The nuclear-armed state of Pakistan is on the verge of political collapse. A radical Islamist political party is allying itself with the most popular politician in Islamabad. The following is a Deutsche Presse Agentur excerpt from March 2:
Pakistan’s most influential Islamist political party on Monday announced it will join former Premier Nawaz Sharif’s protest march against a court ban on his candidacy and for the reinstatement of the deposed Supreme Court chief justice.
“We will fully participate in the long march,” Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed told reporters at a joint press conference with Sharif in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s eastern province of Punjab.
The Supreme Court last week upheld an earlier high court verdict that banned Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz, from parliamentary post because of a previous conviction.
The court decision also removed Shahbaz from the seat of chief minister of Punjab, the richest and populous province in Pakistan.
Sharif has asked the nation to stand up to the pro-Western government of President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, accusing Zardari of influencing the court judgment to remove him from active politics.
“These are defining moments. The entire nation has to come out (on the streets),” Sharif said on Monday.
The alliance with the Islamist group is likely to boost the protests by Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (pml-n) party that continues to stage countrywide agitations since last week, blocking main roads and closing markets, particularly in Punjab, the pml-n’s stronghold.
The development has raised concern in Western capitals that internal political turmoil might divert Pakistan’s attention away from fighting Taliban and al Qaeda militants.
The Jamaat-e-Islami party advocates an Iranian-style religious dictatorship and maintains close ties with the radical Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. This alliance with Sharif may be just what it needs to increase its influence in Pakistan.
Opinion polls show that Sharif is currently Pakistan’s most popular politician. It is feasible that his party could mobilize street rallies powerful enough to deliver a deathblow to the current coalition government in Islamabad. Such a development would definitely strengthen both the Pakistan Muslim League and its Islamist allies.
Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal creates a dangerous situation. For more information, read “Pakistani Sympathy Grows for Pro-Taliban Militants” and “Pakistan and the Shah of Iran.” •