May 262008

By Mohammad Waseem

 ASIF Zardari’s description of Pervez Musharraf as the greatest hurdle in the way of democracy has elicited a rebuttal from the latter. The president has reiterated his position as a constitutional head of state duly elected by parliament. The political circus is getting more exciting by the day.
The PPP–PML-N alliance had been teetering on the rocks for some time, allegedly because of some understanding between Musharraf and Zardari. In the new context, can we expect Zardari and Nawaz Sharif to join hands again, leaving Musharraf in the lurch? Will politics continue to move in a triangle? Will Musharraf launch another coup?

Musharraf’s first coup was launched against the civilian government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999. He managed to topple the government which had retired him as COAS a few hours earlier. His second coup in the form of the emergency came on Nov 3, 2007. It was a desperate attempt to save his presidency from the much-feared verdict of the Supreme Court about the legality of his controversial election on Oct 6, 2007.

Musharraf suffered a huge setback on Feb 18 when his party PML-Q was defeated by the two mainstream parties. The coalition between the two was billed as a lasting commitment by Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari to stay the course for years and even generations. But that was not to be.

The president decided to stay on, against public demand that he should resign after the nation had rejected him. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani failed to make a breakthrough in the given set of policies. The much-trumpeted 100-day agenda got bogged down in empty phrases.

There were no targets set, no goals defined and no definite outcome of administrative and policy measures promised for the honeymoon period.

This profile of weakness has characterised Gilani’s government from the beginning. The more he interacted with the establishment, the more he was struck with awe. The power and grandeur of the channels of power outside parliament were overwhelming for the prime minister. He was unable to move key persons to the top of various departments and institutes. Continuity of both policy and personnel was noted all around. Beyond merely surviving, Musharraf gave an image of thriving.

The dual leadership of Zardari and Gilani started to unravel soon. The latter’s loss of initiative in administration became obvious. PPP’s partners also felt marginalised. No effort was made to remove the PML-N’s reservations before the PPP entered into a coalition with the MQM. Asfandyar Wali Khan and Fazlur Rehman were allowed to fade away from the scene of high politics.

The government was not able to prepare credible programmes to meet the challenges of governance relating to poverty, inflation and the supply of foodstuff or to the acute shortage of electricity. There is no thrill at the end of 50 days, not is there likely to be at the end of another 50 days. The predominant impression is that nobody is in charge in Islamabad.

The loss of the prime minister has been the gain of the president. The postponement of by-elections for two months was a bombshell which shook the government. Democratic forces condemned this act. The NWFP government made a stunning announcement that it was none other than the PPP’s interior advisor who was responsible for this. The Election Commission was obliged to take back its decision in no time.

The media and political analysts interpreted this incident as a conspiracy to stop Shahbaz Sharif from becoming the chief minister of Punjab. This gap in trust between the two ruling partners widened. The new democratic set-up was understood by the media, the opposition and civil society to be a hostage in the hands of the president.

The judges’ issue has haunted the government from day one. For the PPP, it became a matter of disentangling itself from commitments made in the pre-election days and immediately after the formation of the government. Politically, rehabilitating the judges was never a bright option, given the pitched battles fought by the judges in the 1990s against elected governments.

Lawyers are fighting a battle for the judiciary. They are also leading civil society’s agenda for establishing the independence of state institutions. Their movement for the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the other dismissed judges destabilised the eight-year long rule of the COAS, President Musharraf.

The announcement of the Pakistan Bar Council to start an agitation from June 10 does not portend well for the ruling set-up, which is still experiencing teething problems. The 30-day deadline and May 12 as the day for passing the resolution in the National Assembly to be followed by an executive order to reinstate the judges passed without any move forward. All this left Nawaz Sharif bruised and the lawyers alienated, the government’s announcement about moving a new constitutional package before June 10 notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, the coalition partners drifted apart, earning public ridicule. The appointment of a new governor in Punjab was perceived as a conspiracy to destabilise the PML-N government in Lahore, reflecting a policy of containment of Nawaz Sharif. Asfandyar Wali’s announcement of support for lawyers further complicated the situation. Ironically, the PML-Q offered its own ‘rescue’ policy to the PPP. The lines of alignment got blurred all around.

Is the formidable anti-establishment vote of Feb 18, 2008, fast losing its meaning? The removal of Article 58-2(b) appears an uphill task, given the lack of initiative on the part of the ruling coalition. The PPP’s package may fall short of satisfying lawyers, judges and civil society. The president’s public commitment to keep his powers to dissolve the National Assembly, along with other supra-parliamentary powers, keeps the pot boiling.

Will the PML-N assert itself once again to bring the PPP on board? Will Musharraf strike again, given that he is adept at taking arbitrary measures within or outside the constitution? Will the PPP government in Islamabad be shown the door, or will there finally be a Pakistan without its self-styled strongman?

Source: Daily Dawn, 26/5/2008


 Posted by at 1:23 pm

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