Aitzaz Ahsan’s monumental blunder

There is all quiet in Pakistan after the lawyers’ long march. The march that culminated in the mammoth meeting in front of Islamabad’s parliament building could have been a turning point if it’s pent up momentum had not been allowed to dissipate by winding it up like an ordinary assemblage. The leading firebrand speaker Ali Ahmed Kurd and the deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry were conspicuous by their absence in the mother of all rallies so far held by the legal community since March last year. The absence of these and other leading lights in the rally gave an impression that they may have boycotted the rally due to difference of opinion on the conduct and outcome of the meeting as agreed upon in the accord signed between Rehman Malik and the organizers of the rally.

The end of rally without reiteration of the charter of demands and without sit-in to force the government for their acceptance and execution seems to have been tacitly and quietly worked out by the interior minister Rehman Malik and Aitzaz Ahsan. Evidently in face of the public pro judges and anti Musharraf outcry, Aitzaz appeared to be in the grip of an inborn tussle and anxiety about complying with the agreement that he had signed with the government functionaries headed by inimitable Rehman Malik. Rehman Malik’s reflection of satisfaction and rather triumph in regards deflating and deflecting the impact of the rally and long march was writ large on his smiling face. He was evidently laughing in his sleeves. He is the rightful recipient of the superfluous plaudits and profuse congratulatory messages from the prime minister and perhaps from the besieged President Musharraf. To put it bluntly Aitzaz who has been in the lead for spearheading a monumental and historic movement for the establishment of rule of law and supremacy of constitution has, at the crowing moment, faltered and thus committed a blunder that would haunt him for quite some time. The struggle of more than one year was wasted away in matter of hours. Could it be called the betrayal of a noble and suffering ridden cause?

It would be utterly daunting to revive the same vibrant spirit and bubbling zeal that kept the entire judicial community of Pakistan energized, fired and mobilized for the pristine objective of restoration of the sacked judges. The sit-in call was in right earnest as it would have put an unremitting pressure on the government to move fast to restore the deposed judges without ifs and buts. A mammoth crowd of charged and motivated individuals went back with dejection and a deep remorse of losing a battle that could have been won if their leaders had stood the ground and joined the ear splitting slogans of the crowd for the acceptance of the aims for which this unique campaign was initiated. To reject the call of those who were determined to stay in ground for a sit-in under the pretext of shortage of funds is patently flimsy and frivolous. With the haste with which Aitzaz Ahsan the principle champion of this cause left the arena was surprising as it was shameful and unimaginable. The entire struggle spawned and nurtured over a long period of time in which lawyers suffered financially, physically and mentally, should not have been watered down so easily and so causally. The bitter reaction and resentment shown by the activists in the rally was justified. Their accusation of Aitzaz for an underhand deal with the authorities carried weight. It can be surmised that very soon the internal friction between the hardliners and committed judicial activists on one side and the compromising ones like Aitzaz on the other would surface. The division in the ranks of crusading lawyers would certainly be very gleeful to the PPP Co-Chairperson Asif Zardari and the defenders of the president. It is quite clear that Asif Zardari is not in favour of reinstating the unseated judges without preconditions on their future performance and service. While he would like the impeachment and removal of incumbent president through a constitutional package, he would also like to subject the judges to operate within a certain framework that would bar them from acting as judicial accomplices of the dictators, as has been done in the past. He would not like the reinstated judges to reopen the criminal cases against him. He wants the judges’ issue to be part of a comprehensive package of constitutional reforms that would curtail the powers of both the president and the judges.

Mr. Zardari thinks that these deposed judges had also taken oath under the PCO in the past and were not different from the incumbent lot who were sworn in upon the strength of a new PCO issued on November 3 this year. However, the proponents of the restoration of judges by an executive order view his proposal of constitutional package as eye-wash to give breathing space to president Musharraf to reorder his strategy for remaining in presidency. They think that Mr. Zardari was bound by the deal brokered by America according to which he was obliged to side with the president. While he is sitting on the fence, the peoples’ trust in PPP under Asif Zardari might, in due course, slide down. There is a faction within PPP that has been sidelined. That faction, at an opportune moment, could turn into rabble rousers against the leadership of Asif Zardari.
In the political arena the standpoints of both leading parties namely PPP and ML ( N)league on the issues of judges and president Musharraf’s future remain poles apart. The future scenario is likely to see PPP, MQM and to some extent ANP on one side and the remaining political parties along with Nawaz League on the other. There is a possibility that anti Musharraf political parties, in tandem with judges and civil society activists, would launch another countrywide protest for ouster and impeachment of Musharraf besides reinstatement of the unseated judges. That situation might force the holding of new elections in which PPP may lose its upper hand and be replaced by Muslim League( N) and its coalition partners.

By Saeed Qureshi; Pakistan Observer Correspondent in Texas, USA

Source: Pakistan Observer, 24/6/2008

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