Apr 302008

The way PPP and PMLN have handled, or mishandled, the judges’ issue and the resultant thirty days’ deadline is perhaps the biggest example of political opportunism in Pakistan. PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and PMLN Chief Nawaz Sharif met in Murree on March 09, 2007 and signed the famous Bhurban Accord. The very selection of the date for the accord showed that the parties wanted to make political fortunes out of the judges’ issue. It was on this date a year ago when chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was removed from office which triggered the lawyers’ movement. The two parties joined the lawyers’ movement only when it had been set into full momentum. Therefore, both of them claimed credit when chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was reinstated by the 13-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday on July 20, 2007. The hide and seek between the judiciary and the presidency continued until President Musharraf knocked out the chief justices and the judges on November 3, 2007 imposing martial law, nicknamed as emergency. In pursuance of his Proclamation of Emergency, President Musharraf issued the Provisional Constitutional Order 2007 and removed over sixty judges, including Chief Justice of Pakistan and chief justices of Sindh and Peshawar High Courts. What General Pervez Musharraf did on November 3 was totally unacceptable. However, unlike our political leaders, President Musharraf had at least the moral courage to admit his ‘immoral’ acts of November 3 as extra-constitutional or unconstitutional. While justifying his unjustified acts, he emphasised that those who had not taken or were not given oath under the PCO had ceased to be judges and would not return to their lost positions. President Musharraf’s November 3 actions were ratified by a 7-member Bench of the Supreme Court headed by new chief justice Abdul Hamid Dogar on November 23, 2007. A 13-member bench of the Supreme Court cemented this decision on February 15, 2008 rejecting a review petition filed by PPP leader Tikka Muhammad Iqbal. It was clear that both PPP and the SCP were behind President Musharraf’s actions. Pakistan Peoples Party’s silence on the judges’ issue during its election campaign manifested that the party implicitly, if not tacitly, endorsed to President Musharraf’s dreadful actions of November 3, 2007. In comparison with PPP, PMLN adopted a clear stance on the judges’ issue and its candidates swore at a public ceremony in Lahore at the eve of the February 18 elections that, if elected as members of the National or Provincial Assemblies, they would restore the deposed judges. After receiving a split mandate in the February 18 elections, PPP was in no haste to restore the judges though it was in a hurry to form its government in the centre and in at least three of the four provinces. Pakistan Peoples Party’s Co-chairman had termed PMLQ as Qa’til League before the elections. Besides, the party had experienced bitter relationship with the MQM in the past. Therefore, it was difficult for Asif Ali Zardari to take U-turn soon after the election and embrace with PMLQ or MQM to form his government in the centre. In these circumstances, the best option for him was to offer a hand of friendship to PMLN, for which reason he had already met Nawaz Sharif in Lahore couple of days before the general elections. PMLN leadership fell in Zardari’s trap and instead of sticking to their much publicised ‘politics of principles’ resorted to politics of opportunism. Both PPP and PMLN were clear in their objectives. Yet they continued to lie to each other, as also to the electorate. Pakistan Peoples Party’s main objective was to come into power and rule the country for next five years. The garb of reconciliation was unavoidable to achieve this objective. Pakistan Muslim League’s priorities were equally well-defined. It had three clear objectives: restoration of the deposed judges, particularly chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry; removal of President Pervez Musharraf from presidency in as disgraceful a manner as possible; and fresh elections in the country as soon as the first two objectives had been achieved. Clearly, the two parties had divergent objectives, still they shook hands at Bhurban and signed an Accord on March 9, 2008 hoping that they would be able to outwit and outmanoeuvre the other party in due course of time. Both PPP and PMLN resolved in the Bhurban Declaration that “the deposed judges would be restored, on the position as they were on November 2, 2007, within 30 days of the formation of the federal government through a parliamentary resolution.” It is important that the Bhurban Accord made no reference to the restoration of chief justices. Besides, even before the ink of his signatures had dried, Asif Zardari said in the same press conference that he had no intention to disturb, or sack, the judges who had been appointed after November 3 and had taken oath under the PCO. This clearly meant that the judiciary would not be restored to the November 2 position. Yet PMLN leaders, as well as lawyers’ leaders, insisted on later occasions that the judiciary would be restored to the position of November 2 giving chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and his deposed colleagues the power to rehear and re-determine the question of President Musharraf’s eligibility to contest the presidential election. PMLN leaders believed that the Bhurban Accord had put them in a win-win position: they will get all the credit if the judges were restored and if that did not happen within the deadline of thirty days all the blame would go to PPP. On the contrary, PPP leaders knew that they had got of Bhurban Accord what they wanted to get. I have already mentioned in one of my articles that Asif Zardari singed the Bhurban Accord only to buy some time to establish his government firmly in the centre with the help of PMLN. Therefore, as soon as Yousuf Raza Gilani took vote of confidence from the National Assembly on March 29, PPP leaders started issuing statements airing their differences not only on the interpretation of the thirty days’ deadline but also on the mode of restoring the deposed judges. This was despite the fact that both these things had been clearly determined in the Bhurban Accord. It was made quite clear in the Bhurban Accord that the judges would be restored within thirty days of the formation of the federal government and not the provincial governments. Similarly, it had further been determined in the Bhurban Accord that their mode of restoration would be a parliamentary resolution and not a constitutional package as lately discovered by PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari. In an interview televised on April 28, the PPP Co-chairman argued that the thirty days’ deadline should start after the formation of all the governments in the federation. He further made it clear that the judges’ restoration would be linked with a constitutional package, the details of which were still unclear, if not uncertain. Zardari refused to give any new deadline for the finalization of the constitutional package but hoped that it could be possible in another two weeks. His intention clearly is to keep the matter hanging indefinitely. That is perfectly in line with his ‘wait and see policy’. At the eve of the thirty days’ deadline, Asif Zardari has ventilated his grievances against chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. These grievances are not much different from those of President Musharraf. It was for such reasons that President Musharraf twice removed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry from his office. The ‘holy mission’ of his removal has now been taken up by Asif Zardari from the point where President Musharraf left it on November 3, 2007. However, to add insult to the injury, Zardari encouraged his party leader Aitzaz Ahsan to bring Iftikhar Chaudhry to Zardari House to condole with him his beloved wife’s martyrdom who claimed that “Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is my chief justice” and not the Chief Justice of Pakistan. Zardari also made a similar clever statement at Bhurban when he said that: “Mian Nawaz Sharif is my prime minister.” In other words, Sharif should stop dreaming to become prime minister of Pakistan. Zardari signed the Bhurban Accord knowing very well that he would not be able to comply with it at least within the thirty days’ deadline. In fact, he wanted this deadline to be ninety days and not thirty days. However, he agreed to thirty days because that is what he could get out of Mian Nawaz Sharif at that time. The deadline of thirty days came to an end on April 30, 2007 as the federal government was formed on March 31. As the PPP and the PMLN do not have the required majority in the parliament to approve an amendment, the issue of judges’ restoration has practically been thrown to the wind. By throwing the thirty days deadline to the wind, the PPP Co-chairman has pushed the leaguers into a no-win situation. If they part ways with PPP they will have to sit on the opposition benches for five years. If they do not part ways with PPP, they will face the wrath of the nation. A sad end of politics of opportunism! dr.chishti@hotmail.com

Source: The Frontier Post, 30/4/2008



 Posted by at 7:16 pm

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