By Ansar Abbasi
ISLAMABAD: PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif will hold make-or-break parleys on Tuesday after reaching an impasse in their meeting on judges’ return Monday.
In Monday’s meeting Zardari took Nawaz by surprise by taking a U-turn on what was agreed in the Murree Declaration. He insisted on minus-one-formula. However, Nawaz stuck to his commitment that there was no question of removing Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry within months of his reinstatement.
Both the leaders, though realised that a split between them would invite political instability in the country, could not break the deadlock despite being together for three hours, at times one-on-one and at other times along with their aides.
If the two do not agree on the judges issue, the PML-N is certain to immediately quit the coalition and join those demanding the restoration of the deposed judges. The PPP feels comfortable with the incumbent Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar and wants to retain him except for a small interval when deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry would be reinstated along with other deposed judges but would be made to retire in June 2008 through a subsequent constitutional amendment fixing the chief justice tenure to three years.
In the present situation the deposed chief justice would retire in June 2013. The Constitution now fixes the age of retirement of a Supreme Court judge at 65 but has no tenure for the chief justice of Pakistan or the chief justices of High Courts. The High Court judges retire at the age of 62.
The term of the chief justices was last fixed by late prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto during his tenure to get rid of some unwanted judge. However, the military regime of General Ziaul Haq undid the fixed tenure for chief justices and reverted to the maximum age limit of the superior court judges.
The tenure for the chief justices was never re-fixed again although General Musharraf in his Legal Framework Order enhanced the maximum age of SC judges to 68 from the previous 65 and that of High Court judges to 65 from the previous 62. The 17th amendment did not approve this enhancement in the age limit of the SC and High Court judges.
The deposed Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, tunrs 65 in June 2013. After Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry comes deposed Justice Javed Iqbal in the seniority of the Supreme Court judges as it was on Nov 2, 2007. The PPP believes that Justice Iqbal has lost his chance of reinstatement because he accepted a government job offered to him subsequent to his deposition. Justice Iqbal, according to a PPP minister, had once even offered to Attorney General Malik Muhammad Qayyum that he was ready to serve under incumbent Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar if allowed to take oath under the constitution and not the PCO.
It is interesting to note that Asif Ali Zardari is the greatest beneficiary of controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) against which a stay order given by the pre-Nov 3rd judiciary was vacated by the post-Nov 3rd judiciary as well as the present Supreme Court’s Monday’s order of removing the condition of BA from contesting the elections. Zardari, who was not qualified to contest the elections till Monday, is now eligible to take part in the bye-elections.
Although the media during the recent weeks have been targeting some top legal aides of Asif Ali Zardari including the incumbent Law Minister, Farooq H Naik, for creating confusion over the issue of judges’ restoration, the Monday’s meeting served as a surprise as the PPP co-chairman personally argued that the chief justice’s tenure be fixed to three years.
Zardari did not disclose as to what made him to take the U-turn threatening the very future of the coalition. A PPP source said that besides other reasons the Americans are exerting extreme pressure on the PPP co-chairman that Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry should not be reinstated.
In the meeting Asif Ali Zardari said that political expediency demands that the present coalition should not immediately disturb the status quo rather it should become part of the system and implement the government’s agenda slowly and steadily.
Immediate disturbing of the status quo, he feared, would lead to the collapse of the whole system. Nawaz Sharif, however, told Zardari that in view of the overwhelming mandate given by the people to the coalition parties the best strategy would be to take bold decisions including restoring the deposed judges, removing constitutional distortions and clipping president’s authority to remove the government, dissolve the National Assembly and make key appointments including that of the Army Chief, within first few months of the new government.
Sources in both the parties confirm that the deadlock on the judges’ issue, which was apparently near its resolution, has disheartened both the sides. While the PML-N sources insist that they do not want to return to the era of confrontation between political parties but at the same time it would not be possible for them to remain in the government if the judges are not restored.
In an in-house session of the PML-N senior leaders, who met following Asif-Nawaz meeting, the party resolved to give its best to the Tuesday’s meeting to save the coalition and at the same time secure the unconditional restoration of the deposed judges.
Some saner voices in the PPP also see the writing on the wall for the party if the coalition breaks up so early and that too on the judges’ issue despite the signing of the Murree Declaration. A respected PPP leader, who was not part of the negotiating team accompanying Zardari on Monday, told this correspondent on condition of not being named that losing the PML-N would mean joining hands with the PML-Q and MQM and accepting the Musharraf set-up under a powerful president. “It would be suicidal for the PPP,” the source said, lamenting that those surrounding Zardari are hell-bent to destroy the party as early as possible.
Courtesy: The News, 22/4/2008