World Focus: Incompetence reigns as leaders squabble over power

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The Independent Online

The last thing that Pakistan needs is a bout of metaphorical regicide at a time when Washington and the rest of the world are worried about the heightened risk posed by Islamic militants at the country's northern border who are fuelling the conflict in Afghanistan.

To Pakistanis and the outside world, the four-month-old democratically-elected coalition seems rudderless, leaderless and incompetent.

The squabbling leaders have failed to deal with Pakistan's economic crisis – the country is in the grip of rising food and fuel prices – and on the foreign policy front, they have given the impression of weakness.

Washington appears to be losing patience with the government of Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani and seems to have decided to take things into its own hands in Pakistan's turbulent northern region. At the end of last month, a US Predator drone against a presumed al Qa'ida target struck deep inside Pakistani territory.

Have the civilian leaders got a grip on the powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), since coming to power?

"They haven't even got a grip on themselves," came the reply from a Pakistani analyst in Islamabad.

To be fair, it can be argued that no one can get a grip on the ISI, a state within a state which established the Taliban as its creature in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in hope of extending Pakistan's "strategic depth".

The government performed an embarrassing U-turn last month in attempting to rein in the spy agency, only reinforcing the impression of incompetence. It issued a decree placing the ISI under the supervision of the Interior Ministry.

It can be argued that it was a bizarre idea as 80 per cent of ISI resources are based outside Pakistan. But even more unfortunately for the government, Prime Minister Gilani only found out when he was at Heathrow airport on his way to Washington. The government rowed back on the decision the very next day, saying it had been "misinterpreted."

In Pakistan, the U-turn was seen as a fiasco. But the government was also accused of wanting to appease the Bush administration, which had accused the ISI of involvement in a suicide attack outside the Indian embassy in Kabul on 7 July which killed 58 people, including the military attaché.

The New York Times has also quoted US officials accusing some ISI agents of collaborating with militants with known links to al Qa'ida based in Pakistani tribal areas. Mr Gilani's government denies the accusations.

Behind the squabbles within the coalition government lie the personal agendas of the two major figures in the alliance. Asif Ali Zadari, the widower of the assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, has his eye on the presidency, a prize that his political rival, Nawaz Sharif is unlikely to grant him.

Mr Sharif, meanwhile, is seeking revenge on President Pervez Musharraf, who unseated him as prime minister in a coup by pressing for his impeachment.

For now the pair have buried the hatchet to unite over the impeachment of Mr Musharraf, the former military leader. But who can predict that the regicide – if successful – will not be followed by a bout of fratricide in Pakistan?

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