Impeachment approaches —Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

The ruling coalition will have to ensure that it sustains its current numerical advantage. The presidential camp has started working on a counter strategy which includes, among other things, luring members away from the coalition

The dramatic ups and downs in the three-day dialogue between the PPP and the PMLN reflect the uncertain and difficult nature of Pakistani politics and the problems in political management.

The redeeming feature of these developments however is that the two sides ultimately agreed on a joint course of action for the removal of President Pervez Musharraf and the restoration of the ousted judges. The impeachment of Musharraf is expected to pave the way for the restoration of the judges, thus making it easy for the political forces to work together to address the acute socio-economic problems and the threat of religious extremism and terrorism to the Pakistani state and society.

The latest course of action of the ruling coalition is the product of compromise on the part of the PPP and the PMLN and earnest support by the ANP and the JUIF. The PPP, especially Asif Ali Zardari, towed a soft line towards Musharraf; perhaps as a part of the US-initiated understanding that facilitated Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan and the issuance of the National Reconciliation Ordinance that enabled Zardari to return to politics. American support for Musharraf was another restraining influence on the PPP.

The decision to initiate impeachment proceedings is also linked with the pulling away of US support from Musharraf and its decision to get more actively involved with the political government. A good number of Washington-based Pakistan watchers had been questioning the rationale of continued American support for the president and neglect of the elected civilian government.

Now that the US administration has cooled towards Musharraf, it will accept his removal if it is carried out in a constitutional and orderly manner. The change in the American position manifested itself during Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s July visit to the US.

The PPP leadership was perturbed by declining popular support for the government mainly because of its poor performance. As socio-economic problems worsened with no end in sight, the PPP leadership realised that it would not be able to address these problems if the two ruling parties continue to pull in different directions. It thought that more cooperative interaction with the PMLN would help resolve the two major problems — restoration of the judges and the removal of Musharraf — and only then would it be able to address socio-economic problems.

The PMLN also realised that no headway could be made on the same front with continued strain in its relations with the PPP, as it alone could not address these two problems. This also caused problems in Punjab where it needed PPP support to manage certain affairs effectively.

There has been a deterioration in the relationship between the two main coalition partners since the PMLN withdrew its ministers from the federal cabinet. There is a strong realisation in the PMLN leadership that a PMLN-PPP confrontation would jeopardise the prospects of democracy and allow Musharraf to gain a clear edge on both parties.

The recent dialogue was nearly destroyed by Musharraf’s shrewd move to sign the summary sent to him by the Law Ministry for the reappointment of a number of ousted judges of the Sindh High Court. However, the real fault for disrupting the talks lies with the PPP leadership for sending the summary to Musharraf without informing the PMLN. It was yet another case of mismanagement following the ISI episode two weeks ago.

The PMLN’s negative reaction to the selective reappointment of the judges was justified because it had not been taken into confidence and the announcement was ill timed. However, both sides decided to settle their differences on this issue through compromise. The PPP decided that it would not formally notify the reappointments and the PMLN agreed to assign first priority to the impeachment of Musharraf. The underlying assumption is that the restoration of the judges will be facilitated when they have a president of their choice. This compromise is a major achievement of the PPP and the PMLN.

These parties and their allies now face the new challenge of successfully completing the impeachment process and electing a non-partisan president who enjoys the support of all parties in the coalition.

The parties and the presidential camp are now planning their strategies for the impeachment process, which is expected to begin later this month. This is going to be the first instance of presidential impeachment in Pakistan and will thus create important political and constitutional precedents.

Coalition partners have the required number of votes in the joint session of the two houses of the parliament to pass the resolution. They are expected to get more support from smaller political parties, especially those from Balochistan. Some members of pro-Musharraf parties, especially the PMLQ, and some independent members are expected to support the impeachment resolution as well.

However, the ruling coalition will have to ensure that it sustains its current numerical advantage. The presidential camp has started working on a counter strategy which includes, among other things, luring members away from the coalition. They may be persuaded to stay away on voting day even if they do not come out openly in favour of Musharraf. This can make it difficult for the ruling coalition to get the required number of votes, that is, two-thirds of the total membership of the joint session of the two houses.

As horse-trading has been a well-known practice in Pakistan’s parliamentary history, it may be repeated during the presidential impeachment. It is therefore imperative for the PPP to do a thorough review of its internal state of affairs. The new heads of the party, Asif Ali Zardari and his associates, have alienated a good number of its senior members. These members need to be given immediate attention if the PPP is counting on their support.

Makhdoom Amin Fahim has already expressed his reservations regarding impeachment and a few others in the party may share his views. It is not clear however if the Makhdoom’s statement is merely a tactical move to build pressure on Zardari and his associates or a genuine and confirmed position on the matter. Further, it remains to be seen what role the Attorney General, a former member of the Musharraf team, will play in this process. Currently, he is known to be in close interaction with the president.

Similarly the PMLN should also review its own internal state of affairs so as to ensure that numerical strength is not reduced from its side either. The PPP and the PMLN can attract smaller political parties and independent members if they function as a solid voting bloc in favour of the impeachment resolution.

The fate of the impeachment resolution can also be affected by the disposition of the top brass of the army and the intelligence agencies. The key question is if the army will become partisan to a discredited president; and how this will affect the army chief’s on-going efforts to restore the military’s image, which has been tainted by many years of its political activism.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

Source: Daily Times, 10/8/2008

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