By Mohammad Malick
Either of the two news would have smothered even a good sitting, but Monday’s insipid session was no match for the combined duo of the graduate condition being thrown out by the Supreme Court (expected) and PPP-PML-N failing to fine tune the judges restoration formula (somewhat unexpected).So first, let’s talk judges and then come back to the well of the House. Going by the inside knowledge of the last two days’ developments, it was perfectly safe to expect that the fine print of the restoration formula for Justice Iftikhar Chaudry led superior judiciary would be finalized Monday in the summit meeting between Asif Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif. According to a reliable source, even as late as 10am Monday, it had been agreed between the PPP and the PML-N to keep the reinstatement of the November 3rd judiciary and the tabling of a judicial reform package as totally separate and unrelated actions.
The reform package, reportedly, also includes a fixed-term tenure for the Supreme Court CJ, and that is why the PML-N is abhorred to the concept of joint tabling of the formula and the package as it fears it being perceived as a highly compromised sell out.
But 10am or no 10am, something had to have happened thereafter to cause a fresh rethink by the parties involved. The informed insider, however, was of the view that the present divergence of views between the two key allies owed itself more to a different sense of timing priority than a major disagreement on the ultimate objective.
The restoration of the judiciary was a central election campaigning plank in the PML-N dominated Punjab, and one eagerly supported by the people and the media, both then and now. It is, therefore, perceived by the top PML-N leadership and its rank and file as being a central issue whose immediate resolution was essential for maintaining their own integrity and public image. The seriousness is evident from the fact that there is no ambiguity in the top PML-N leadership’s mind that if the restoration formula is not to their liking then the PML-N will resign from the federal cabinet, even though it will continue to support the PPP government in Islamabad.
On the other hand, the restoration of the sacked judges, while remaining an important issue, has not been the central core issue in the election campaigns and promises made in ANP’s frontier province, the PPP’s Sindh province or the motley political mix of Balochistan. Hence, the natural tendency of the other key allies of the PML-N to attach a relatively lethargic restoration time frame as compared to PML-N’s own pressing sense of urgency.
There has been another little hitch all along as well. And that is, hitherto, the absence of an understanding between the two main allies on the issue of what would qualify as a decent interval between the restoration of the apex judiciary and the tabling of a judicial reform package that could, most likely, see an early exit of the restored CJ: A few months? A year or two? What is that ‘acceptable’ time lapse?
According to a top PML-N insider, they would ideally want the matter of choosing the departure timing entirely to the restored CJ and rely on him playing a national uniting factor, rather than a divisive element. The others on the table, however, do not appear too comfortable with such an open-ended hope. But keeping in view the enormous stakes involved, both for Nawaz Sharif led PML-N and Asif Zardari led PPP, the twain shall have to meet. When and how, is only a matter of timing. The PML-N wants it now, the PPP wants it at a slower pace. That is why everyone is keeping his fingers crossed for Tuesday’s meeting between the two big because the outcome, or lack of it, will have a clear impact on the future political landscape.
And now to the other news of the day. The removal of the ridiculous condition of only graduates being allowed to contest elections has removed the last hurdle for Asif Zardari becoming an MNA. The next natural topic of discussion was “Will Mr Zardari become prime minister once he gets elected or will he just like to stay in the background and control the political foreground? In all likelihood Zardar will avoid falling prey to the temptation of being the formal parliamentary pied piper, but the possibility of his actually enjoying this constant amusing guessing game cannot be ruled out either. After all, there is nothing wrong about keeping his party ministers and even the prime minister under his wilting gaze now, or is there? You can’t really blame the man for wanting some comic relief out of these ever-stressful situations.
Enough of the outside developments that directly affect all that is going on inside the House, and its time to reenter the hallowed grounds of the House. We learned a lot in the House of the chosen ones Monday. We learnt that Wapda blows away over Re50 billion in subsidies every year. We learnt that PIA has run up losses of over Rs13 billion out of which Rs3 billion were lost by the sheer incompetence of a former chairman. We learnt that for Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, it was punishment enough for the erring chap to lose his job. Billions lost and the only penalty a lost job that should not have been his in the first place? We learnt that every year tens of billions of rupees more are being wasted by incompetent and corrupt functionaries.
We also learnt that it was a momentous crisis for this House to lament and bawl its guts out when a couple of parliamentarians got roughed up a few days back. But when it came to a dejected penniless father killing his two children before committing suicide only yesterday, and when it came to a young poor mother throwing herself along with her two children in front of a train a couple of days before, this House did not even take notice. We learnt that it was far more important for this House to protect the “dignity” of its own kind, than the lives of those who had elected them. No calling attention notices here, no adjournment motions.
Ordinary people’s dying is not another dead statistic. If only our elected people would just imagine themselves for a moment, looking into the eyes of their little child as they slowly choked them to death then maybe, just maybe, they would understand this unimaginable pain. Because immense pain is exactly what this abject poor father suffered as he killed his two little babies and then took his own life. Any civilized caring society would have been shocked by such incidents happening within a span of a few days. But then, it has to be a civilized society, right?
We also learnt that the very people who, in a bid to identify themselves with the stupid masses, do not lose any opportunity to recite the poetry of that legendary ‘people’s poet’ Habib Jalib did not give a damn about the living conditions of his family. In Monday’s edition, an Urdu daily had carried the interview of Jalib Sahib’s widow, receiving charitable medical treatment in a Lahore hospital. The story exposed the heart wrenching reality about the miserable economic conditions being faced by the family of the great Jalib, who refused mind boggling financial offers from the likes of Ayub Khan and Gen Ziaul Haq, to name just two. While the entire press corps could be heard discussing the family’s plight, the House resonated with a criminal silence of neglect.
But thank heavens for some exceptions. Hearing about the interview in passing, Federal Minister Khwaja Asif immediately ordered his ministry to send over his entire discretionary funds for the current month and also the unused ones for the preceding month to the lady. To be fair to him, he strictly instructed his staff to keep this info under wraps, but it is only fair that good deeds must be known. Who knows, maybe some of his colleagues may just like to put their discretionary funds to equally good usage.
Courtesy: The News, 22/4/2008