Monday, March 9, 2009

Kiyani warns Zardari against unrest in Pakistan

NEW DELHI: The army in Pakistan has begun to flex its muscle. Pakistan's army chief general Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, who has so far kept a low profile,
has asked President Asif Ali Zardari to 'clean up the mess' soon, according to a Times Now report. Well-placed military sources in Islamabad said Kiyani has been asked by the United States to bring some order in the region. After his recent visit to Washington, Kiyani held a meeting with top Pakistani army commanders on March 6 to share the concern of the US over the state of affairs in the country, especially after the dissolution of the Punjab government and the subsequent anti-government agitation that has plunged the country into another political crisis. Zardari's bid to settle scores with the opposition led by Sharif has now gone down well with Washington. The Supreme Court last month effectively barred former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, who are opposition leaders, from contesting elections. The Sharifs and the PML-N, Pakistan's second-largest party, have accused Zardari of being behind the court decision. Their supporters have taken to the streets and more strife is expected. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Sharifs' party were bitter rivals in the 1990s, a turbulent decade in which Bhutto and Sharif both served as prime minister twice without completing a term. A military coup in late 1999 ousted Sharif and brought Musharraf to power. Analysts fear a return of the politics of confrontation between the country's two biggest parties. Musharraf's successor as army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, has vowed to keep the army out of politics. But the danger is that if the crisis becomes acute the military, which has ruled for more than half Pakistan's 61 years of history, will feel forced to act. The army has little reason to back Sharif, even if Zardari is widely unpopular and disliked by hawkish elements who distrust his pro-West stance and dovishness towards India. Sharif had bad relations with at least three army chiefs during the 1990s. Morever, the West is wary of Sharif, believing he panders to the religious/nationalist constituency that opposes the war on terrorism. The United States wants Pakistan to focus on fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida, and doesn't want the army diverted by politics or, analysts say, drawn into helping Sharif. Times Now

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