May 062008

Nawaz Sharif allegedly hijacked a plane in 1999. Nine years later, he hijacks a nation. Today he is a junior coalition partner. If he plays his cards right he will be the boss after the next election. This explains his contempt for a by-election. Who needs a pathetic provincial government when you can get the real deal?

With just twenty percent of the vote, he manages to hold everyone — Asif Zardari, Pervez Musharraf, ordinary Pakistanis and even Washington — hostage to the judicial crisis. Iftikhar Chaudhry went to see the wrong man after his release. Blame it on Aitzaz Ahsan. Nawaz Sharif is now the only one sustaining the judicial issue even when Aitzaz is seeking an exit so he can return to his seat in the parliament. Mr Ahsan hijacked the issue in the beginning, but it is Mr Sharif who really bagged it. In politics, closure is everything.

Let’s get something straight first: The question of ‘restoring’ the judges is simply about humiliating the president and exacting revenge. That’s what his political opponents want. Everything else comes second. If someone tells you otherwise, he or she is just being nice. If this was really about the supremacy of the judiciary and everyone was being honest with themselves, Mr Sharif would have tendered an apology to the Supreme Court for his past sins, and a judge who legalized a military coup couldn’t have returned as the chief justice. If this was more than just payback, we would have seen at least one reporter dare stand up during the famous Murree Declaration press conference to ask Mr. Sharif if he regretted unleashing his supporters on the highest court in the land. Why stop at Musharraf when seeking accountability? Selective accountability is revenge even if it masquerades as a noble cause.

This debate about the judges is so confusing that it’s really beginning to sound like the early days of democracy in Rome. It is already a joke in Tehran and New Delhi that every Pakistani today is a constitutional expert. After all, Iran and India practice their own distinctive versions of democracy but have never seen a paralysis like the one in Pakistan today. In May 2007, the judicial crisis was breaking-news worldwide. A year later, it’s a Mexican soap. The story is getting boring even for the once-jubilant western media.

Pakistan, in case you have forgotten gentlemen, is the world’s seventh nuclear and military power. But you won’t know it watching our politics. While our regional antagonists work on plans to prepare the ground for independent Balochistan and Pashtunistan, we are busy debating our pick-of-the-day: a simple resolution followed by an executive order or a resolution followed by a constitutional package? We are the only country in the world today that is debating redundant subjects like reducing military appointments in civilian departments and the restoration of judges for political revenge. In 2008, our story sounds like a bad dream from the 1960s Latin America or central Africa.

Two and a half months after one of the fairest elections in Pakistani history, our politicians should have been asking for parliamentary briefing sessions to explore how some people in Karzai’s Kabul and their friends in New Delhi are trying to speed up confrontation between Pakistan and the United States in our tribal areas. We know what is going on. We just don’t have the right statesmen to deal it.

Why can’t we organize our country the way the Israelis and the Iranians have organized theirs? Israel has been through a war in 2006 followed by a war inquiry resulting in the usual political casualties. Just this past weekend, the Israeli prime minister was questioned for an hour for possible corruption in office. But you don’t hear Israeli politicians coming out warning about an impending collapse of the state if their demands are not met. In Iran, power is rotated within a strict religious democracy but it never reflects badly on the state itself. No one dares cross the ideological red lines of the state in both Israel and Iran. Yet they are democracies. They are also ‘national security states’ par excellence. Pakistan is demonized, sometimes by its very own, for pursuing its legitimate interests in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Israel has gone as far as Uganda and Iran as far as Lebanon and Bosnia. Yet democracy works there within the permitted rules of the game. Why can’t we organize Pakistani democracy on similar lines?

President Musharraf came to power not because he was smart but because the nation was sick of the destructive, egg-first-or-the-chicken cycle of Pakistani politics. But it took the nation a whole decade to realize this. This time, though, the realization is dawning on all of us a lot faster. Happy countdown to May 12.

The writer works for Geo TV. Email:

 Posted by at 7:07 am

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