May 012008

Even though one felt perturbed about the superior judiciary seeming to take over the functioning of the government, Nov 3 was not only unfair and arbitrary, Pervez Musharraf’s last action as COAS was clearly for his own benefit. While the superior judiciary should be restored en masse, in hindsight there should have been more flexibility about the time period. Should the PPP have given way to the overwhelming pressure exercised by the PML-N to concede blanket reinstatement without a constitutional package? If the PPP had submitted to blackmail (no other commensurate phrase can describe the PML-N threat), they would have been politically dead. The PPP did right by being polite and not being rushed. Those who do not break under isolation and torture are certainly not going to get railroaded by alternate sweet talk and intimidation into shooting themselves in the foot. Asif Zardari refused to blink, give him “A plus” for nerves of steel, eight years in jail does wonders for building up resilience!

This was a no-win situation for the PPP. Conversely, the PML-N is on a win-win formula, with Mian Nawaz Sharif trying to achieve what he failed to do at the polls, a decisive veto over the nation’s governance. Beside the “loss of face” for the PPP, the majority party would then be subject to PML-N whims and caprices, accepting diktat on diverse national and regional issues, major and minor. Other parties and independents would have stampeded into line behind the perceived political force actually calling the shots. For a democrat with a sizeable percentage of the popular vote, Mian Sahib is a closet dictator used to bulldozing his way. This includes the sacking of a president, a chief justice, an army chief and a naval chief, all at his own sweet will! Unfortunately, he did not heed what I had written in “Power Play” on Oct 17, 1998, only a few days after he obtained the “resignation” of Gen Jahangir Karamat as army chief and appointed Musharraf as COAS. To quote: “A power play did take place on Oct 7, 1998, and even though Mian Nawaz Sharif seems to have come out ahead, he should thank his lucky stars he had Gen Jehangir Karamat to contend with, a mild man with a gentlemanly demeanour, known not only for his superior intellect but a firm commitment to democracy. If the inclination of the politicians to indulge in power play in the uniformed ranks persists, the PM may well have sufficient cause to remember JK with a lot of nostalgia, sooner rather than later.” When he tried the same thing a year later with Pervez Musharraf, who had made meticulous preparations for Mian Sahib’s predilections, he was unceremoniously shown the door. The restoration of the judges, in a fortnight or so, better late than never, may still give Mian Nawaz Sharif political dividends, with a compliant and grateful CJ (and restored judiciary) beholden to him.

If the PPP had not called the PML-N bluff, they would have been even bigger losers. A constitutional package restraining a marauding CJ will somewhat restore the balance. Albeit for a higher purpose, Iftikhar Chaudhry inadvertently politicised the Supreme Court. While his speeches before the various Bars was apolitical, taking part in huge processions was political. Hairsplitting by Senator Aitzaz Ahsan about this being political or not is simply sleight of hand, this man of conscience should know better. Without the CJ’s campaign, the nearly 60 PCO-2 affected judges, deserving restoration many times over, would remain in the wilderness, sharing the same fate accorded Chief Justice Saeeduzaman Siddiqui and others sent into the cold by PCO-1 enacted by Pervez Musharraf on Jan 30, 2000.

After the former CJ’s first comeback, one did get a perception of bias based on resentment, his consequent actions were raison d’etre for the second downfall. The manner in which he was removed (and mistreated) was certainly “casus belli” for his pursuing the adage, “all’s fair in love and war.” All hell could break loose if he strikes down the NRO (which would not be a bad thing) or moves to strike down Musharraf’s presidency. Given that the “minus one” formula (without the former CJ) cuts no ice with the rank and file of the lawyers’ movement, the compromise is that the CJ will revert to the original fixed tenure. The constitutional period was five years, the PPP wanted three, but it seems the compromise will possibly be for four years, the twice born-again CJ staying on till his term expires in June 2009 — i.e., if he is not removed again. Nevertheless, in the year left to him under the “revised” proposed formula he could well make life legally difficult for the PPP.

Subject to the adjustment of timing, Asif Zardari is not one to back down from a deal, be it with Musharraf or Mian Nawaz Sharif. Since Musharraf has delivered on the NRO, impeachment is not likely. Notwithstanding his rule being mostly benign, Pervez Musharraf was an absolute monarch, appointing many undeserving cronies to ambassadorial and lucrative posts in public sector companies. While technically he will continue as president, there are daily attacks in the media and by all and sundry cutting him down to size on issues right or wrong. In addition interaction between the Presidency and senior military hierarchy is now being routed, as it should be (denials notwithstanding) through the army chief, measuring a correct constitutional “distance” between the army and the Presidency. This should be demeaning to his inherent pride and self-respect. While the Pakistan Army will never allow its former chief to be humiliated and/or hounded out of office, if his departure from the Presidency (temporarily in the Army House as symbolic asserting of the seat of power) becomes messy, history will not be kind to him. Musharraf has many real successes to be proud of. These may get buried if he goes down in flames. Tears will be shed much later, but only if Musharraf makes a graceful exit.

If the PML-N had left the coalition, the PPP would have been forced into one of three options: (1) carry on without a majority in the NA (2) form a coalition with the PML-Q or (3) call for snap elections. In a charged political atmosphere, all three alternatives would play into PML-N hands. Exiting the coalition in Punjab as a quid pro quo, the PPP would probably not try and unseat the provincial government unless the PML-N made any hostile moves in the Centre. If the PPP made a coalition with PML-Q in Punjab and at the federal level, the PML-N would turn to its street power in Punjab to support the lawyers’ movement, mobilising public opinion on the back of food shortages, electricity breakdowns, rising prices and unemployment. In the political environment created out of economic apocalypse, the PML-N could sweep the polls. Is this in fact their strategy? Very cynical perhaps, but deadly effective!

Selfless national leaders do not gamble with the nation’s destiny with a “Heads I win, tails you lose” policy.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:
Source: The News, 1/5/2008

 Posted by at 6:52 am

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