Pakistan's coalition in turmoil after junior partner walks out

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani yesterday scrambled to shore up support for his crumbling coalition and stave off attempts to oust him after a junior partner walked out, stripping the coalition of its majority.

The government has been plunged into political turmoil after the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) quit the cabinet and retreated to the opposition. Combined with the earlier departure of Pakistan's largest religious party, the ruling coalition has been reduced to a minority.

Mr Gilani has been in crisis talks, hastening from one opposition leader to the next. He has been trying to lure them into government, and failing that, asking they at least don't oust him through a vote of no confidence. The effort appeared to yield some dividends yesterday, with neither of the two largest opposition parties signalling their intent to topple the government.

However security analysts fear that the instability will divert attention from the pressing fight against Islamist militancy.

Political instability will make it difficulty to build support for future military offensives. A planned advance into North Waziristan, the tribal area along the Afghan border that poses the biggest threat both to Afghanistan and Pakistan, will likely be further delayed. Washington has long urged Islamabad to take action there.

Beyond its anti-Taliban campaign, the greatest worry facing this nuclear-armed Muslim nation is its dire economy. Pakistan is dependent on an $11.3bn (£7.3bn) IMF loan that it is struggling to repay. Last summer's floods are estimated to have cost $10bn in damage. And as it is forced to cut subsidies, the government's unpopularity is likely to grow.

Given such vulnerability, the obvious beneficiary is the powerful military establishment. As the civilians have shed popularity, Pakistan's generals have quietly clawed back much of the power they lost when the former dictator General Pervez Musharraf stepped down. Now, analysts say, matters of national security, foreign policy and even economic policy have fallen back under the army's control. In the months ahead, the army is likely to assert its backstage dominance further.

Shujaat Hussain, the leader of the second largest opposition party, said that his party was going to offer Mr Gilani support on "one condition". "That condition is that the real issues of the people are addressed," he added. But Mr Hussain's Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam is yet to say whether it will fortify the government's ranks.

The Prime Minister, however, remained confident. "The government will last," Mr Gilani told reporters. Asked if it could survive without the MQM, he replied: "Without everyone." His confidence was at odds with the mood elsewhere in Islamabad. "This government has six weeks to decide whether it wants to survive," said an opposition parliamentarian, Khawaja Saad Rafique.

But it is unlikely that Mr Gilani will have to vacate the Prime Minister's hilltop mansion. "The coalition may not survive, but the government will," said Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, a senior leader of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

The opposition is riven by fierce divisions and is unlikely to cohere into an alternative force. "We don't want to inherit this mess," said an opposition leader. "It's better for us that we wait until the next election." An election is due in 2012, but could happen some time next year.

Meanwhile, the prospect is of a weak minority government, constantly battling for its survival and distracted from its duties. "It will obviously affect governance," said Mr Ahsan. A sense of the government's fragility was in evidence yesterday, as opponents united against petrol price hikes. That pressure is likely to intensify, possibly forcing another climbdown. The PPP-led government has already shelved plans to broaden its tax base through a revised general sales tax.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border