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Trouble at the top in Pakistan
Richard Lindell reports on the growing military and judical pressure on the Pakistan government

Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban again and backed by Pakistan. That's the assessment of a secret US military report for top NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) commanders.

The grim prediction comes with Pakistan itself in the midst of a dangerous new period of turmoil. Embattled president, Asif Ali Zardari, is facing enemies on all sides and his government is just clinging to power.

The military are staying in their barracks for now, but the judiciary is demanding the president answer corruption charges. All the while, Pakistan remains wracked by a deadly struggle with insurgents.

Richard Lindell reports.
RICHARD LINDELL, REPORTER: For four years the government of president Asif Ali Zardari has lurched from one crisis to the next. He's a political survivor, but even by his standards the last month has been difficult.

Just a few weeks ago, Pakistan looked on the verge of yet another military coup. The government had openly criticised the generals, accusing them of acting against the constitution. In response the military warned of grave consequences and appointed a new general to a brigade active in previous coups.

Days later, president Zardari had fled the country. But as it turns out, his trip to Dubai was a short one and a fourth coup in 65 years never materialised.

LT. GENERAL TALAT MASOOD, PAKISTAN MILITARY ANALYST: I think there are several reasons for that.

One is that it is already overstretched in the sense that it has to engage with the militants in a very full blown way, which was not the case in the past, but that is not the only aspect.

(Footage of protesters)

Today the judiciary is far more independent and autonomous than it has ever been in the history of Pakistan. So I think they understand that it would be very difficult, more or less impossible, for the present judiciary to sort of legalise and give them a constitutional cover in case they take over.

And the most important aspect is that in the past the major political parties, the ones which were in opposition, always supported, you know, the military in trying to oust the party in power. So this is not the case anymore.

RICHARD LINDELL: Instead, an activist supreme court is looking to force early elections through two separate court cases. It's demanding corruption investigation into president Zardari.

The court is also investigating a memo allegedly sent by the government asking for US support in case of a coup. It is thought the government feared intervention from a military embarrassed by the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The three way institutional battle is being keenly watched by the political class on and the media.

DR SIMBAL KHAN, INSTITUTE OF STRATEGIC STUDIES ISLAMABAD: Definitely, there's a general view, which is watching this whole kind of tussle of power between various institutions, with a lot of interest and with regards a kind of a necessary evil.

There is also a certain interest with which they're watching how these institutions start to kind of stretch their feet, learn to live with each other, find out where their domains are.

RICHARD LINDELL: But on the street, people say it is a distraction.

FEMALE 1 (Translation): There are so many issues. There's no gas, no electricity, businesses are being shut down. The common man is suffering a lot here. We have no life. If we will have resources, only then can the common man do well.

MALE 1 (Translation): We have an issue with water as well. Wherever we go we have to suffer. It is all because of our rulers.

RICHARD LINDELL: Chronic energy shortages are compounding economic problems. Growth is weak and inflation high. Industry has been all but shut down and what is produced can't be moved without fuel.

(Footage of burning bus)

Internal violence which claimed 600 lives last year and the current political instability have made the situation worse, with foreign investment drying up.

SIMBAL KAHN: If you'd asked me to put my finger on one issue that kind of underpins all the economic problems, it has been the energy issue. The energy shortage has paralysed the nascent industry of the country. It has paralysed even domestic lives in homes where the kitchens can't run because we don't have enough gas.

And I think there's no shortcut solution out of it. It is something Pakistan will have to face for another at least three to four years.

RICHARD LINDELL: Economic fortunes are closely tied to foreign policy. The US is Pakistan's biggest export market and that relationship deteriorated further when a NATO air strike killed 24 Pakinstani soldiers late last year.

Both parties continue to blame each other, but there are signs the relationship will improve and evolve.

TALAT MASOOD: Well, I think the relationship has really gone to a very low point with the US perhaps never in the last nine years that I've been noticing very closely, that it had gone down that much. The Pakistan Parliament is working out and has defined certain parameters of its relationship with the US. They're in a way resetting and redefining the relationship. Whether that will be acceptable to the US has to be seen.

RICHARD LINDELL: Last week the US confirmed it had restarted drone attacks in Pakistan's lawless north west and Pakistan is reportedly considering reopening NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.

TALAT MASOOD: The objectives of Pakistan and the United States seem to be the same, in the sense that they want stability in Afghanistan, but there is undoubtedly a divergence in the perception of threats in the sense that Pakistan does not consider Taliban and certain militant groups like the Haqqani as much a threat as America does.

But at the same time, I would think America would continue to insist that Pakistan tries to keep pressure on these militant groups and at the same time also force them to negotiate.

RICHARD LINDELL: Many in Pakistan have lost faith in this government's ability to tackle foreign relations, internal violence or the economy.

Its poor performance and Pakistan's changing demographics have provided traction and momentum to former cricketer Imran Khan, 15 years after he entered the political scene.

(Footage of Imran Khan)

SIMBAL KAHN: Pakistan right now out of the 180 million people, about 110 million under the age of 30. So there is this new constituency which has come forward which is basically an educated, largely urban living, urban dwelling youth.

So the old changed motto which got us president Barak Obama into power four years ago in the US is the same change motto which is giving Mr Imran Khan a wind under his wings. I don't think his party is ready enough to kind of sweep the elections completely, but I think the party will probably win enough votes to be a good pressure group in the Parliament

RICHARD LINDELL: Elections aren't scheduled until 2013, but a guilty verdict in the contempt of court case against prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani could force an early election.

Government allies say this would amount to a judicial coup with the backing of the military, but Dr Simbal Khan says an election whenever it is held would still be a victory for democracy.

SIMBAL KAHN: It is fundamentally important that this government that we have a natural election cycle in Pakistan. Even if we do have early elections but as long as they happen with within through the system, through the parliamentary system, I think it would be healthy. I don't think it would be something that would be looked negatively by people who support the democratic process in Pakistan.

TALAT MASOOD: I think president Zardari, with all his faults and the way that he's criticised for being corrupt and all that, that may well be true, but the fact is that he has been a very, very shrewd politician and has survived so far. And it looks as though he's going to survive and this government is going to stay and more or less complete their term.
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