Miree taamir main muzmir hai ik surat kharabi ki
Inside my making, lie the seeds of my destruction.
The February 18 elections have not brought a clean break with a cheerless past.
The Musharraf-PPP leadership deal queered the pitch. The faltering military ruler bargained with the leading political party a new lease of life, for himself. After a protracted series of meetings in Dubai and other places, the party leaders managed to forge a deal which included the promulgation of a special law freeing them from dozens of cases hanging fire against them. Cases mostly relating to corruption and gross misuse of authority.
The so-called NRO – National Reconciliation Ordinance – is something quite extraordinary. How could court cases, so many of them, be withdrawn with just one stroke, erasing sensational fact-sheets about prize properties abroad and references to shady deals? It did happen. Washington played the questionable role of a midwife. A remarkable exercise in deceitful diplomacy indeed!
A charitable view of what Benazir did to clinch the deal is that she resorted to this dubious transaction to ensure her return to Pakistan and to the revival of her party’s fortunes. Once back in Pakistan, with no noose hanging over her and her husband, heads a path be created which would lead to power. The general then would also be taken care of and eased out in due course. Benazir got a tumultuous reception in Karachi. Unfortunately, it was marred by a bomb blast. Later, on December 27, on the eve of the scheduled elections, she was killed after she had addressed a large public meeting in the Garrison City of Rawalpindi. The tragic incident pulled her spouse – kept out of active politics by her – back to Pakistan. Zardari lost no time in claiming the leadership of the party, assumed the office of co-chairman making his son the chairman. The son is presently studying in UK.
The party won a resounding victory in the elections. It was now in a position to form governments at the centre and in all the provinces in coalition with other parties.
There were great expectations. People looked forward to a new era of true democracy. Also the restoration of the Chief Justice of Pakistan and other Supreme Court and high court judges.
Zardari has shown great skills in establishing and retaining his hold on the party successfully sidelining rivals, especially the man who held the party together during Benazir’s absence abroad. He also kept his deal with Musharraf and declared that he was quite comfortable working with him. He conferred favours on his old friends and cronies by placing them in important positions in the government. He was able to persuade Nawaz Sharif to join the PPP at the centre in the coalition government. He agreed to enter into an agreement with PML-N to restore the removed judges within a period of 30 days. He did not however hesitate to renege on his pledge to do so and kept dragging his feet, holding meetings in Dubai and London fixing new deadlines which were not kept. He let the PML-N walk out of the cabinet.
Nawaz Sharif however has not severed bonds with Zardari and has shown considerable flexibility for the sake of a larger cause – getting rid of Musharraf. Zardari played on both sides of the street keeping good relations with Musharraf on the one hand and safeguarding a close relationship with PML-N, on the other. For his next move he waited to the disposal of all the court cases pending against him. Once freed from this stranglehold, he could deal with Musharraf, exhibiting the party sentiments. He was curt enough to call him “a relic of the past” who might have to be impeached when the required numbers in the national assembly and the senate were available. He changed his tone when pressed by the Americans. Bush himself had spoken to Musharraf assuring him, of his support. He would at least for the time being not rock Musharraf’s boat. His defence minister has taken the ex-serviceman to task for demanding a trial of Musharraf.
He has pooh-poohed the formidable lawyers’ movement for the reinstatement of the judges’ and not minced words to give a piece of his mind to Aitzaz Ahsan for heading the lawyers’ agitation. To confuse the issue and to complicate matters he has ingeniously come up with dozens of constitutional amendments. The purpose of it is to delay for as long as possible the return of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other senior judges ensuring the retention of those who took oath under Musharraf’s November 3 provisional constitutional order. As a lure to PML-N the constitutional package provides for the removal of Article 58-2(b) under which the president can dissolve the national assembly.
He and Musharraf share the fear of the restored judges taking an independent line on Musharraf’s presidential credentials arid reopening the question of NRO’s validity.
Nawaz Sharif faces a serious dilemma. His major election concern was the judges’ issue. With Zardari playing a game to keep them out, can the coalition of the two continue? The larger aim of remaining together for purposes of removing Musharraf and to keep the PML-N-PPP partnership in tact, lie so far has avoided parting company with PPP despite such provocative acts as the appointments of Salman Taseer as Governor of Punjab.
Howsoever the PPP chaps may explain their conduct, they have to a large extent squandered the opportunity to turn a new leaf and practice a principled democratic management.
Much will now depend on the lawyers’ agitation and the scheduled Long March to Islamabad. If despite Zardari’s attempts to disrupt the movement by activating people’s lawyers’ forum – a pro-PPP group, the Long March joined as it will be by members of the civil society, ex-servicemen group and some of the businessmen, the peaceful processions are bound to shake Musharraf into serious thinking to opt for calling it a day. It will also not be easy for Zardari to avoid the reinstatement of the judges.
One wonders if some of the party stalwarts have already begun to react to Zardari’s tactics (and antics) and may well be thinking of advising him to change course. If the party remains tied to Musharraf’s apron strings and continues to oppose the peoples’ demand for judges’ restoration, cracks will sooner or later appear in its ranks. Zardari has to rethink his stance both with regard to Musharraf and his relationship with the Americans. The daunting economic and political problems facing the country call for a leadership which is principled and circumspect. One doubts if Zardari with all his new born persona can measure up to the challenge facing him.
Tailpiece: George Bush’s recent pep talk may have boosted Musharraf, for a while, it however could turn into a “kiss of death” considering the intense anti-American feelings of the people of Pakistan.
The writer is ex-federal secretary and ambassador
Courtesy: The Nation, 7/6/2008