Islamabad diary: Why it’s hard to believe these Napoleons


Ayaz Amir

Because they have proved to be past masters at making declarations, loud and heroic, and then displaying an amazing knack for not implementing them. Talk of dithering being turned into an art form. We’ve seen this happening before our eyes. With their vast sense of humour these Napoleons of our political stage inspire disbelief not conviction.

Their very presence in Pakistan inspires disbelief. For the moment they arrive in Pakistan the first thought to cross people’s minds is how long will they stay? Pakistan seems to be a temporary port of call. They are more at home in Dubai or London. Maybe, for a change, they are serious about doing something: impeaching the albatross strung around Pakistan’s neck, President Pervez Musharraf, the master of our discontent for eight years and more, a calamity in a long line of calamities this country has suffered since its birth.

But why is it that the worm of doubt gnaws at hearts made tough by scepticism? Maybe we are dealing with withered hearts long deprived of the ability to seek out hope. But maybe, just maybe, it’s the experience of these dotards which tells us that their ability to promise things far outshines their ability to deliver them. Since the highpoint of the February elections the Caesars playing dice with the nation’s fortunes have done their best to dash popular expectations. Their soaring ineptitude has reinforced the impression that there’s no hand on the tiller, no direction to the ship of state. The Yanks are breathing down our necks, telling us what they expect and what they want us to do. And we seem to have given up even the pretence of being autonomous in our national affairs.

Yet we are to believe that these Bismarcks have finally bestirred themselves and are resolved to have done with the brooding presence in what was once Army House and is now a presidential camping ground. It would be wonderful news if this were true. With Ghalib we would sing: “key khushi sey mar na jaatey gar aitbar hota” (for wouldn’t we die of joy if we had any trust in you—although Ghalib, to give him his due, was speaking of better things than the affairs of the Islamic Republic).

If for nothing else but the sheer waste of some of our finest blood on the heights of Kargil (remember Kargil?) Musharraf deserves to be questioned and given his just deserts for the colossal crime he committed both against the nation and the army. His lieutenants in that venture – the Mansteins who plotted and executed Kargil – also deserve to be dragged from their plush retirements and made accountable for the human sacrifice they helped carry out at the altar of their strategic misconceptions. But the canker of doubt remains. Our tribunes of democracy have failed to restore the judges thrown out by Musharraf when he dispensed with the Constitution and imposed his own brand of emergency rule on the country. Promises, and solemn ones at that, were made about undoing the effects of that emergency and restoring the judges, first among them Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Restoring the judges would have made impeachment redundant, for Musharraf’s stay at the top would have become untenable with an independent Supreme Court in place once more. But some of the dumbest excuses this nation has ever heard were put forward to circumvent and sabotage the judges’ return. Now we are to believe that hands and minds which found themselves paralyzed on that question have suddenly come alive and are working overtime for the president’s impeachment. Maybe this is how it will happen but sceptical souls can be forgiven for nursing their doubts.

Impeachment is radical stuff, akin almost to Bolshevism in the context of Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif may not be radical about anything else but at least he’s serious about giving Musharraf what he deserves. So if he talks about impeachment we have no reason to disbelieve him. But Asif Ali Zardari, the power behind the throne and therefore the master of this rickety dispensation, someone who has benefited at Musharraf’s hands in the form of the greatest laundering and dry-cleaning act known to the sub-continent – the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), the decree without which Zardari would not sport half the smile he now flashes – Zardari turning Bolshevik about impeachment? That takes some believing.

And what about the interior czar, Herr Rehman Goering? He is the other great beneficiary of the NRO, his slate wiped clean, all questions about his past erased. From his comings and goings can anyone make out the smell of impeachment? What about smiling Taseer, His Excellency the Punjab Governor – his smile another tribute to cynicism – the latest recruit to Musharraf’s stable of loyalists? Say anything about him but don’t accuse him of being dumb. Does he give the appearance of someone whose boss (in constitutional terms) is about to be executed?

Miracles of course happen and this miracle the people of Pakistan are being expected to believe in may indeed come to pass. But before it does several mountain barriers of disbelief will have to be crossed. But mark the beauty of this impeachment chatter. Whether it leads to anything concrete or not, one outcome it has already achieved: the judges’ issue has again been put on the back-burner.

Back in April when the deadline loomed of restoring the judges, Law Minister Farooq Naek (answerable to Baron Zardari and no one else) pulled something he called a ‘constitutional package’ out of his bag of tricks. The Bhurban Accord had stipulated the restoration of the judges through a resolution of the National Assembly. But Zardari House, the fount of constitutionalism today, began arguing that a National Assembly resolution was not feasible and that a constitutional package was the only way forward. Then so many knots and twists were put in that package that even Sharifuddin Pirzada, hitherto the undisputed guru of constitutional (mis)interpretation, would have been left amazed.

This time again the main issue as far as the PML-N is concerned was the restoration of the judges. What it has got is an offer of impeachment, judicial restoration again being sidelined. Throwing his pursuers off the scent and sending them off in a different direction: give Zardari full marks for perfecting this manoeuvre. And give Nawaz Sharif full marks for falling for this gambit every time.

But consider also the alternatives before Nawaz Sharif. There is no shortage of hawks in the PML-N who cry foul of the PPP, accusing it of playing games with the PML-N. There is no shortage of alarmists saying that the PPP is sinking and will take the PML-N down with it. But walking out of the coalition is easier said than done. If being part of the coalition is proving to be a trying exercise, walking out of it means courting political isolation and giving heart to the president’s supporters. Walking out makes sense if an election is in the offing. But predicting what the future holds is hazardous business in Pakistan. Who can predict anything about future elections?

Musharraf should be impeached on many counts – from Kargil to his alliance with the United States, to his emergency decree of Nov 3, 2007. But one of the counts surely must also be the NRO which quashed all corruption cases against Zardari. A more discriminatory piece of legislation is hard to conceive. Does Zardari want to be a party to Musharraf’s impeachment for, among other things, giving him a clean bill of health? In other words, Zardari turning self-accuser: stretches credulity.

Anyway, welcome to the latest edition of politics in the Islamic Republic. From the elections to the end of April we discussed the restoration of the judges through a National Assembly resolution. Then from May to the passing of the budget we discussed Farooq Naek’s mysterious constitutional package, a thing much heard of but, like UFOs, never actually seen. Now, if past experience is anything to go by, the entire nation will be embroiled in discussing the pros and cons of impeachment.

This is the Pakistani version of Don Quixote. The Spanish knight charged at imaginary windmills. We are forever discovering mirages which shimmer tantalizingly in the distance but which disappear on getting close. This time we are being promised that the mirage in front of our eyes is for real. Maybe we are in for a surprise and this miracle comes to pass. Or maybe we have cause to recite Munir Niazi once again:

“Ik aur darya ka saamna tha Munir mujh ko/Mein aik darya kay paar utra tau mein ne dekha”

Email: chakwal@comsats.net.pk

Source: The News, 8/8/2008

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