Jun 032008
 

Mian Sahib has upped the ante by stating that Mr Zardari has agreed to impeach the President, thus putting the senior coalition partner on the spot
Mr Nawaz Sharif’s emotional diatribe against President Musharraf on May 28 indicates that the “political pressure cooker” is now steaming. By demanding the President’s trial for treason, and not giving him a safe passage, he has clearly signalled a position opposed to Mr Zardari’s ambivalent stance of “walking” him out rather than “impeaching” him.

Mian Sahib has upped the ante by stating that Mr Zardari has agreed to impeach the President, thus putting the senior coalition partner on the spot. The PPP camp is a little taken aback, as reportedly no such assurance was given by Mr Zardari.

Nawaz Sharif’s offensive should not be seen in isolation, but in perspective of last week’s events: an apparent hardening of Mr Zardari’s stance; statements from Washington indicating toned down support for Musharraf; statements of some visiting US senators supporting the deposed judges, as well as their desire to work with the “democratic forces” rather than the Presidency; the renewed vigour in the lawyers’ movement, (perhaps encouraged by the PMLN); and most importantly, rumours of a “schism” between the President and the Army.

It would appear from recent developments that Mian Sahib is confident that the iron is now hot and should be struck to demolish the President. But I think his latest outburst is more out of disappointment and pique, rather than confidence.

My perception is based on the complete lack of productivity of the last meeting between him and Zardari along with his A-team. Mr Zardari brought along his junior party leaders who were not involved in earlier discussions, thereby indicating his reluctant acceptance of the dialogue. This attitude perhaps annoyed Mian Sahib and led him to conclude that Mr Zardari was not going to sign along the dotted line. So what options were open to him? Many.

But the one he has chosen for the time being is “attack”. His offensive is apparently directed at the President, but puts the PPP leadership indirectly on the mat. While projecting himself as a principled politician who is promoting moral and democratic values, he is sending out vibes that the senior coalition partner, while agreeing with him on the issue of the President, is nevertheless soft in taking firm action for motives which are questionable.

Mr Sharif’s reiteration that he was going to join the lawyers’ movement if they are not restored (on his conditions) further reinforces the impression of a deep cleavage.

In the given circumstances, one wonders if the two main coalition partners are “friends” or the “best of enemies”. Evidently there is more to it than meets the eye. Is there a sub-surface struggle going on for ascendancy and recognition as ‘Number One’ in Pakistan’s politics?

It is commonly perceived that till her assassination, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto had occupied that position, with Mr Sharif a close second. Now Mr Zardari has stepped into her shoes, but de facto, has not yet achieved that distinction. The mantle should have passed to Mian Sahib, but since he lacks support in provinces other than Punjab, he is striving to fill that gap by espousing the judges issue and widespread anti-Musharraf sentiment.

After the “roar” there is silence in the PMLN camp. The PPP is making defensive and ambivalent statements, but one sees a flurry of damage control activities in the Presidency. As a consequence the volatile situation has become less uncertain, but calm has yet to return.

The most disturbing aspect of the existing volatile situation is the low priority being accorded to Pakistan’s critical socio-economic condition. Setting aside concerns of far greater importance, PMLN, the lawyers, APDM and a section of media (all patriotic Pakistanis) are vociferously agitating for the restoration of judges.

The movement is not only diverting the government’s attention from serious issues, but has the potential to paralyse decision making at a later stage. It is hoped that we do not reach a point where it would be declared: “Operation successful. Patient died.”

In the prevailing environments, I strongly urge the stakeholders to consider that:

* This is not the time to sidetrack the government’s focus from real issues. The lawyers may think that Pakistan may be destroyed if Mr Chaudhry is not restored but the people have other priorities which need immediate attention. Pakistan cannot afford unrest.

* Let us all acknowledge that Parliament is supreme, and all issues including the President’s impeachment and the restoration of the judges should be decided in it, and not on the streets. The Parliament’s sovereignty is sacrosanct and must be respected.

* All sides should refrain from spreading despondency and gloom, as uncertainty is causing serious damage to Pakistan’s economy.

* The media should refrain from spreading rumours. It sometimes appears that a section of the media is playing the role of “agent provocateur”.

* All political forces must unite in these trying times and fight the problems together. We need pragmatism not idealism, forgiveness not vengeance, compromise not confrontation.

* The PPP being the party in power, should be given a fair chance to put its act together to fulfil its pledges. Having been out of power for twelve years, it will take some time for the party and its coalition government to take firm control. Let us not fix deadlines.

Lastly a few words about the President. I don’t think he is the kind of person to catch a plane in the darkness of the night and escape. Nor is he going to resign under pressure or threats. But he should realise that he has made himself very unpopular, and it is time for him to vacate the Presidency. Maybe not in a few days, but in a few months.

His immediate departure may not be conducive to stability, but he should fade away sooner than later.

Shujaat Ali Khan was a Major General in the Pakistan Army, later serving as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Morocco. He was also Director General of ISI’s internal wing

Source: Daily Times, 3/6/2008

 Posted by at 7:03 am

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