So Mr Asif Zaradari has decided to show his true colours. The post-election euphoria in Pakistan did seem to be too good to be true. The former “Mr Ten Percent” suddenly seemed always misjudged for he seemed to be doing and saying just the right things. He is not there for power, he does not want the prime ministership—that is what was repeatedly stated. He maintained that the PPP will work with all parties to build a government of national interest, it would maintain a distance from the US, and would not actively promote General Musharraf. The resistance towards the judiciary was also abandoned in the Bhurban Declaration where the PPP committed itself to reinstating the judges within 30 days of coming in power. With the deadline of 30 days now over without the promise being fulfilled, the bubble has bust. We are back to the politics of the 1990s.
The PPP’s resistance to reinstating the judges was the first but the most crucial test of its commitment to reforming the existing systems in Pakistan and checking the repeated violation of the Constitution by the military. Reinstating the judges is critical primarily because they were disposed by a military government unconstitutionally. But, it is also important because of the popular appeal of this demand within the public. A government that refuses to reinstate the judges shows that it has no respect for the public sentiment. This puts into question the very nature of relationship between the public and the sitting government. What can the public expects from the government in terms of pro-poor reforms when it is failing in the very first test of its commitment to genuine reforms?
The PML (N) leadership, however, is acting wisely by exerting pressure on Mr Zardari to abide by the Bhurban Declaration. If it wants to maintain its integrity, the PML (N)’s leadership will have to take drastic measures and quit the cabinet if the PPP refuses to reinstate the judges. The PML(N) has to remember that its support for reinstatement of judges was critical to its current win. This move will only make it stronger as a political party within the public. By standing by certain core principles, the PML (N) has gained immense integrity within the public and it has to ensure that it continues to follow those principles and does not get swayed by power politics. By sacrificing a bit of power right now it will only consolidate more power in the long term. If it sticks to these core principles, it will be the PML(N) leading the next government and not PPP.
It is time for the lawyers’ community to get back into action and launch the final campaign. It is the last push and it has to come with all force. The victory is bound to be theirs. It has to be remembered that it is the lawyers’ movement that exposed General Musharraf’s rule and not political parties. Without this movement, Mr Zardari would still be amusing himself somewhere in the US and Benazir would have most probably still been shuttling between Dubai and Washington to get someone to listen to her. These politicians had no credentials with the public; it was the lawyers’ movement that paved the way for them to come back.
When the military government could not curb the lawyers’ movement, how would these politicians, with a very tainted past, survive it? This movement had provided these politicians another chance to start afresh but it seems that the PPP’s leadership has decided not to avail it. But, it should remember the price it will have to pay for it. By apparently standing for genuine reform, since the elections Mr Zardari had gained much respect among the public. But, with action like these, it would take long before the old terms are back in vogue and he is remembered once again as Mr Ten Percent and not as potentially a historical reformer for Pakistan. The choice is his.
It would be ironical though that the PPP leaders who were part of the lawyers’ rallies asking for reinstatement of judges will now be defending this action as ministers. It does make the task of Aitzaz Ahsan, given his association with the PPP, extremely difficult. But, this man has shown extreme integrity all this time, like most other retired senior judges and lawyers who have fought this battle relentlessly, and it is hoped that he will continue to do so in future. People like Justice (Retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, Munir Malik and their peers have provided brilliant leadership to the lawyers’ movement. There is no doubt they will develop an apt strategy to deal with the current challenges.
The writer is undertaking post-doctoral research at Oxford University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org