May 282008

Dr Naeem Chishti

President Pervez Musharraf is fast running out of his options. His plan to recreate another pliant parliament was apparently frustrated by General Kayani’s instructions to the Army officers at the eve of the February 18 elections to stay neutral and not to indulge into political activities contrary to their oaths. President Musharraf himself chose General Kayani as his successor. Nevertheless, after his appointment as COAS General Kayani gradually disassociated himself, as well as the Army, from politics. Although Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani claimed credit for repatriating military officers to their units in early April but that is exactly what General Kayani wanted. President Musharraf appointed General Kayani not to depoliticise the Army but to lend him shoulder to fire his own shots. However, that was not to be. President Musharraf is facing crisis after crisis since 9th March 2007. Yet, after each crisis he has come out as determined to stay in power more than ever before. He had announced to honour the judgment of the Supreme Court in the reference against chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. However, as soon as the court restored Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry as chief justice he requested for an urgent meeting with Benazir Bhutto which was held in Abu Dhabi on 27th July 2007. Benazir Bhutto has mentioned about this meeting in her posthumous publication “Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West on page 228. According to her, in this meeting President Musharraf solicited for her support to get an amendment approved from the Parliament to curtail the age of retirement of the judges of the superior courts. If Benazir Bhutto had accepted President Musharraf’s proposal to curtail the judges’ age of retirement, the latter must have removed all the judges of the 13-member bench of the Supreme Court who decided in favour of chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on 20th July 2007. Benazir Bhutto did not accept President Musharraf’s proposal because, according to her, it could lead to another confrontation with the judiciary. Benazir Bhutto knew that such a decision would not only be resisted by the judges but it would further alienate her party which was already under attack in the media for striking a deal with President Musharraf under pressure from Bush Administration. When President Musharraf could not remove the judges through a constitutional amendment, he sent them home packing on 3rd November 2007. This incident is only one of the many incidents which can be quoted to substantiate the argument that President Musharraf will not resign with his free will. Even before considering his resignation, he will first explore into all constitutional and extra-constitutional methods to stay in power. Therefore, there must be some substance in the rumours that he planned to replace General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani with his ‘next of kin’ last week but was advised by his ‘well-wishers’ to try this option only as a last resort. Although the President’s spokesman Major General (retired) Rashid Qureshi has denied such rumours saying that General Kayani will complete his term of three years, the working group of the retired generals which met in Islamabad on 24th May does not appear to believe in the presidential camp’s statements. One of the many reasons why President Musharraf would want to remove his hand-picked General Kayani is that the latter has made it clear at least by his actions that he would not really support the President if he exercised his powers under article 58(2)(b). When faced with a similar situation twenty years ago, President Ziaulhaq had resorted to this option by dismissing Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo’s government on 29th May 1988. President Musharraf would have also dismissed Prime Minister Gilani’s premature government to mark the anniversary of Junejo’s dismissal and to pay a tribute to General Ziaulhaq but he cannot do so until he has the backing of the COAS which he does not appear to have at present. Therefore, the option of the exercise of article 58(2)(b) seems to be out of question at present. That does not mean that President Musharraf will sit back and let things slip out of his hands without any resistance. Although General Kayani seems determined to keep his institution pure from politics, it may not be the case with the judiciary particularly after a 17-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan headed by new chief justice Abdul Hamid Dogar legitimised President Musharraf’s ‘illegitimate’ actions of 3rd November 2007 and their subsequent criticism. PMLN leaders’ hostile statements against the ‘PCO judges’ have pushed them to the wall. In the midst of their criticism, deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has waged a new war against them by declaring to punish all those who had disobeyed his court’s order of 3rd November 2007. Such statements can only be helpful to President Pervez Musharraf. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has undoubtedly written a new chapter in Pakistan’s constitutional politics. He displeased the Establishment, resident as well as non-resident, by taking suo-moto notices of the missing persons. He led a ‘hidden revolt’ against President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz by disallowing the sale of Pakistan Steel Mills for the price of peanuts. He refused to comply with President Musharraf’s wishes to tender his resignation on 9th March 2007. All these actions made him hero. However, his move to visit Zardari House on whatever excuse did not seem to be a very prudent decision. Similarly, his recent commendation of PMLN for resigning from federal ministries has given wrong signals. Whosoever advised him on these accounts must be having his own axe to grind. The political situation in the country is getting worse with each passing day. While PMLN chief Mian Nawaz Sharif is clearly aiming for restoration of chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and other deposed judges before anything else, Asif Ali Zardari’s first priority is the approval of the constitutional package. Through this constitutional package, Zardari wants to clip the president’s wings in order to restore all the powers of the Prime Minister. President Musharraf may be tempted to give his nod to such constitutional package in return for immunity for his extra-constitutional actions. However, he cannot afford to agree to the restoration of chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The latter’s restoration may mean the reopening of case of General Musharraf’s eligibility and the reversal of benefits given under the NRO. Asif Ali Zardari hopes that he will be able to bail the country out of the present political crisis through his constitutional package. It is hard to comment on the constitutional package as its text or full details have not so far been made public. The few details which have been released so far indicate that the PPP co-chairman wants to disinvest the president from his executive powers. There is nothing wrong with this idea but such relocation of powers without proper checks and balances will only help to establish the dictatorship of the Prime Minister which gave General Ziaulhaq an excuse to topple the elected government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1977 and afforded an opportunity to General Musharraf to oust Nawaz Sharif in 1999. Therefore, all executive appointments must be made subject to review by a parliamentary board. With General Pervez Musharraf’s unwillingness to resign and his inability to dismiss the government, the chances are that the coalition partners may go ahead in the next few days with the impeachment of President Musharraf. Despite their numerical superiority, such an attempt is unlikely to succeed particularly when many members within the ranks of the coalition government are unlikely to give their whole-hearted support to the impeachment resolution. Therefore, to all probability, the country seems poised to face another series of political agitations and turmoil until President Pervez Musharraf is removed from his office in almost the same manner in which General Ayub Khan, General Yahya Khan and General Ziaulhaq were removed from their offices.

Source: The Frontier Post, 28/5/2008

 Posted by at 6:29 pm

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