Circus 2008-By Murtaza Razvi

ONE doesn’t have to be a complete cynic to read into Thursday’s grand declaration made by the ruling coalition what it really means, threaten as it does President Musharraf with impeachment unless he seeks a vote of confidence from parliament. There is nothing in the constitution that requires the president to do so.

The reaction issued by the US State Department takes cognisance of this fact, emphasising the need to stick to the constitution as parliament convenes on August 11 to start proceedings as per the declaration. While many a media pundit back home hails the move as proof that the ruling coalition by forging a consensus on the issue has come out stronger than expected, it remains unclear how far it can carry the threat of impeachment. There’s more than meets the eye. Mr Zardari has done it again. And so has Mr Sharif by falling for it. So what’s next?

The word ‘impeachment’ as pronounced by a chuckling Mr Zardari under the full media glare came out as a bit of a tongue-twister. It looked carefully choreographed and rehearsed for the intended effect. While Mr Sharif walked away with the satisfaction that the PPP and he were finally on the same wavelength, reiterating the pledge to restore the sacked judges after impeaching the president, he missed the point that impeachment may only be considered after a vote of no-confidence fails to convince the president to step down. As the debate opens, the constitutionality of the vote as the mechanism to oust the president will become the point at issue; the proceedings may just drag on, dulling once again the prospect of the judges’ reinstatement.

While the MQM has made its stance clear on the issue, saying that Mr Musharraf’s impeachment will not solve the people’s problems and hence it is against the move, the other ruling coalition partners have ridden the wave. Baloch nationalists and those sitting in the APDM have also welcomed the gambit. Mr Zardari must be happy, having braved the storm that the PML-N had whipped up as it threatened to leave the coalition if its demands were not met.

But deep down he must also be worrying about how to stage the challenging act of recoiling from yet another stated position.Despite what he said, Mr Zardari is not very likely to go the whole hog against his benefactor. The passage of the National Reconciliation Ordinance by the last parliament and its endorsement by the post-Nov 3, 2007 Supreme Court are realities that cannot be ignored. True, it was Ms Bhutto who may have negotiated the deal with President Musharraf and technically Mr Zardari may not be bound by it, but morally he is; he too has benefited in no small measure from the implementation of the ordinance by the president.

By impeaching President Musharraf, will Mr Zardari let him walk the moral high ground for having fulfilled his part of the promise, while he reneges on what Ms Bhutto may have agreed to do in reciprocity? PPP President Makhdoom Amin Fahim, cast in the feudal tradition of honouring pledges, seems to think otherwise. These are not the only questions worth raising.

The president has been meeting his own allies and legal aides just in case. There is ample time between now and Aug 11 when parliament convenes. One is not sure if Mr Zardari, after the posture he assumed on Thursday, will be able to wriggle out of it in good time — if it is indeed only a posture. He has pitted himself against one mighty president armed with the infamous Article 58-2(b), which is not a weapon of defence but of aggression. It is being conjectured that the army may remain neutral while a crisis begins to unfold between the presidency and parliament. But is it informed conjecture?

Ambitious generals in the past have taken advantage of deadlocks between civilian political players even as the latter showed the ability to turn back from the brink, as did Mr Bhutto and the Pakistan National Alliance in 1977. In the 1993 confrontation between Mr Sharif and President Ishaq Khan, the generals became the arbiters of compromise; the prime minister and the president had to bow out. Though the Sharif government with its ‘heavy’ public mandate had won the day in the apex court, the army did not want the president impeached.

When has regard for the rule of law been a hurdle in the way of those bent on enforcing their writ over and above the law? Welcome to the circus this Independence Day. Everyone’s invited and it’s all on the house.

Source: Daily Dawn, 9/8/2008

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