Pakistan politics: Key players

The Pakistani government has often been at loggerheads in recent years with the judiciary and military. Judges have been accused of meddling in politics by disqualifying Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in 2012 and of playing a role in the “memogate” affair – in which American intervention was allegedly sought by the government to cut the military down to size. With elections due in May, the BBC profiles the key players in the government, opposition and military.

President Asif Ali Zardari

Pakistani President Asid Ali Zardari speaks to China Daily (7 Jan 2012)

One of Pakistan’s most controversial political figures, Asif Ali Zardari is often considered something of an accidental president. He came to power in September 2008 on a wave of public sympathy following the assassination of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. But his term in office has been one of unrelenting political and social turmoil, growing instability and persistent allegations of corruption and economic mismanagement.

His leadership has seen a marked deterioration in Pakistan’s relationship with Washington, with the US questioning whether Islamabad is doing enough to tackle militancy.

The career of Mr Zardari – nicknamed Mr Ten Percent – has been dogged by corruption allegations. The Supreme Court has been pushing to reopen a corruption case for which he has already spent eight years in prison. He is increasingly unpopular with the Pakistani public. Health problems have seen him travel abroad for treatment at crucial moments.

Another test for his leadership came in late 2011 with the leaking of the memo asking for US help to avert a possible coup, following the killing of Osama Bin Laden earlier that year. Mr Zardari denied involvement in the “memogate” scandal, and appears to have escaped possible impeachment for now.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf

Raja Pervez Ashraf scatters rose petals on the grave of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2012

Raja Pervez Ashraf became PM in June 2012 following the departure of his predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was found guilty by the Supreme Court of contempt of court for refusing to re-open corruption cases against President Zardari.

From the moment he became prime minister there was speculation that Mr Ashraf would also face similar pressure as Mr Gilani from the judiciary, prompting correspondents to speculate that his tenure would be troubled and short.

In January 2013 the Supreme Court ordered his arrest over allegations that he had accepted bribes when he approved power generation projects as minister for water and power in 2010.

The allegations have earned him the nickname “Raja Rental” because of the kickbacks he was alleged to have received. He denied the claims but left the post in 2011.

He is a senior figure in the party and has twice been a minister in the PPP-led government, which has been in power since 2008.

Gen Ashfaq Kayani – army chief

Gen Ashfaq Kayani, Rawalpindi, Pakistan on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007

As military chief, Gen Kayani has presided over one of the most turbulent periods in Pakistan’s military history, with the killing of Osama Bin Laden by US forces, the growing threat of terror attacks and widespread public anger at drone strikes which have resulted in the deaths of civilians as well as militants.

In January 2013 he was publicly criticised by a leader of the minority Shia community for what he said was the army’s failure to protect them from a series of sectarian attacks that killed almost 100 people.

Gen Kayani pushed for an investigation into the “memogate” affair, saying the alleged note was a conspiracy against the army. In return, he was accused by Mr Gilani of acting unconstitutionally.

Pakistan’s military has carried out three coups in the past and there has been mounting concern that another is on the cards. But analysts say the military has little to gain from such action – it has its hands full with the fight against Islamist militants and such a coup would attract strong international criticism.

Pervez Musharraf – former leader

Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf speaks during an interview with Reuters in Dubai 8 January 2012

Pakistan’s last military leader has been living in self-imposed exile since stepping down in 2008. But he remains a potent figure in Pakistani politics and in 2012 announced he would return to the country within weeks, telling his supporters to prepare for elections. But the threat of immediate arrest forced him to cancel his return.

He is accused of failing to provide adequate security for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, which contributed to her assassination in 2008.

The military is likely to view any return with suspicion, and correspondents say the image of military rule was so bad by the time he left office, the public are not expected to rush to his support even if he does come back.

Nawaz Sharif – opposition leader

Nawaz Sharif speaks in Islamabad (12 Jan 2012)

Twice prime minister, Nawaz Sharif remains the main political force in the Punjab, the most populous region of Pakistan. He is president of Pakistan’s second largest party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N. Many thought he would have won the 2008 elections, had Mr Zardari not been given a polls boost by the death of his wife.

Mr Sharif has been accused in the past of being too friendly an opposition to the PPP and failing to seize opportunities to challenge them. But correspondents say he has perhaps played a careful game, waiting until the time was right to be more forceful.

It was Mr Sharif who brought the “memogate” scandal to the attention of the Supreme Court – describing it as a “treasonous” act and accusing President Zardari of being behind it, along with former Pakistani ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani, who has since resigned.

Imran Khan – leader of Movement for Justice

Imran Khan in Islamabad (8 Jan 2012)

The former international cricketer has been on the political scene for several years, leading his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party, but has struggled to make any significant gains. He has tried to bolster his popularity by riding a wave of disillusionment, particularly among the urban middle class.

Mr Khan has succeeded in winning the support of some politicians who have grown disgruntled with their own parties – they could help counter accusations of political inexperience.

In October 2012 he led a thousands-strong motorcade rally against US drone strikes in Pakistan, but its impact was neutered when he was stopped from entering the restive tribal regions. He has also held a series of well-attended rallies over the last two years.

Mr Khan has pledged to sweep away the rampant corruption plaguing Pakistani politics, in part by calling for an end to foreign aid. But correspondents say he has some way to go to turn popular support into electoral gains. He is, however, believed to be popular with the military.

Mohammad Iftikhar Chaudhry – chief justice

Mohammad Iftikhar Chaudhry - Pakistan's chief justice

Pakistan’s chief justice has form in opposing the sitting government. He was one of several judges sacked by Gen Pervez Musharraf in 2007 after they questioned his right to remain in office. A long campaign was launched and he was finally restored to his post in March 2009.

For a time he had a strong populist image, seen as a champion of the rule of law, praised as the only judge in history to have stood up to a military ruler and won. But he has been accused of being selective in the cases he pursues.

In June 2012 Mr Chaudhry found himself in the embarrassing position of having to exclude himself from the bench hearing allegations of corruption made by a business tycoon against his son, Arsalan.

The chief justice initiated the case as a response to accusations that Arsalan had accepted millions of dollars in bribes. Both he and his son deny any wrongdoing.

The Supreme Court has historically given legitimacy to military coups and some say he has dragged his feet over corruption allegations against the intelligence service while pursuing those against the government – such as the sudden decision to disqualify Mr Gilani.

The court has not only pursued the government over the amnesty against corruption prosecutions but has also arbitrated on the “memogate” scandal.

Zaheerul Islam – intelligence chief

Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam replaced Ahmad Shuja Pasha as head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency in 2012.

He took up the post after a tumultuous year in which the agency was accused by the US of backing militants across the border in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has consistently denied such claims but relations with the US have been tense.

Upon assuming office, he had to deal with the fall-out of the Bin Laden killing – in which some in the US accused Pakistan’s establishment, and especially the ISI, of at best incompetence and at worst complicity after the al-Qaeda chief was found to have lived in the country for a number of years.

Lt Gen Islam was born into a military family and is the army commander in Karachi. He has also served as deputy head of the ISI in the past.

Correspondents say that as head of the ISI many believe he could be an important figure in any future Pakistani peace negotiations with the Afghan Taliban.


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