In a previous column I referred to Zardari’s vision and vulnerabilities. Now that the dark clouds of cases pending in various courts against him in Pakistan and abroad have disappeared, thanks to the deal struck by the late Benazir with Musharraf, Zardari is beginning to change his approach and attitude.
There is little doubt that he finds himself impelled to have a working relationship with Musharraf. While he is fully aware that the February 18 elections were a verdict against Musharraf and that the ex-general sans his uniform has lost his credibility, his legitimacy being already questionable, at least for the time being, he is quite keen to go along with him. There is a convergence of interests to some extent, between the two on the question of the restoration of the judges and in particular about Chaudhry’s return to the office as the Chief Justice of Pakistan. It is apprehended that Muhammad Iftikhar and the other deposed judges could possibly reopen the validity of NRO and would otherwise be unaccommodating. Zardari would rather have a chief justice like Mr Dogar.
Musharraf who hates Justice Chaudhry and had gone to the length of distributing material against him in international forums – something unbecoming of a head of the state – would do everything to keep him out. There are signs that hobnobbing is going on behind the scenes, by proxy. Reports have appeared of Rehman Malik meeting Tariq Aziz and president. As a consequence thereof, there is a deliberate delay and foot-dragging in the implementation of the Murree Accord reached last month.
Surprising how Zardari has been pooh-poohing the references to the agreed 30 days limit for the passing of a parliamentary resolution and judges’ restoration. This also explains the rap administrated by him on Aitzaz Ahsan’s knuckles when the latter broached the subject at Naudero. He has repeatedly indulged in expressions of annoyance at reminders for meeting the deadline indicated in the Murree agreement.
He has further exposed himself by referring to his personal unhappy past treatment while facing trial in the cases pending against him, mentioning how the courts had refused to grant bail to him. It was indeed the most uncharitable and in fact uncalled-for on his part to say that the judges were merely fighting to restore their lost jobs and not for the independence of the judiciary thus indirectly suggesting that the lawyers’ historic movement was not a struggle for a cause but merely a stratagem to get the judges to secure their official posts. All the more objectionable considering the eminent position he presently holds in the party hierarchy. Why such tantrums on the part of the unquestioned successor to Benazir Bhutto?
A clever politician as he is, he knows well that PML(N) is frightfully keen to ensure the restoration of the judges, their thinking being that reinstatement of these independent judges would be the best counter to Musharraf’s machinations, and a means to assure his ouster. Yes he has to work under certain compulsions but he could have avoided running down the legitimate demands from various quarters for righting the wrongs done to the honourable senior judges.
Why must he appear to be bent upon taking his pound of flesh to safeguard his position and his party’s interest in a manner which could well be interpreted as inappropriate? All these leaks about the “minus-one” formula and restriction of the tenure of the chief justice begin to make sense when viewed from the Zardari’s prism, as hinted above.
Another element in this expediency-laced power game is the American involvement in our internal affairs. One may recall the sudden appearance of the weather-beaten Negroponte and the suave Boucher and their intense rounds of personal contacts with the highest state functionaries, top party leaders, army top brass and meeting Maliks in the tribal areas even before the cabinet had been sworn in.
Their extended visit was followed by American congressmen and generals and also significant statements emanating from influential senators and the US president himself promising financial support on the one hand and threatening direct action in the north-west of Pakistan, on the other. Their major message being that Musharraf as their man in Pakistan, was needed for quite some time. It is, in this connection, noteworthy how the American ambassador in Pakistan has been going out of the way to continue meeting ministers and political parties influentials. Hardly a day passes when she is not seen talking to senior government official and party bosses. Last week, she, took the trouble of going all the way to London to call on the MQM chief Altaf Hussain.
Is it desirable that a foreign diplomat is permitted in this way, to openly influence the country’s politicians and government office-holders? Shouldn’t the foreign office politely tell her to be less intrusive? How come the British foreign minister came straight from London to the northwest of Pakistan and after meeting the provincial leaders and ministers visited Islamabad? Doesn’t it suggest that our government has little say on how the foreign state official’s frame their itineraries? It is time we see to it that we are not taken for granted.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi should look into the matter. It is important that the new government makes its mark and resolves that a sovereign state must be treated with respect. We must dispel the impression that we have been reduced to the status of a client country which practically has been acting as a mercenary to do the jobs entrusted to it, on payment, by Washington. After some time we have recently witnessed another attack by the NATO and Afghan forces on targets in Pakistan resulting in some security personnel casualties. Pakistan has to take a firm stand to stop such violence-taking place from outside its borders. Any further weakness on this count will only escalate American and NATO military interference.
Now a word to Nawaz Sharif. You have shown so far, considerable wisdom. You demonstrated energy and impressive foot work in making the most of the limited time available to you to mobilise support for the PML(N) candidates for the central and provincial assemblies. Lack of time and security threats prevented you from undertaking extensive tours in Sindh and Balochistan. You were able, however, to muster enough seats to win second position in the National Assembly and the largest number of MPAs in the Punjab.
Very wisely you kept close to Benazir and after her untimely death have forged a warm relationship with Zardari. You have shown prudence and patience in securing PPP’s support for the restoration of the judges. Their restoration is crucial for sustaining democracy, neutralising intrigue and conspiracies hatched in the presidency.
The judges issue has already strained PML(N)’s relations with PPP. As elaborated above PPP’s interests and outlook are different and accommodative of Musharraf’s designs to keep playing an important role in Pakistan’s internal and external affairs. PML(N) has to watch its steps and avoid hitting pitfalls. It has to remain alert to the intrigues flowing out of the presidency to break up the coalition partnership between PPP and PML(N). While the possibility of such a break up cannot be ruled out because of divergence of interests and a clash of principles, it is important that the two remain together for a considerable period of time to contain Musharraf’s plans to retrieve part of his former influence.
Considering formidable economic and social challenges inherited by the new government which have to be faced and addressed squarely and speedily, it would be impolitic on the part of Zardari to push PML(N) to the wall forcing it to part ways. Both Zardari and Nawaz Sharif need each other at this crucial juncture. Both are on trial.
The writer is ex-federal secretary and ambassador
Courtesy: The Nation, 26/4/2008