M B Naqvi
Pakistan politics, for the first time, has become multipolar, with seven decision-making centres. Let’s count President Pervez Musharraf as a factor. The second, with maximum influence, are three closely-related institutions, each separate but generally acting in concert: the US administration with its large leverage is now inextricably aligned with the Pakistani army and also works closely with the famous “establishment.” These three functionally become one.
Third, parliament has emerged as a significant factor because the February election could not be rigged like the way earlier ones were. Its verdict was loud and clear against establishment’s candidate: Musharraf. Its power is being exercised through five party heads, and in this descending order: Asif Ali Zardari (PPP), Nawaz Sharif (PML-N), Altaf Hussain (MQM), Asfandyar Wali (ANP) and of course the hitherto ruling King’s party, PML-Q, speaking through Musharraf and his friends. This is the third Parliament with an autonomous influence: first being the 1947 Constituent Assembly, and second was the 1970 Assembly resulting from Pakistan’s first free election. Both these, like all the rest, were sacked by Pakistan’s establishment; one has good reasons to keep his fingers crossed.
Fourth are the Islamic zealots, particularly the Taliban and other extremist groups calling themselves Taliban; these are now a major factor, although historically speaking an upstart. Fifth are regional nationalists in Balochistan who are waging an insurgency against Pakistan, particularly the army. There are other regional nationalists in the NWFP, Sindh, Karachi and Balochistan. None should be ignored.
Sixth are economic and social elites that always tend to coalesce around whichever government Pakistan’s famed establishment decides to put in office in Islamabad; they are mostly the Army’s toadies. Seventh is a new factor that has become significant last year; these are the deposed judges, the media and civil society, with the latter including for this purpose many political parties and other supporting the lawyers and deposed judges’ causes.
Needless to say, Musharraf seems determined to carry on with the help of the establishment, and especially with the residual help of the army, the US and the National Security Council, the new institution he has created. He still has the powers of sacking the Parliament, the provincial assemblies and all governments under the Constitution’s Article 58 (2) (b) and also as a result of the NSC’s recommendation, the way a similar institution is supposed to work in Turkey.
Among Parliament’s leaders, Zardari is desperately hanging on to the coattails of Musharraf for his political survival. Remember, Ms Benazir Bhutto, the original life chairperson of PPP, had negotiated a secret deal with Musharraf that promised mutual protection after the elections that had been due in November 2007. Zardari, the new co-chairman of the PPP, has every incentive to keep Musharraf in place for having delivered on his promise of setting aside all the corruption cases against both Benazir and Zardari. Musharraf having delivered his part of the promise, Zardari is now required to implement his part. But an entirely new factor emerged in 2007: it is the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who is now an icon of resistance against not only the dictator Musharraf but also against the army’s incursions in politics.
It was all Musharraf’s doing. Thinking that the CJP would be unhelpful in matters relating to his own election as president for the second term (2008-12) and also his government’s other actions that he might have to take. Musharraf tried to bully the CJP into resignation on concocted charges. The CJP refused and asked for an open court trial. Not used to a “no” to his orders, Musharraf arrested him there and then. He had the CJP humiliated in various mean ways. That hurt Musharraf more and Justice Chaudhry became the lightening rod for a fiercely anti-Musharraf movement by the legal fraternity that is wholeheartedly being supported by the media, civil society and most other professional groups. Musharraf has become the most despised figure.
Although the apex court had dismissed all charges on July 20 and reconfirmed Mr Justice Chaudhry to his august office – and fined the government Rs100,000 for presenting scandalous evidence, Musharraf went ahead with what was a second coup on Nov 3, 2007: imposition of state of emergency by virtue of he being the army chief, giving a new Provisional Constitution Order, again in Army chief’s capacity, and of course ordinances to gag the media. For good measure, he sacked 60-odd superior judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts, including the CJP, and locking up quite a few of them. These measures require indemnity through constitutional amendments, the way all dictatorial acts in the past were indemnified by amending the Constitution.
Required to fulfil his promises, Zardari has all but broken the alliance with the PML-N, barring the announcement of final rupture. The PPP government has prepared a set of about 80 amendments to the Constitution to ensure that the old chief justice will not be able to overturn Nov 3’s Musharraf actions while they would indemnify all his deviations from the Constitution and law, especially by ensuring that the old CJP, even after being restored, will be defanged by other measures.
Meanwhile, the CJP, having become the rallying point of resistance to a dictator, has mobilised legal fraternity and unstinted support from media and civil society, making Musharraf not only the most unpopular dictator that Pakistan has seen but has also made Army intervention unacceptable. Zardari has consequently lost credibility. Trying to limit the damage to the PPP and his own standing, Zardari is talking grandly of reducing most powers of Musharraf and even impeaching him. This is to cover up the decisive concessions he has given to Musharraf at the cost of his alliance with the PML-N: full-scale validation of his Nov 3 actions, ensuring their common bete noire, Mr Justice Chaudhry, shall not be allowed to question either the gift Musharraf gave to the PPP leaders (the NRO) or any of his Nov 3 actions. Most people have seen through this mean trick of talking tough against Musharraf while giving him all that he desired.
Nawaz, a significant winner of the February election, has made the PML-N the second largest party in the National Assembly but controls, alone, the provincial assembly of Punjab: the most populous, most developed and richest province. His championship of the judges’ issue was his chief attraction. His popularity is growing by leaps and bounds. No matter what the fate of this parliament, his victory in the next election is likely to be bigger than what the PPP expects next time, whenever it happens.
Nawaz is thinking in the longer-term, knowing that Musharraf still has enough support to help push through Zardari’s constitutional amendments; a combination of the PPP, the ANP, the JUI-F, the MQM and the PML-Q would ensure their passage through both houses of Parliament. Musharraf knows that he might just be able to use Article 58 (2) (b) to sack all governments and Assemblies. But Nawaz is relying on the media, lawyers, deposed judges and the civil society to keep Musharraf and even the PPP in the doghouse. The Army’s moving in again will be at the insistence of Americans, making the martial law interlude smaller.
The greatest trouble, however, is expected from both US government and the Islamic zealots in the NWFP’s tribal areas. This Gilani government is wishy-washy, unable to tackle the War on Terror. Even the army tends to agree with this government. This introduces utter uncertainty about what the Americans will actually do. Indications are that Pentagon wants American boots on Pakistani soil. Should that happen, Afghanistan war will have extended to many Pakistan areas, first in the tribal areas and later it is likely to grow as national resistance to foreign occupation. Other economic troubles can make for myriad instabilities.
The writer is a veteran journalist and freelance columnist. Email: email@example.com
Source: The news, 17/6/2008