Apr 262008

The compromise now under discussion, in which the CJ’s tenure is reduced to 2010 from the original 2013 and his arbitrary powers, particularly on the issue of suo moto notices, are to be shared by a bench of judges, does not seem unreasonable

It has been obvious for some time now that all is not well with the ruling coalition, in particular its two largest components the PPP and the PMLN; clearly the issue of the restoration of judges has become a sore point.

It is also becoming obvious that those self-styled analysts, including this author, who were of the opinion that Nawaz Sharif was in a win-win situation, had erred.

For the current situation to have been created, wherein Sharif is no longer so well placed, apparently, the credit, if credit can be given for devious politics, has to go to Asif Zardari; but then politics is not only the ‘art of the possible’, it is also a game of dirty manipulation and exploitation, and Zardari seems to be playing his cards very well indeed.

Not only is the restoration of judges an issue but it seems possible that the expulsion of Musharraf is also likely to become a major issue that might finally force these two major parties apart.

Despite the open discussions on clipping President Musharraf’s powers to force him out, Musharraf is unmoved. So much so that even Javier Solana, the Chief of Foreign Affairs for the EU, has had the gall to predict that Musharraf will retain the presidency till he retires!

Let us examine the undercurrents of the political scene these days. Nawaz Sharif was the only prominent leader who made restoration of the judiciary a major point in his election campaign. As a consequence, even though most of the seats his party won were from Punjab with only a couple in the Frontier; his espousal of the cause of the judiciary, for the first time, made him a leader with a following in the other provinces.

It was for this reason that some analysts concluded that he could not lose: if he managed to force the restoration of the judiciary, he was the victor and if he was forced to quit the coalition because the PPP did not play along, forcing the PPP into an alliance with the PMLQ to retain the central government, he was still the victor.

While there is little doubt that the premature demise of the PPP may be the consequence of their forging an alliance with the PMLQ in the centre, there are other dynamics also at play. While Sharif is still insistent on the restoration of the judges, he is being forced to reach a compromise. The only reason for him to compromise on this issue is in the interest of ensuring Musharraf’s ouster from the political scene.

However, if he agrees to a compromise that reduces the CJ’s tenure to three years so that it ends within months of his restoration, he will lose all that he has gained by his stance.

However, the compromise now under discussion, in which the CJ’s tenure is reduced to 2010 from the original 2013 and his arbitrary powers, particularly on the issue of suo moto notices, are to be shared by a bench of judges, does not seem unreasonable.

No individual, not even the CJ, should enjoy arbitrary powers; and if he stays till 2010 he will not be deemed to have been shelved immediately, since he will have two more years to address the contentious issues that he wishes to.

This decision may still be considered unacceptable by the lawyers and Nawaz will still lose some political ground.

But there is more to it than just that. Certain vibes emanating from the Zardari camp are indicative of a desire to co-exist with Musharraf. Malik Qayyum, Musharaf’s Attorney General, continues to hold his post; the PPP’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, and the Law Minister, Farooq Naek, continue to hold secret meetings with Musharraf; Kamal Shah, another Musharraf protégé, continues as Secretary Interior; Gen Mahmood Ali Durrani, undoubtedly competent to advise the government on security matters, but equally undoubtedly a Musharraf man, has been appointed adviser to the PPP government the moment he returned from his stint as Musharraf’s ambassador to the US; and, meanwhile, Gen Nadeem Taj, a die hard pro-Musharraf man, continues to head the premier intelligence agency, the ISI!

Has Zardari struck a deal with Musharraf? Is his intention to weaken Sharif’s recently gained political strength due to his espousal of the cause of restoration of the judiciary, by forcing him into an unpalatable compromise with promises of ensuring the eviction of Musharraf?

Zardari has demonstrated the weakness of his position with regard to the American government; first by responding to the summons of Ms Patterson, the US Ambassador, and again by agreeing to meet Mr Boucher, during his recent post-election visit, at the ambassador’s residence; whereas both these individuals have met with all other political players, big and small, at the residences of the political leaders.

The US administration might have stated that the restoration of the judges is Pakistan’s internal matter, as also is Musharraf’s fate, but there is little doubt that the restoration of a judiciary in Pakistan that again takes up the issue of the ‘missing persons’ will certainly not be well received by the US administration. It is equally certain that they would still like to see Musharraf as one of the political players in Pakistan, even if bereft of most of his powers.

Zardari may have turned a new leaf but something stinks to the heavens in this latest round of political manipulation.

The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)

Source: Daily Times, 26/4/2008

 Posted by at 8:49 am

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