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2009年3月25日 (水)


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 23(IHT/Asahi: March 24,2009)
EDITORIAL: Turmoil in Pakistan

Political turmoil in Pakistan, a nuclear power that shares borders with India, China, Afghanistan and Iran, is triggering alarm in the international community.

A confrontation between President Asif Ali Zardari and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has paralyzed the functions of the civilian government established six months ago.

After general elections in February 2008, Zardari and Sharif joined forces in ousting President Pervez Musharraf, an army general who seized power in 1999 and then ruled the country with an iron fist.

But the coalition between Zardari and Sharif quickly collapsed as both began to pursue their own political interests.

In the latest of the political crises that have kept roiling Pakistan for years, Zardari banned the opposition camp from staging demonstrations and attempted to place Sharif under house arrest, provoking clashes between Sharif's supporters and police forces.

Last week, Zardari and Sharif reached a political compromise to defuse the crisis. But Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, the chief justice of the Supreme Court who was reinstated as part of the compromise, may repeal Zardari's immunity from prosecution over corruption charges, opening the way for a new criminal investigation into allegations against the president.

There are still many potential causes of political turbulence in the country.

Pakistan's economy, which has been devastated by the global economic crisis, is kept afloat by loans from the International Monetary Fund. If the Zardari government raises tax rates to comply with the IMF's conditions for the emergency loans, public dissatisfaction could grow further.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Afghanistan, the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist group that had previously ruled the country, are reviving as a strong insurgency movement. The Taliban and the al-Qaida terrorist network are also infiltrating deeper into Pakistan, especially in areas along the porous border with Afghanistan, causing a serious deterioration of the security situation in the country.

The U.S. administration of President Barack Obama is working on a strategy to restore stability in both countries at the same time and eliminate the security threat posed by terrorists.

The Japanese government will host an international conference in April to discuss aid to Pakistan.

But if political upheaval in Pakistan continues, it will be difficult to draw up a plan for providing effective support.

Both Zardari and Sharif should take seriously the grave concern within the international community about the situation in their country.

They need to make efforts to ensure that their compromise will lead to permanent stability of the civilian government.

Pakistan's history is littered with military coups that toppled civilian governments plagued by corruption and political wrangling.

The government of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Zardari's wife who was assassinated in 2007, and Sharif's own government were both overturned by coups during the 1990s.

Pakistan carried out a series of tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998. If nuclear weapons in the country find their way into the hands of terrorists amid the current political confusion and lawlessness, they would immediately pose a direct security threat to the world.

Pakistan has been criticized for extracting aid from industrial countries by taking advantage of international concerns about its lack of stability. Pakistan should abandon this diplomatic game.

It is clear what the international community must do now. It needs to put pressure on Pakistan's leaders to take steps to ensure that international aid will really help the country move toward full democracy and stability.


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