Power brooks no rivals and My Lord Iftikhar Chaudhry has become too much of a popular star for his own good. If the people had a choice they would re-install him Chief Justice at once, cymbals clashing and drums beating. And celebrate this reversal of fortune into the night. Unfortunately the decision about his reinstatement is in other hands and those hands have other priorities.
That is why the whole question of restoring the deposed judges has run into a wall not so much of confusion as of mystery. Everyone is paying lip-service to judicial restoration but there are so many interpretations going round as to what should be done that what looked so simple and matter-of-fact to begin with suddenly seems more complicated than trying to discover the origins of the universe.
It is not just that roadblocks have suddenly arisen in the way of implementing the Bhurban accord (about restoring the deposed judges). Rather, these problems were always there, hidden from view but right there. In true Pakistani style, however, everyone was hoping that things would turn out right in the end. If only wishes were horses…
It is also too simple a take on the situation to hint darkly that conspiracies are being woven from the presidency. If only this were true the president would be a happier man than he currently looks. Not only has he fallen from grace, he has also fallen from power. The ability to weave tapestries or plots of any kind is no longer his to display.
The truth is somewhat different and altogether more colourful. There are powerful players in the present setup who love My Lord Chaudhry as much as President Musharraf does. You only have to hear them talk, and when they talk they don’t mince their words, to get an idea of how keen they are to put a stiletto, and a long one at that, in someone’s shoulder-blades.
So what we are seeing is My Lord Chaudhry being checkmated from two directions, two powerful streams of prejudice coming together and working against his unqualified restoration.
But then the question to ask is: why did these same players, looking very pious and sincere, agree on the Bhurban accord? Because that is what expediency then demanded. If there had been no Bhurban accord the PML-N would have found it difficult to join the federal cabinet and Pakistan’s fledgling democracy, very early on, would have come under strain. So when the coalition leaders declared that the deposed judges would be restored within 30 days through a resolution of the National Assembly, the nation rejoiced and applauded the wisdom of its leaders.
Since then the sum of national optimism has begun to fray at the edges because the 30 days deadline is fast approaching and although the coalition has declared its commitment to the Bhurban accord time and again (reminding the nation of the lady who protested too much) the PPP and the PML-N are still wide apart both on questions of substance and modalities. This won’t be the first time the nation will be taken for a ride.
In the first flush of post-electoral excitement a resolution seemed very much ‘doable’. Now a growing number of people are not so sure. What if a resolution is moved and the federal government issues an executive order for the judges’ restoration but the Dogar Supreme Court strikes down the order declaring it null and void?
Will lawyers and civil society activists storm the Supreme Court and on their shoulders carry the judges and install them on their benches? Doesn’t look likely. Will interior boss Rehman Malik order the Islamabad police to restrain glum-looking Dogar and his equally glum-looking brother judges from proceeding to the Supreme Court? Stretches the imagination.
I heard someone suggesting the other day that in case of such an impasse My Lord Chaudhry could set up court in his residential premises. Surely this will be a great television moment and cameras from all over the world will cover the carnival. But how will it alter reality or bring My Lord Chaudhry closer to actual restoration?
If the two principal coalition partners were on the same wavelength on this issue then it would be a different matter. By bringing the full weight of executive pressure to bear on Dogar and company the desired end, the reordering of the Supreme Court, could well be achieved. But as we have seen both parties have different priorities which makes it likely that if Justice Dogar passes a restraining order, it will immediately be used as an excuse to raise hands in the air and say ‘now, what do we do?’
We shouldn’t lose sight of ground realities. The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) which put an end to past cases of corruption and financial trickery was the prelude to one of the most dramatic acts of dry-cleaning and whitewashing in the history of Pakistan.
The NRO was a gift which originated from President Musharraf but it was put into effect by Justice Dogar. The number of cases against Asif Zardari (whether true or false is a different matter altogether) was past ordinary mathematical computation. My Lord Chaudhry had stayed action under the NRO. Justice Dogar first removed the stay and then initiated a process which has seen the slate being wiped clean for Asif Zardari. To say this was a truckload of relief would be the understatement of the century. This was more like a trainload of relief. So who should Zardari be grateful to, Dogar or Chaudhry? And if the implementation of any executive order about restoring the deposed judges results in Chaudhry’s triumph and Dogar’s humiliation, will Zardari, being mortal, go along with it?
So what we are seeing in Islamabad is a grand game of bluff and obfuscation in which at least one party is playing for time and raising objections that would do any lawyer proud, hoping that delay would blunt the edge of the popular demand for Chaudhry’s restoration.
True, a resolution in the National Assembly cannot be delayed indefinitely. It will have to come sooner rather than later. But, as stated earlier, passing a resolution and even issuing an executive order is one thing, seeing it implemented is a different ballgame altogether.
Will the PML-N put up with these shenanigans? What choice does it have? Can it walk out of the coalition? Not an easy matter to decide. Power has its own taste and compulsions and once in power people develop a vested interest in its continuation.
We might see a compromise but it will be centred not on keeping Chaudhry out of the Supreme Court—for that is something public opinion will not countenance—but on clipping his wings and reducing his tenure. The thought of seeing Chaudhry presiding over the Supreme Court until 2013 gives the PPP the shudders. It won’t settle for it. Moreover, cutting the tenure of the Chief Justice stands to benefit several judges waiting in line.
There is also a provision in the Charter of Democracy stipulating that the constitution of different benches in the Supreme Court (one of the principal sources of the Chief Justice’s power) should not be left to the CJ alone but should be decided by the CJ and the two next senior-most judges. There is talk of including this provision in the ‘constitutional package’ so dear to Asif Zardari and the lawyers close to him. This provision plus reduction of tenure is aimed at clipping Chaudhry’s wings.
So the whole thing is not as simple as it looks. Consider also the curious case of the learned attorney general who a gullible public thought would be amongst the first of democracy’s casualties. Not only is he very much in place, all the signs suggest that Asif Zardari is finding his services most useful. He helped fast-track the vacation of all corruption cases as per the NRO and he also argued most persuasively for withdrawing the graduation condition for the election of legislators.
Thanks to Malik Qayyum’s robust advocacy and Justice Dogar’s decision in this case, Asif Zardari (not a graduate from any known college of the arts and sciences) is all set to contest a by-election and enter the National Assembly. (How then the centre of gravity shifts in the National Assembly, and what this might mean for Yousaf Raza Gilani, should be an interesting subject for future study.)
Talking of by-elections, Aitzaz Ahsan is being made to twist in the wind, as much by his party as by his own vaulting ambition. He is another man who is being undone by the popularity he reaped during the lawyers’ movement. His very standing in the broader community has become a negative point for him in his own party. Party managers, whether here or in Chicago, are not too fond of independent stars or lone rangers. The PPP leadership is not too keen to give him a ticket and his problem is that he has no constituency of his own.
This wouldn’t have mattered for Aitzaz if he was prepared to go his own way. His tragedy is that he wants to be a star and at the same time benefit from what his party has to offer. Through almost calculated snubs he is being made to realize that he can’t have it both ways.
Whoever said politics is for soft-hearts?
Courtesy: The News, 25/4/2008