Jun 142008

It matters little whether he was a good judge, or whether Naeem Bokhari’s charges levelled against him held any truth, or that he has now become a political animal; it only matters that he be restored to his erstwhile position, as a consequence of popular demand
In Pakistan, there have always been three centres of political power: the army, the president, and the prime minister. This is much unlike a genuinely democratic system, in which there are three pillars of state — the legislative, the judiciary, and the executive — which are meant to balance the power equation so that no one pillar misuses its authority.

Regretfully, Pakistan’s political history is a continuous struggle between these three centres of power to tilt the balance in favour of one or the other.

The current confusion pervading our political scene appears to be another manifestation of this struggle but with some differences and additional factors thrown in the pot.

It appears that the present COAS, General Kayani, has decided that the army will revert to its strictly constitutional role, the implication being that while the ex-COAS President Musharraf can no longer claim the support of the army, the army will also not do anything to precipitate his downfall.

Kayani has been at some pains to re-establish the principle of civilian supremacy under a democratically elected government; even seeing off the PM when he was leaving for Saudi Arabia which strictly speaking is only the task of the CJCSC by virtue of his being adviser to the government on all military matters.

It would be fair to assume that at least for the period of Kayani’s three years in office, the army will refrain from entering the political arena in search of political power.

While the president has been rendered virtually toothless, his constitutional political powers, including the power to dissolve the assembly and sack and appoint the service chiefs have not yet been withdrawn, enabling him to occasionally still emit a roar, albeit a toothless one. Toothless, because under the current circumstances, any attempt by him to exercise these powers would probably result in devastating consequences for him.

Nonetheless, the two main parties of the coalition government seem unable to find common ground and that is aggravating uncertainty in the country. Obviously, their increasing difficulties are rooted in the issue of the restoration of judges.

While the controversial ‘constitutional amendment package’, which seems to grant partial indemnity to Musharraf for his actions on November 3, 2007, was still under debate, the PPP sprung another surprise in the budget: the budget announced the number of judges in the Supreme Court to be twenty-nine, indicating that those judges appointed under the second PCO in the wake of Musharraf’s November 3 unconstitutional acts are likely to be retained.

In one of Shakespeare’s plays, someone says, ‘justice survives; for there is one judge who will not obey the king’. There is little doubt that Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry has become the symbol of that elusive justice that the people of this country are in search of.

It matters little whether he was a good judge, or whether Naeem Bokhari’s charges levelled against him held any truth, or that he has now become a political animal, as much in search of political power as any other player in the arena; it does not even matter if he can deliver the elusive justice that his defiance of Musharraf’s tyranny made him a symbol of; it only matters that he be restored to his erstwhile position, as a consequence of popular demand, and that those supporting him are gaining political support.

That is the political bandwagon both Aitzaz Ahsan and Nawaz Sharif are riding at the cost of the PPP.

Compelled by its own compulsions, the PPP can only afford to restore the CJ either if a bargain is struck regarding the issues that he will not address, like the NRO, or with constitutional amendments that limit his powers.

In principle, a limitation on the powers of the CJ may not be an incorrect political step e.g. if it is now demanded that a bench, instead of only the CJ, will decide to take suo moto notice of any issue, there may be nothing to take exception to. However, there is likely to be far more which the PMLN and the lawyers may not find acceptable.

What is of concern to someone like this author is the fact that in all this wrangling between the coalition partners, it seems possible that Musharraf and his political powers may become a bargaining chip. In attempting to force Sharif to agree to a less empowered CJ, Zardari might delay the clipping of Musharraf’s powers and his ouster as a bargaining factor.

If that were to happen, there is really no telling how the chips will fall over the next couple of months. The ordinary citizen is groaning under the spiralling cost of living and, despite promises, there is little hope offered in the new budget; though it would only be fair to state that the budget has been made under enormous resource constraints.

Suicide bombings have not decreased, and the US has added a fresh dimension by attacking a Pakistani border post killing thirteen personnel of the Frontier Corps, including a major, along with fifteen civilians.

Whether intended or not, this incident can only further destabilise the domestic scene and, indirectly, help prolong Musharraf’s presence on the political stage. As long as Musharraf stays and continues to hold the constitutional powers that he bestowed upon himself, it is impossible to rule out the possibility of him arbitrarily using his powers again, especially in a weakening political scene.

One can only hope that the members of our coalition government realise this and rediscover the common cause that helped their return to political power. If their victory, as they frequently claim, was the defeat of Musharraf and the PMLQ, let them not create a scenario that can help one or the other return, or lead us to anarchy.

The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI).

Source: Daily Times, 14/6/2008

 Posted by at 8:43 am

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