Jun 112008

THE summer blockbuster is here. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and Aitzaz Ahsan are on a mission to bring President Musharraf to justice. Barnstorming the country, the dynamic duo wants a climactic showdown in the shadow of parliament. Over in his fortress Musharraf is defiant, ready to grind out a Pyrrhic victory if that’s what it takes. It’s all very exciting. But must we hew so closely to Bollywood-length epics?

Asif Zardari could have cut this saga short. Instead, he gave a kid a box of crayons and asked him to re-write the constitution. Forget the spirit of the draft — given its progenitors it was never going to be a panacea — but need it have been drafted so shoddily? Ambition isn’t one of the defects it suffers from though: eighty changes proposed to a constitution with two hundred and eighty sections. All worked out in secret, away from the supervision of parliament. If Asif had been around to guide the Constituent Assembly perhaps it wouldn’t have taken nine years to draft the first constitution.

Back in the spotlight is 270, dictators’ corner in the constitution. It’s a crowded address. Starting with validation of Yahya’s illegalities (270), we then have A (Zia), Double A (Musharraf-I), and the contested Triple A (Musharraf-II). And now Asif wants to add Double C, a mechanism that purports to reinstate the judges but slyly works to keep Justice Iqbal out. Making sense of 270 is beginning to feel like sifting through a pile of bargain unmentionables at Victoria’s Secret in search of clothes for the emperor.

Double C’s purpose is simple: it’s meant to ensure that Chief Justice Dogar will bookend a second stint by Chief Justice Iftikhar. It’s really an insurance policy: if Chief Justice Iftikhar is ever handed back his gavel, Chief Justice Dogar will succeed him once more and undo whatever damage the maverick judge may cause to the Asif-Musharraf axis. Iftikhar-Dogar-Iftikhar-Dogar — it’s the judicial equivalent of the prime ministerial revolving door of the 90s.

So is it a surprise that Chief Justice Iftikhar and Aitzaz are fighting back? Fatigue isn’t a problem for the intrepid duo braving the summer heat. The adrenalin is flowing as the history books beckon. For now Aitzaz is feted by Foreign Policy and hailed by the New York Times; if he slays the dragon it could be the first step towards the Nobel. His place in the people’s party doesn’t concern him for now; he’s got his eye on bigger things. True, he did work the phones on a Sunday, urging editors and producers to suppress the Times’s revelation of his disdain for the Bhuttos. But he moved on quickly enough to his new love, the lawyers’ movement, obliquely signalling the accuracy of what was quoted.

The rift with Asif is nearly total. Sherry Rehman was supposed to share a stage with Aitzaz at an apolitical event in Karachi, but Asif grounded her. When Khuhro turned up instead, Asif’s displeasure was vented through the media. I watched Aitzaz closely that afternoon as he sat impassively through a wretched programme of tuneless singers and children eulogising by rote. He was unruffled, smiling on cue and presenting bouquets when called upon all afternoon. The next day I watched his speech on tape. Aitzaz invoked the spirit of Jinnah and lamented the failure of the state. It was measured and purposeful. The people would never receive justice, the poor would never escape poverty, and the vulnerable would never be protected if things didn’t change. Aitzaz believes he’s at the vanguard of a movement that has the potential to change history. Musharraf is but the first hurdle; Chief Justice Iftikhar and Aitzaz are out to remake Pakistan itself.

Yet, fifteen months into their partnership, judicial restoration remains bogged down in the arcanum of constitutional amendments and parliamentary resolutions. For many, it’s a pointless debate, epitomising everything that is wrong with politics and politicians. After all, who really cares how the judges are reinstated as long as they are reinstated? It’s too much legalese for a country that has overdosed on it for over a year.

But a parliamentary resolution can bring the whole edifice of transition crumbling down. Chief Justice Iftikhar and six other deposed judges have already declared November’s coup illegal. If they are summarily reinstated, they will summarily strike down everything done since November. In fact, so fearful is the Asif-Musharraf axis of this possibility that it has suggested a new clause in the constitution (yes, in 270 again — this time a Double B) to specifically prevent the Supreme Court from questioning the legality of the February elections.

The parliamentary resolution is a non-starter then. For before parliament could yell, “Stop! Amendment!” Iftikhar will simply sweep away the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO), the president, the judges and everything else with the existing powers of the court. It will be a wrenching period, a time of intense uncertainty and paralysis. And don’t expect Aitzaz to advise caution. It’s precisely what he wants.

Which is why Musharraf was back on the airwaves. The marchers are closing in on him and he was trying to fend them off. One word stood out: pathetic. Pathetic was the officer who was airing the army’s dirty laundry in public. Then, unwittingly, the combative general’s argument boomeranged. He could spend an hour dishing the dirt on the latest general to turn on him, he said. And with that the humiliation was complete — his anger blinding him to the fact that as army chief it was his responsibility to ensure discipline and honesty. Is it any wonder that the rats are jumping ship?

Nobody knows what will happen after the long march. After the weekend’s performance, Musharraf is going nowhere for now. Nor is Chief Justice Iftikhar on the verge of being reinstated. The standoff will continue. But pause for a minute to take in a marvellous show — a rainbow coalition of liberals, mullahs, constitutionalists, peasants, feminists, socialists, Islamists, capitalists, provincialists and activists; all marching under the banner of the people.

What a wretched country this is. The march should have given goose bumps to every person with an iota of romance. Instead, it has raised the hairs on the back of the neck for the many who fear what confrontation will bring. Not for decades have ugly reality and dreaminess collided so forcefully. The sceptics believe they are on the right side of history. But there is no joy in parting with the lawyers. Unfortunately, there are no Hollywood endings in Pakistan, only bitter truths.

Source: Daily Dawn, 11/6/2008

 Posted by at 8:09 pm

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