By Tariq Butt
ISLAMABAD: The partial break of the ruling coalition with the PML-N ministersí resignation has pushed back the restoration of the deposed judges, infused an element of confidence in the presidency and injected political uncertainty in the country.
The question that has hitherto ironically escaped public scrutiny and discussion is whether the PML-N’s walkout from the cabinet has precipitated, dragged or thrust aside the reinstatement of the deposed judges, an issue Nawaz Sharif is obsessed with.
Senior PML-N and PPP leaders agree in off-the-record conversations that the fracture in the ruling alliance has put the dismissed judges’ return on the backburner, that the PML-N’s public standing has gone up because of its departure from the cabinet, and that its action has brought the aggressive lawyersí community further close to the party.
Ironically, the PML-N leaders also agree that their exit from the cabinet has strengthened Musharraf, who was earlier feeling down and almost out of the equation. The president is the significant beneficiary of the cracks in the coalition.
PPP leaders say they were engaged in salvaging their position that suffered hugely because of the judges’ issue. “There is no disagreement anywhere on the question of bringing back the judges. We will restore them on the terms of the PML-N or any other political party,” one of them said.
He said the PPP would politically suffer more if the judges’ issue continued to linger on. He said Asif Zardari was cognizant of the fact that the controversy had damaged the party. PML-N MNA and noted columnist Ayaz Amir thinks the judges’ issue has been further complicated. He feels that even the PPP workers want the restoration of the judges.
By leaving the cabinet, Nawaz Sharif no doubt eyed the huge political dividends that he pocketed. However, his decision to sit on the treasury benches but not support the PPP on the reinstatement of the judges and not be a part of any constitutional package is confusing for many.
His strategy seems to sever the relations with the PPP in phases so that he can take maximum political advantage. Even for some PML-N leaders, the decision to quit the cabinet was hasty. One of them actually raised his dissenting voice in the recent party meeting and said it was a joke that the PML-N was withdrawing its ministers but wanted to continue its support to the government. It proved to be a cry in the wilderness.
Another PML-N leader said the democratic system had come under strain. “After the resignations of the PML-N ministers, a new ball-game has started and the Punjab government of the PML-N can’t avoid its fallout and impact,” he said. †
He was of the view that the PML-N leadership’s opinion that the party would be well placed by having the Punjab government under its belt trouble free was fallacious. There is a clear feeling in the PML-N that Nawaz Sharif should have read the mind of Asif Zardari on the judges’ return much earlier because the PPP co-chairman never concealed his views on this count. He kept harping on his stand that the judges would not be restored the way the PML-N s pressing him. In fact, one PML-N leader said Nawaz Sharif should have understood that the deposed justices could not be brought back with a “jhatka” or by snapping the fingers. If Zardari was under the influence of the United States and Musharraf not to bring the judges back, Nawaz Sharif should have got a clue of his compulsions.
But the other view is that the PML-N chief knew exactly from the start that Zardari did not and would not agree to the return of the sacked judges, but he still kept hammering the issue to tell the people at large and the lawyers community loudly that he made a sincere effort to the last to resolve the matter amicably but could not because of Zardari’s intransigence.
By doing so, he tried to hurt the PPP and actually did inflict damage. The imposition of two deadlines was done to attain these political objectives. Today, Zardari stands as a loser while Nawaz Sharif as a gainer in the eyes of the people. By remaining part of the coalition it was better for the PML-N to continue pressure on the PPP with the objective of finding some middle ground instead of leaving the issue to the PPP alone to resolve it according to its own preferences.
After the PML-N is out, protesting, it can exert little influence on the PPP to work for the judges’ return. By agreeing in Dubai to let the PCO judges continue, Nawaz Sharif shifted his principled stand.
The PML-N strategy is to fully stand with the lawyers’ community. As the lawyers would put pressure on the PPP through their intensified movement, demanding the reinstatement of the justices, the government would be further pushed into the corner and the PML-N would further enhance its public profile.
The PML-Q is brimming with joy over the split of the PML-N with the PPP and is trying to benefit from it. Its prophetic assertion after being fed by its boss, Musharraf, that the judges would not be restored has so far proven true. The PML-Q would keep taunting the ruling alliance to bring back the justices according to its commitment.
PML-Q Secretary General Mushahid Hussain says the government strategy is inspired by General Ziaul Haq’s policy that had two elements: ambiguity and indecision. It is aimed at keeping its cards close to its chest till the last moment.
He said as part of this strategy, the government would drag the issue to fatigue and exhaust the people who, it would wish, should start forgetting the issue. During this period, the government will continue throwing up different options to gauge the public reaction, he said, adding that then the budget will come and divert the attention from the issue.
However, Mushahid felt that some kind of restoration of the deposed judges would have to be done in view of the public sentiments. A question that keeps haunting everyone is: how far has the PML-N stand, the PPP’s wavering stance, the PML-N’s exit from the cabinet, PML-Q’s elation over the cracks in the coalition and President Musharraf’s improved position served the country and the democratic dispensation? Haven’t the politicians, with varying degrees, started disappointing and shattering the hopes of the people after the Feb 18 elections?
Source: The News, 15/5/2008