savvy politician. He had an enormous following on Twitter where he frequently spoke out against religious extremism in all its forms — most recently about Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. His protests may have finally caught up to him.