Jun 022008

WASHINGTON – Pakistan People’s Party leader and prominent lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan says “most” allegations of corruption against Asif Ali Zardari and Benazir Bhutto were justified, but he also praises the fallen party chairperson’s “courage and  steadfastness”.
“The type of expenses that she had and he has are not from sources of income that can be lawfully explained and accounted for,” Ahsan was quoted as saying in the course of a 5,000 word article in The New York Times on the lawyers’ movement and his central role in it. This, despite the fact that Ahsan defended the couple in 14 cases, including, according to him, “corruption against both,” and in Zardari’s case, “kidnapping, ransom and murder.” “Ahsan is almost recklessly outspoken about PPP leaders, even though they are his own political patrons,” wrote James Traub, a New York Times correspondent who spent time in Pakistan earlier this year researching the story, which is published the newspaper’s Sunday magazine. Traub says Ahsan “speaks admiringly of Benazir Bhutto’s courage and steadfastness but also points out with disdain that she viewed herself as the PPP’s ‘life chairperson’. And he does not bother to conceal his dim view of Zardari.”
The report says that on a flight from Karachi to Sukkur in April, Ahsan was approached by Farooq Naek, the law minister, who asked him to mute his harsh criticism of Zardari and the party. Zardari had reached an agreement with Nawaz Sharif to reinstate the judges within 30 days of the formation of the new government, and Naek implored Ahsan to show some faith and trust. Ahsan agreed to act as if he accepted their bona fides, though he did not altogether. Ahsan says he believed that Zardari feared that Chaudhry and other apolitical judges might restore some of the cases against him that had been summarily dismissed. Beyond that, Ahsan recognised, according to Traub, that the PPPP was itself a feudal and only marginally democratic body led by a figure accused of corruption and violence. Zardari, Ahsan told the correspondent “flatly”, “does not want independent judges. He wants dependent judges.”
Tariq Mahmood, one of the lawyer leaders, told the newspaper that US ambassador Anne Patterson suggested to him that an opening might be found for Justice Chaudhry somewhere in the international bureaucracy, something that Mahmood saw as the “offer of a bribe to the Chief Justice of Pakistan.” When New York Times asked Patterson to comment, she declined. Ahsan told the newspaper, “You can’t have a democracy without an independent judiciary. And you can certainly not construct a parliamentary structure on the debris of the judicial edifice.” Ahsan added, “There have been corrupt and vile chief justices in the past, but he (Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry) seemed to be a prince – the prince who challenges authority, defies his executioners and was prepared to go to the gallows holding his head up.”
The report quotes Stephen Cohen, author of two books on Pakistan, as admitting that he “misjudged” the country’s commitment to constitutional principles. He had called Pakistan in his 2004 book an “ideological ghetto, especially as far as its liberals are concerned.” He told the newspaper correspondent, “But there truly was a liberal tradition in Pakistan, buried beneath six decades of dictatorship, corruption and religious extremism. I was struck by the deep sense of embarrassment, even shame, that many Pakistanis feel over their political and economic failures, and their sense of resentment about being viewed in the West as an Islamic autocracy.”
Ahsan said, “We are and very much remain a South Asian Muslim country, sharing aspirations and history with India – due process, habeas corpus, mandamus, certiorari. We are not a Middle Eastern Arab Muslim country.” About Ahsan’s decision not to contest a by-election, Traub writes, “He had decisively chosen movement politics over party politics, and perhaps he was happiest there. Zardari and the PPP seemed to have increasingly thrown in their lot with Musharraf, appointing allies of the president to key posts. Ahsan was not worried that a new round of protests, this time directed in part at his own party, would divide the country.” “There’s enormous popular support for my position,” Ahsan was quoted as saying. “And he was, as ever, blithe in the face of confrontation,” Traub said. “I am comfortable,” Ahsan told the correspondent from his home in Lahore. “I have no problem.”The Nation

 Posted by at 7:35 am

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