Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari will retain strong political influence after lawmakers cut his powers, while the army still will dominate policy on the U.S.-backed war against Taliban guerrillas.
Zardari is expected to sign into law a bill passed by the Senate today that will eliminate his ability to dissolve Parliament and transfer to the prime minister the formal authority to appoint the country’s powerful armed services commanders.
Despite losing key powers, which Pakistan’s military regimes had gradually vested in the presidency, Zardari “will remain the leader of the party that leads the government, and will retain a commanding influence” over the administration, said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, an analyst in Lahore who is an adjunct professor of South Asian studies at the School for Advanced International Studies in Washington.
“This is a historic moment,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the Senate after 90 of 100 members approved the bill, with no dissenting votes. “Now we have returned to a true democratic and parliamentary system” that was set up under Pakistan’s 1973 constitution.
While the bill’s 102 amendments eventually may strengthen civilian rule, provincial government powers and hopes for democracy in a country that has been governed mostly by its army, those changes are not guaranteed and “civil-military relations will remain dicey to say the least,” said Muhammad Waseem, a political science professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.
The army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, will remain the key policymaker for the Obama administration’s main concern — maintaining Pakistan’s military offensives against Taliban guerrillas and allied Islamic militants who conduct or support attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. U.S. military leaders have praised Kayani for launching a round of offensives against the Taliban last year.
Gilani was obliged to withdraw a July 2008 order putting the military’s main intelligence agency under control of the civilian Interior Ministry. Despite Gilani’s formal authority, “the civilian government will be obliged to say ‘yes’ if the army chief wants to extend his term by another year, and if he is backed up by Washington saying that he is the man they can do business with,” Waseem said. Zardari has won no more than 25-percent approval ratings among Pakistanis in opinion polls conducted by the Washington based HYPERLINK “https://www.iri.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/200920October20120Survey20of20Pakistan20Public20Opinion20July2015-August207202009.pdf” t “_blank” International Republican Institute during his 18 months in office. In July’s most recent survey, 40 percent said inflation was the biggest issue facing the country.
Zardari was criticized by the opposition for failing to quickly restore the Parliament’s powers under the 1973 charter.
He inherited control of the government’s leading political group, the Pakistan Peoples Party, when his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated in 2007.
Zardari has maintained support in the Obama administration as he has spoken more directly than other Pakistani leaders for U.S.-backed policies such as fighting the Taliban and ending the enmity with India that has ignited three wars and repeated crises between the nuclear-armed states.
The constitutional amendments will ease two years of struggle between Zardari and the top opposition leader, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. That may help the government focus on improving the economy and fighting the Taliban.
Pakistan says battling terrorists has cost the nation’s economy $35 billion in the past nine years. It wants the U.S. to provide civil nuclear technology to meet energy needs. Power shortages in the past two years have caused riots.
South Asia’s second-biggest economy expanded 2 percent in the year ended on June 30, the slowest rate in eight years. Pakistan avoided defaulting on its overseas debt in 2008 by securing a $11.3 billion International Monetary Fund loan.
Pakistani senators passed the constitutional amendments after they were approved by the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, last week. The bill needs to be signed by the president within 30 days before it becomes a law.
The bill will continue a gradual political ascent by the prime minister, Rizvi said. “Gilani has grown more influential by taking on the role of the moderate who can talk to the disparate political groups and build consensus,” he said in a phone interview. “That political influence will be enhanced by a greater constitutional role.”