KARACHI, Pakistan—The Pakistani military, which intervened to run this nation for more than half its 61-year history, is staying in the barracks amid growing political turmoil following the forced departure of President Pervez Musharraf.
Coups have been a regular part of Pakistan's political history, with then General Musharraf's 1999 takeover the fourth time the military has shut down civilian rule. Will history repeat itself?
Analysts here have been closely watching the military for any signs of that but so far think the generals prefer to keep out of politics and to try to restore the image of the military damaged during the years of Musharraf's dictatorship.
And their apparent reluctance is understandable in light of the problems the country faces: massive capital outflows, pitched battles with pro-al Qaeda and Baloch militants in two provinces, and a simmering political mess following the breakup of the six-month-old civilian ruling coalition led by the Pakistan Peoples Party of slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the right-wing Pakistan Muslim League of two-time premier Nawaz Sharif.
Musharraf, detested by leaders of both major parties, was forced to step down as president to avoid facing impeachment by a newly assertive parliament. Political observers think that if the army had any intentions of intervening, the time for that was during the weeks of tension over impeachment.
Gen. Ashfaq Kayani , who was picked by Musharraf to succeed him as Army chief of staff last November, stood aside during the entire impeachment crisis. If Kayani had lent his support, Musharraf could have used the constitution's infamous article 58-2B, which empowers the president to dissolve the parliament.
There are various reasons to believe that the army is not interested in taking over, at least at present, says Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences. "The first and the foremost reason is that General Musharraf earned a huge humiliation for the army during his stint," Rais says.
Second, Rais says that the national sentiment is not in favor of a military coup. "Except 1999, the army never took over without public support," he says. "Musharraf took over just to protect himself. It was not an institutional decision. But the problem at that time was that the political forces were divided, and they supported the coup."
Analysts believe that the army itself is aware of the fact that the public mood has turned against military interventions because of the expansion of private media and the independence shown by the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his colleagues against military regimes.
However, they do not rule out action by the army if the conditions deteriorate.
Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower, is set to capture the president's office. His real test will begin after September 6, since a break with Sharif's party will make governing difficult.
That rift opened because Zardari and his party oppose Sharif's push for the reinstatement of Justice Chaudhry, who may strike down the "national reconciliation ordinance" under which various corruption cases against the slain prime minister, her husband, and his aides were withdrawn by Musharraf.
Sharif, who was ousted by Musharraf's coup and has his own ambitions to become president, reportedly has lawyers gathering evidence that Zardari is mentally unfit to be president.
Another wild card is the degree to which civilian authorities seek to exercise greater control over the military, particularly the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, the powerful intelligence arm. U.S. officials, who have quietly complained about ISI support for the Taliban, have recently gone public and blamed the ISI operatives for a role supporting Islamic militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including those responsible for the deadly July 7 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Top American officials have been pressing Kayani and the Pakistani civilian leaders to clean up ISI.