Much ado in the crisis state - Cyril Almeida - Friday 22nd April 2011

SO much is happening, or so it seems. The boys in uniform are squabbling with the Americans, the sniping and snarling going up a notch every time someone comes here or one of ours goes over there.
Politics is in flux again, the PPP wooing reluctant allies, the PML-N beating the war drum with one hand and smoking the peace pipe with the other. And the Supreme Court and the PPP are circling each other again, the presidential reference a political response to the court`s squeeze on the government.
But here`s the funny thing: on all three fronts, no one really expects things to unravel any time soon. The Pak-US relationship is not headed for disintegration. The PPP government is still more likely to complete its term than not. And the sparring in the Supreme Court is likely to remain more theatre than substance.
Everything in flux, but little actually changing — the land of contradictions is throwing up some classic stuff at the moment.
Let`s work through the different clashes.
The US and Pakistan have two different relationships: the one based around Pakistan and another based around Afghanistan. The latter guarantees that the former will not break. And the relationship based around Afghanistan cannot break because both sides are desperate to avoid yet another implosion in that country. So they will scratch and claw at each other, but there will be no dagger through the heart.
Flaccid rules of engagement and poorly demarcated red lines have meant that the American nose has slipped into the Pakistan tent and the boys in uniform here are trying to push it back out.
But, acrimony and recriminations aside, the latest era of the Pak-US relationship, and cooperation, has been defined by 9/11. For that to change fundamentally you`d need new fundamentals, i.e. something akin to the next 9/11. Barring that, the reluctant allies will remain reluctant allies, with the level of reluctance going up or down depending on proximate events.
Over to the domestic front, where much seems to be in flux again, the oracles of doom cranking up the conspiracy level once more. But there`s a simpler explanation. The rickety ship that is the PPP government has splashed into the fourth year of a five-year term. The sand in the hourglass is trickling to an end.
Everyone who isn`t the PPP is looking to distance itself from the PPP, to put some daylight between themselves and the unpopular government ahead of the next elections.
The PPP, though, still has its one-point agenda: complete its term. So the party will keep rummaging around in search of political detritus to patch up its rickety ship.
As for the PML-N, the only party that can plausibly sink the government, the same old questions apply: how and why?
How is more difficult than the oracles of doom seem to suggest, a fractious parliament and the PML-N`s estrangement from chunks of the combined opposition posing a significant hurdle.
But the PML-N has not even been able to internally settle the question of why. For all the hawkish strands in the party, one man stands in the way: Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif appears to have internalised a logic that has eluded the political class: when politicians fight, the army wins.
Sure, Sharif`s realisation has been helped along by other factors: the lack of US/UK enthusiasm for his party; the army`s suspicion of him personally; the economic and security mess making the prospect of ruling right now not very appetising; personal health issues; an epically unpopular government sinking under its own weight, etc.
But while the PML-N boss appreciates the logic of, and is keen to avoid, the politicians fight/army wins framework, the PPP remains more likely than not to complete its term.
Which leaves the Supreme Court-PPP tussle.
Informed by self-preservation and institutional interests, the Supreme Court wants to a) guarantee a hermetically sealed judiciary, i.e. the judges decide for themselves who can be a judge and b) keep the government under pressure, because that helps achieve (a) and also because the PPP leadership is deemed undesirable or unfit to lead the country.
But the court`s faces two significant constraints: one, the judicial community, lawyers and judges, is reluctant to endorse a full-blown attack on a constitutionally elected government; and two, the court is not equipped to fight in the swamp of politics, which is inevitably where the government would take the fight. jiyalas
But Babar Awan and co, the preening and prancing latter-day in the Zardari inner circle, are too clever by half. They had a choice. Take the less confrontational legalistic route — which would have involved deploying an army of lawyers to grind out a draw in each legal challenge the court throws down — or take the more confrontational political route.
True to form, sensing a fresh round of pressure from the court, the Zardari guys picked the more confrontational political route. But not all politics is smart, and who better than the PPP to remind us of that yet again.
The presidential reference to reopen the ZAB case may rally the PPP base some, but it`s given opponents an opening too.
For one, the court, which has long been stained by the ZAB murder, has an opportunity to cleanse its own history. Play along with Babar Awan now and for all time the sting in the `anti-PPP judiciary` claim could subside. For another, opponents of the PPP have been reminded of ZAB in the run up to an election. The founding Bhutto was a divisive figure, definitely more so than his daughter.
In the political scheme of things, the BB card has many upsides and few downsides. The same can`t be said for the ZAB card. Now the ZAB card has been thrown into the political domain by the PPP itself. Can always count on Babar Awan to make a bad situation worse.
But that doesn`t mean derailment of the government or attempted ouster of the judiciary is on the cards.
So, we have the army and the US squabbling, the political waters churning again, the Supreme Court and the PPP at it again, and yet the present configuration in each of those areas is more likely to hold than change?
How is that even possible, you may be thinking?
Welcome to Pakistan.
The writer is a member of staff.

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