On the face of it, there seems little difference between the Murree Declaration and the still one-sided, unwritten ‘Nawaz Declaration’ of last Friday for restoring the deposed judges, except that the lapsed April 30 deadline has been extended by an unrealistic 10 days, to May 12. In reality there’s a lot of difference. The Murree Declaration says that the judges will be restored through a National Assembly resolution. So does the Nawaz Declaration. But here come the twists in the tail. There was no mention of an executive order in the Murree Declaration. In the Nawaz Declaration there is. The new deadline is inhumanly short – 10 days! The demand now is not for a resolution but for the judges’ restoration by May 12. That’s near impossible. So what’s Nawaz really playing at? Is he cornering Zardari or are they together cornering the president with a secret methodology and the Nawaz Declaration is simply a decoy?
Even if the National Assembly is convened urgently, at least two days will be lost, and more while waiting upon the wise old men on the legal committee to devise a roadmap out of the constitutional and legal morass that the Nawaz Declaration is rife with. It seems that Nawaz and Zardari don’t agree on anything anymore. Zardari loathes the judges. Nawaz wants them restored in his single-minded pursuit of the president. Each, it seems, wants to be rid of the other. But Zardari fears that Nawaz could become a fearsome adversary. Nawaz wants to quit on a high point of grand ‘principle’ so that he can lionize himself in opposition and wait to win the next election. And whether Mr. Zardari likes it or not, a new countdown has already begun. In the meantime, a desperate people keep searching for flour, gasping to breathe in this electricity-free heat and thirsting for water while their solution-less leaders pursue such relative irrelevance.
There are two other differences. One is that The Murree Declaration was written. There’s no evidence that The Nawaz Declaration is. Memory is dicey, so verbal agreements are dicey too. The second is that the Murree Declaration was announced in a festive mood by both Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari. The Nawaz Declaration was announced in a somber atmosphere by Nawaz alone. If Zardari couldn’t attend the press conference, why couldn’t it have been announced when the two heroes were together a day earlier in Dubai? Or why couldn’t some of Zardari’s people, like the law minister, have been with Nawaz in Lahore?
As it transpired, Zardari returned to Pakistan only a few hours after Nawaz’s press conference. Why couldn’t Nawaz have waited just a day? Given the unseemly haste and the unrealistically short deadline, the conclusion seems inescapable that Nawaz is steamrollering Zardari, cornering him by confronting him with a fait accompli? That’s how it will look until Asif Zardari speaks. After the final meeting in Dubai, while Nawaz and his people were saying one thing, their glum faces were saying another. Zardari kept mum.
He still is. Thus I will call it ‘The Nawaz Declaration’ until one hears from Zardari or any of his serious minions, which hopefully we should have by the time you read this. When we do, and if he agrees with Nawaz, I’ll call it the ‘Dubai Declaration’. But some noises of dissent have already started coming from Zardari’s camp, that the May 12 deadline was never agreed in Dubai. We are also told that there was a major dustup between Zardari and Khwaja Asif, which is why Nawaz had to dash there. In the meantime, the notion gathers strength that yet another storm is gathering. Poor Pakistan.
Unlikely though it might seem, don’t rule out the possibility that they really went to Dubai to get away from the eyes and ears of intelligence agencies, though I would be shocked if they aren’t pretty well set up in that brotherly Emirate as well. Away from intelligence, Nawaz and Zardari could have come up with an agreement that could pull the rug out from under the president’s feet, just as the Murree Declaration pretty much did. It’s possible, but not probable. The impossible new deadline makes it highly unlikely. Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. The danger now is that it might flow over the bridge. The problem is that either way, whether Zardari goes along with Nawaz or not, we will have a full-blown crisis on our hands – in case he does, a constitutional and judicial crisis; in case he doesn’t, or agrees only partially, or dithers, a political crisis. Partisan and non-partisan legal opinion remains divided over whether a resolution and an executive order are enough to restore the judges or whether it needs a constitutional amendment.
What could happen if Zardari goes with Nawaz? If we do get a resolution-cum-executive order, anyone could move the Supreme Court for a stay until it decides whether it is constitutional. A resolution is not an Act that the Supreme Court cannot question. Which way do you think the present Supreme Court will go, having already validated the November 3 emergency and all actions taken under it? The deposed judges made a hurried ruling just before they left that the November 3 emergency was unconstitutional. But the successor court deemed that ruling invalid, as their ‘lordships’ had already been sacked. So do you think the present judges will allow the former judges back? And in the unlikely event that they do, who will be the chief justice, the present one or the former one? The constitution says that the Supreme Court will comprise 17 judges. If both sets of judges remain, how will the number be raised, through another resolution-cum-executive order, only an executive order or a constitutional amendment? If either of the first two options is followed, will the sitting Supreme Court deem it unconstitutional? Will we end up with two Supreme Courts? It’s a mess.
How could things go if Zardari doesn’t go with the Nawaz Declaration or the new deadline of May 12 and it is allowed to lapse? Zardari could never be comfortable with the reinstated judges, for they might knock out the National Reconciliation Ordinance under which all cases against him have been withdrawn. Regardless of their promises, he could never trust them. The Supreme Court has not validated the NRO (to keep the sword of Damocles hanging over Zardari’s head?), as it was cleverly not part of the November 3 LFO. If Nawaz walks out of the coalition, the powers-that-be have already forged a new PPP-PML-MQM coalition, regardless of whether Asfandyar Wali or Fazlur Rahman go with it or not.
What then? In our dire circumstances any government born of this system will become unpopular and Nawaz will be the ultimate winner. The PPP might walk out of its coalition with the Nawaz League in the Punjab, for regardless of being partners it would fear that it could again do to it what it did to Benazir’s first government. The portents are there. The other day the president went to Lahore but the chief minister didn’t receive him at the airport, just as Punjab Chief Minister Nawaz Sharif didn’t receive Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto at the airport. On the other hand, Zardari might feel that keeping Nawaz in the tent would be better, so he might try and remain with him in the Punjab, unless Nawaz himself walks out there too and lets the PML, PPP and independents make the new government and become unpopular. What could make Nawaz balk from walking out is the fear that, back in power in the Punjab, the PML could use its position to knock the Nawaz League out. Nawaz also has the option to withdraw his ministers in the centre but remain on the treasury benches. But then he will be in danger of losing both his moral high ground as well as his popularity, so that’s unlikely.
The inescapable conclusion is that the Zardari-Nawaz coalition is over and Nawaz is only crafting a high moral ground on which to quit to use as a populist political platform in opposition. While it might seem that Zardari is the more mature of the two, Nawaz is actually playing a very clever game, provided that he knows that he is playing it and what he is playing at. Nawaz should know that his best bet is to play populism to the hilt. As the new government is unable to find solutions to Pakistan’s multifarious problems, an increasingly desperate people will swallow any promise and Nawaz’s popularity will grow incrementally.
He could then win the next elections, and the longer they take in coming the better. At the very least he could win the most seats, even if he doesn’t win a majority. The problem is that all his seats would come from the Punjab and Pakistan’s parochial and ethnic polarization would be complete. That can only lead to bad things. What a mess! But, again, you never know. The people of other provinces will become desperate too. If Nawaz plays his cards right – and it seems that right now he holds most of them – he could also find support in other provinces. May is going to be a very hot month.
Source: The Nation, 4/5/2008