Zardari Flees to Dubai Again Under Cover of “One Day” Trip: Is He Finished?

Events continue to unfold at a very rapid pace in Pakistan. On Tuesday, I had noted, in comments to my post on the constitutional crisis facing the country over implementing the repeal of the National Reconciliation Ordinance, that Dawn was reporting that Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari had said that he is ready to resign if that is what his political party desires. Further, Zardari had called for a meeting of Parliament for today, along with a meeting just before that with high officials in his PPP political party.

In the meantime, Wednesday was very eventful, as the civilian government and military traded multiple charges back and forth over the continuing memogate controversy. In the midst of that tussle, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani fired the country’s defense secretary and the military announced a new head for a “brigade known for its prominent role in coups”.

Today, it appears that Zardari has once again fled to Dubai. Both a scheduled medical follow-up to last month’s hospitalization in Dubai and a wedding have been given as reasons for this trip. So far, I’ve seen no mention in any of the stories on his departure of the Parliament meeting and political party meeting that he had called for today. Neither a “scheduled” medical trip nor a trip for a wedding make sense as explanations for a sudden trip which cancels these hastily called meetings. Despite the explanation that this is a one day trip, I’d be very surprised if he chooses to return to Pakistan.

Reuters reports on Zardari’s departure:

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari flew to Dubai on a scheduled one-day trip on Thursday, a member of the ruling party and sources said, while tensions grew over a memo seeking U.S. help in preventing a coup by Pakistan’s powerful military.

/snip/

Relations between Pakistan’s civilian government and the military have reached their lowest point since a coup in 1999, reducing the chances that the leadership can take on the country’s enormous social and economic challenges.

Military sources say that while they would like Zardari to go, it should be through constitutional means, not another of the coups that have marked Pakistan’s almost 65 years of independence.

“There is no talk in the military of a takeover,” a mid-level army officer, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, told Reuters.

“I don’t foresee a military coup.”

The stage is set, of course, for the “constitutional” removal of Zardari, as his government has a deadline of Monday for responding to the Supreme Court on the NRO case. As noted earlier this week, the Supreme Court has threatened to find the civilian government unfit to rule if it does not respond properly to its rulings. Zardari’s sudden departure, only four days before that deadline, would appear to be an admission that he and his government have no response to the charges.

Meanwhile, as if the Supreme Court breathing down its neck weren’t enough, the Zardari government has further enraged the military with the firing of the defense secretary:

Pakistan’s military warned of “grievous consequences” from its worsening relations with the civilian government on Wednesday and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani fired the top defense bureaucrat as a crisis deepened in the country’s leadership.

The powerful military has often been at odds with civilian leaders and has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 64-year history as an independent state after repeated coups.

/snip/

Gilani’s office said it sacked the defense secretary, retired Lieutenant General Naeem Khalid Lodhi, for “gross misconduct and illegal action which created misunderstanding” between institutions. Lodhi was the most senior civil servant responsible for military affairs, a post usually seen as the military’s main advocate in the civilian bureaucracy.

A bit further down in the same article, we see a move by the military that I think played a major role in Zardari’s decision to go to Dubai:

In another move some analysts described as ominous, the army replaced the head of a brigade known for its prominent role in coups. The military said it was a routine matter.

Despite the military saying this move was routine matter, it smacks to me of the military prominently cleaning a gun while saying something along the lines of “Nice government you have there, Zardari. It would be a shame if anything happened to it.”

Interestingly, the Supreme Court is being asked to overturn the firing of the defense secretary and to prevent any “unconstitutional” acts by the military in response. From Dawn:

A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court against the sacking of the defence secretary by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, DawnNews reported.

Advocate Tariq Asad in his petition pleaded that Lt-Gen Naeem Khalid Lodhi was sacrificed by the government due to the Supreme Court’s orders in the memo case and the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) implementation case.

The petitioner further sought the court’s role in stopping the army leadership from taking any unconstitutional steps.

The military is meeting to consider its options. Also from Dawn:

Pakistan’s military chief met top commanders Thursday amid a widening rift between the powerful armed forces and the civilian government.

Military spokesman Maj. Muhammad Ali Diyal declined to say what the talks at army headquarters were about, but the meeting is likely to fuel speculation about the army’s next move in the country’s political and legal crisis.

Recalling Dawn’s usual description as being quite close to the military, we see further along in the article:

The Zardari government, which was democratically elected in 2008, is determined to see out its term. General elections are scheduled for next year, but could well take place sooner. Moreover, the government has been widely criticised for ineptness, poor or ineffectual governance, and alleged corruptio [sic]

It would be very surprising to me if Zardari and Gilani remain in office much longer. Their response to the Supreme Court’s demand to implement the fraud and corruption investigations called for by the overturning of the NRO appears to have been to decide that the defense secretary is the only public official who merits dismissal. That move seems remarkably inept, as it now seems that the military and Supreme Court will be wrestling over which of them gets to be the one to remove this government from power. That plays directly into a characterization of Zardari seen in one WikiLeak cable described in what appears to be Reuters’ first “retrospective” on Zardari:

Some Western officials concluded early on that he lacked the skills to lead a country seen as critical to Washington’s global efforts to tackle militancy.
In a 2008 diplomatic cable carried by WikiLeaks, then chief of the British Defence Staff Jock Stirrup said Zardari was “clearly a numbskull.”

Stay tuned for further developments. (Oh, and by the way, see the video above. The US re-started drone strikes in Pakistan.)

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27 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    “Oh, and by the way, see the video above. The US re-started drone strikes in Pakistan.”

    I’m not sure regarding the dating of the specific drone strike described in the video, but just to clarify things, Reuters is now reporting the 2nd US drone strike in North Waziristan in as many days.

  2. Benjamin Franklin says:

    “There is no talk in the military of a takeover,” a mid-level army officer, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, told Reuters.

    “I don’t foresee a military coup.”

    Nu-shareff in town?

  3. MadDog says:

    @Jim White: I read that somewhere too. According to this Pakistan Today piece from a couple of days ago, the ISI was also ordered to provide Ijaz with security.

    I can’t say I would be real comfortable in either the Army’s or the ISI’s hands.

  4. PeasantParty says:

    Just wow! I think the Pakistani Military has taken lessons from the US Military. Neither one is ruled by the Leader of the country. They seem to have their own agendas.

    Call me crazy if you wish, I just see similarities.

  5. Jim White says:

    Just wow. Josh Rogin has a new post with a new interview and a purported email from Ijaz to James Jones (who delivered “the memo” to Mullen). Suffice to say, Ijaz is squirming to make all of his various statements make sense with one another. My head is spinning wildly after reading the post…

  6. MadDog says:

    @Jim White: Ditto on the just wow! There were a bunch of new juicy tidbits in that email:

    1) Tom Daschle involved?
    2) Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus involved?
    3) 2 of the 3 co-authors “have been away from the games played in Islamabad for some time”?

    That last item gets me wondering about their names and former official Pakistani positions.

    Didn’t finish reading Josh’s piece until now. Ijaz actually revealed their names to Josh.

  7. Jim White says:

    @MadDog: It looks like he didn’t make contact with Mabus and wouldn’t adhere to Daschle’s preconditions of putting the memo on state letterhead and signed by Zardari.

    As a completely irrelevant aside, I met Mabus at an Obama rally in 08 when I was volunteering for a Dem Congressional candidate (not rallying for 0!). He struck me as a very direct and honest person with remarkably liberal views for someone who came from Mississippi (where he was probably the only Democratic governor in a very long time). This was just a few days after Ole Miss upset the Gators in football and Tebow made “The Promise”. We had some good laughs about the game, but Mabus was very approachable and personable. He was not at all offended that nobody had a clue who he was. That Ijaz was not able to make contact with him does not surprise me at all. He’s way too smart to deal with someone who’s clearly a neocon tool.

  8. MadDog says:

    @Jim White: Daschle’s preconditions seem to indicate that he, Daschle was not buying the scheme and by insisting that it be in writing with Zardari’s signature was a tactic that Daschle was using to dismiss Ijaz & Co.

    After all, how many times during his Senate career has Daschle taken the verbal word of someone as a deal? Zillions of times? Insisting on writing and Zardari’s signature should have been a wake-up signal to Ijaz that he was playing a fool’s game and that Daschle wanted no part in it.

  9. Jim White says:

    Article now posted at Geo:

    President Asif Ali Zardari has returned home after cutting his Dubai visit short, Geo News reported.

    According to Presidency spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, President had reached Pakistan after finishing his private business in Duabi.

  10. MadDog says:

    @Jim White: Cutting short a one day trip to Dubai sounds less than confident on Zardari’s part. In fact it sounds fairly ominous to his continued Presidency.

  11. ryanwc says:

    This is thoroughly unconvincing as analysis of what’s going on in Pakistan. If it weren’t for the website hosting this, I’d assume it was written by a cheerleader for the Pakistani military or perhaps a source for Cheneyite elements of the American military. Weirdness.

    When I read foreigners accusing a head of state of ineptness in his political dealings in the country he has managed to rise to the leadership of, I can only scratch my head. I know the motives of American diplomats for saying such things – they have other goals than Gilani and Zardari. I don’t get why it’s written here.

    The main question at hand is why Gilani and Zardari felt strong enough to send their seckatary packing. They may have miscalculated, but it’s clear that it’s not mere ‘ineptness.’ There is far more afoot this week in Pakistan, and I don’t understand why ew.net is being recruited to the side of cacklers at democrats under siege. I’m hoping for a different level of analysis here.

    One of my insights from living in a violent neighborhood in Chicago – there are certain moments for violence. If a gangbanger is wickedly angry, he may retaliate, and all his buddies may congratulate him. Three days later, saner heads in his gang may be telling him to do something else. That’s why potential targets often “lie low” rather than moving out of the neighborhood. They aren’t afraid of the neighborhood – they’re making a prudent short-term decision. Not saying this is what’s behind Zardari’s temporary departure, but there are many explanations other than “fleeing”. Similarly shrewd is Zardari’s offer to step down “if his party wants him to.” While this is likely rhetorical, given the personalism of Pakistani parties, a rhetoric of “this is bigger than me” will serve him well politically, and also gives him and the party a potential out – he can potentially step down while leaving his party’s civilian leadership of the country intact, “defending in depth” their right to win in depth.

    I think the end game here for Pakistan is the election, and I don’t see Zardari’s PPP as critical to the future. But nothing would bode better for Pakistan than Zardari’s party losing an election. If they can hold out till then, and establish the principal of democratic succession, they’ll have struck an immense blow against militarism, one that will resonate with the fall of Mubarak as one of the signal changes in the Muslim world and indeed in the world.

  12. ryanwc says:

    The Ijaz note is far more interesting than it’s being made out. It goes a long way to define him and his motives.

    After all, at this point, very little is gained for the military by making new names of people behind the memo public. If Ijaz was playing a double game with the military, he’d have given them the names of Karamat and Durrani long since. The only reasonable motive to attribute for publicizing their names now is that Ijaz is wants everyone to know they’re on board against the military. This is likely part of the Gilani/Zardari strategy – letting their sympathizers in the military know that men like Karamat (former Army Chief of Staff) and Durrani (a retired Army officer who himself held the role of military secretary years ago) are supporting the government.

    I think it’s ridiculous, cowardly and a sop to militarists for people to be so blindly underestimating Zardari here.

  13. ryanwc says:

    By the way, in an editorial titled Some Breathing Space, Dawn both predicts that Zardari and Gilani will last till the election, and counsels patience to those who would like to see them forced out earlier:
    http://www.dawn.com/2012/01/13/some-breathing-space-2.html

    “when it comes to a thinly veiled attempt to destabilise the government on matters of dubiaus import, the survival of the political government is a matter to be thankful for.”

    and

    “The individuals at the helm of their respective institutions will last no longer than 2013 (the civilians aspiring to a further term will have to get a fresh mandate from the public).”

    They also offer a devastating critique of the security institution:
    “if Pakistan had been a more developed democracy, the authors of the ISPR statement this week would have been summarily sacked.”

    (The ISPR statement is the “serious ramifications” statement put out by the Inter-services Public Relations on behalf of the ISI and Kayani.

    So much for Dawn, close to the military, helping ease the way for a premature ouster of the democratic government. Sigh.

  14. Jim White says:

    @ryanwc: Brilliant analysis! Yes, I planted the “inept” reference into Dawn so that I could then quote it and find an actual application of it in current events. And I’m definitely a Pakistan military coup fan and Cheneyite neocon because I put in the false flag of comparing the behavior of the Pakistan military to that of a cheap Mafia shakedown artist. Thanks so much for seeing through the veneer of my analysis into the reality behind it and for sharing that reality with the poor EW readers who are unable to do their own critical reading.

  15. ryan says:

    Jim,

    You, not Dawn, called the move to dismiss the defense secretary “remarkably inept” in your summation casting doubt on the future of democracy in Pakistan. It was not an inept move. In fact, it was a power move that succeeded. In another article that I didn’t bother to cite, Kayani actually said if he was dismissed, he would likely bring a suit in the high court! This is a man with no cards in his hand, not someone who, as you believe, is about to stare down Gilani.

    To the contrary, Gilani has established the right of the civilian government to make changes in military personnel. In today’s Defense Committee meeting, the assembled military poobahs were forced to acknowledge Sethi. Kayani had apparently called Zardari asking that he convince Gilani to retract his criticism, expressed in Chinese media in order to embarrass Kayani, who was traveling in China. But Gilani didn’t retract anything, giving a speech at the end of the meeting while Kayani weakly “looked at the table.”

    Gilani today proposed a resolution in Parliament demanding that “institutions”, the Pakistani word for the military, ISI and the high court, must function within limits. Meanwhile, an editorialist in Dawn today described the Haqqani memo this way: “all it was doing was seeking support in subordinating the military to the elected government. Isn`t that what the constitution calls for?” And the opposition parties, including Khan’s, seem to be settling on a call for early elections, undercutting any other outcome – whether military coup or “constitutional coup” by the high court. Gilani (not Zardari) appears to have spoken to the British this week, which looks to me like an effort to make sure he had covered bases before he undertook his series of bold moves today.

    This has been a remarkable week for Pakistani democracy. And notably, a remarkable week for Gilani, whose star has risen not only in reference to the military, but also in reference to Zardari, and he may not only be consolidating party-based democracy, but also putting an end to the personalism of Pakistani parties.

    Your cackling conclusion that Gilani and Zardari wouldn’t last much longer (which was incredibly pessimistic about democratic forces in Pakistan, particularly when placed next to the predictions of Dawn two days ago) looks ever more distant from the truth as Gilani consolidates his gains.

    Tin-eared pessimism about democracy does in fact generate momentum for militarism. That’s why I’m angry at your analysis. I note that in your response, you had nothing to say about my substantive criticisms, instead focusing on my rhetoric. I’m sure my rhetoric was inflammatory and ridiculous – you’re definitely not a Cheneyite, and I apologize for that. But I’m writing angrily because I think this is a really important moment for Pakistan and for the world.

  16. bmaz says:

    @ryan: I would suggest that there are multiple and differing interpretations available for the Pak situation and the relative power balance in its government and between government and military and intelligence arms. Only time and history’s lens will provide better clarity and factual foundation. Getting all “angry” when it is not something amenable to fact or theory verification seems a bit much.

  17. ryan says:

    BMaz,

    Perhaps. I agree that history will tell more, and I could be wrong as well. Jim made a prediction for the short term, and one that tended to stifle the forces that I think most of us here would like to see win (those that support not necessarily Zardari, but democratic handover of power), while encouraging the forces of militarism. Skepticism of all players is good, but Jim’s point seemed merely a cackling cynicism – they’re inept scum, and they’re going down, ha-ha, all analysis of the weakness of the government, and no analysis at all of the weakness of the military, who instead are described as cockily cleaning their gun-barrels while demanding fealty. That seems pretty false in light of all the news I’ve cited.

    The tides seem to be pulling in a different direction, and if the government hasn’t been overthrown in a week, I hope he’ll come back and concede he was wrong. I certainly will, ruefully, if I’m proven wrong. But these aren’t just words on a page – not just descriptions of past, but things that create some of their own momentum. Gilani has sought American and British support, so idle and misplaced cynicism from the American left has an impact. Anger can be a reasonable response. And I did in fact apologize for overreaching in my first post.

  18. Jim White says:

    @ryan: Thanks for dialing down the rhetoric.

    I did add the “incredibly” to inept, but that was after the Dawn quote that characterized the Zardari government as characterized by ineptness.

    I still think that was an inept move because as I noted in the previous Pakistan post, Zardari has until Tuesday to demonstrate that he is complying with the two year old ruling that overturned the NRO and called for corruption investigations. Sacking the one ally the military had in his government doesn’t strike me as a power play as much as it strikes me as an attempt to provoke the military to act in an unconstitutional manor in response.

    The military has already stated they want him out, but under constitutional means. All they have to do is wait for Tuesday’s deadline, when they well could see the Supreme Court take down the government. By trying to provoke the military, it looked to me like Zardari had calculated that he liked his chances better asking for US and British help against the military moving against him more than sitting still and waiting for a Supreme Court decision.

    What would have been a victory for democracy would have been for his government to implement the corruption investigations in a timely manner. Even now, he could try to salvage things by firing a handful of the worst offenders and then calling for early elections. The big risk here of course is that the public still calls Zardari “Mr. 10%” and won’t be satisfied without an exhaustive investigation of the corruption allegations against him as well.

    I’m all for democracy, but I just don’t see the Zaradari government staying in power until the scheduled 2013 elections.

  19. ryan says:

    Thanks as well for a good and reasonable response. Keep writing. Sorry if I fly off the handle sometimes.

    I don’t think the government is as unpopular as you say (though I concede it has many flaws and isn’t wildly popular either.) Those pushing a “constitutional coup” often predicate what they say with the fact that the PPP is likely to win the March (Senate) elections.

    And I do wonder whether we’re seeing Gilani begin to eclipse Zardari. I see the moves of the two in recent weeks as very different – Zardari leaving the country twice, kowtowing in a meeting with Kayani; Gilani doing quite the opposite, acting energetically against the military.

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