Inside story of the agreement, near split, and future president of Pakistan

By Mohammad Malick

It hardly comes across as a parliament that has just slain one of the most powerful presidents ever. No minister worth his or her portfolio bothers turning up nowadays except for the relevant grudging soul whose turn it may be to field questions pertaining to the ministry in the question hour. Agenda is wandering; members are listless and bored, venting their fury at the man long gone and rightly so because all the real action is outside, split between Punjab House and Zardari House.

With Gen. Musharraf sent packing from the presidency, restoration or otherwise of the Nov 2nd judicial lot was expected to be the next big ticket item on the coalition menu of things to do and probably even more contentious than the first. And it is living up to all expectations as the judicial crisis once again threatened the coalition’s survival on Tuesday evening and had it not been for the timely intervention of Asfandyar Wali and Maulana Fazlur Rehman, then Gen Musharraf could well have had a last laugh even before the drying up of his last tears. Politics is strange. Who could have ever imagined a bigoted religious opportunist like the Maulana and the otherwise liberal but also a wool dyed Pashtun nationalist like Asfandyar working together for a common cause. But let’s keep the discussion on this anomaly for some other time. Anyway, both leaders fed the media this cock and bull story about needing to discuss the matter with their own parties and also to help negotiations between PPP and PML-N. The truth of the matter is that had they not butted in, then the butts from Lahore may just have butted out of the alliance. So what really happened?

According to a highly informed insider privy to the latest developments, Asif Ali Zardari had indicated his reservations about Justice Iftikhar’s reinstatement-the source insists that Asif never said it in as many words-on the grounds that any judicial adventurism exhibited by him towards the deposed president, like ordering a ban on his travel or other restrictions etc, would upset a lot of domestic and international arrangements and tacit agreements that had gone into ensuring a quiet and trouble-free resignation by the former president.

Surely the issue of the judge tinkering with the NRO must also be lurking in the back of his mind but it was never betrayed as that serious a worry. The thinking at the PPP top apparently favoured the restoration of judges once the General had been forced into leaving the country, even if temporarily, by the ‘right quarters’ and the other option being that if the judicial pack were to be restored prior to such an eventuality then at least the CJ’s return should be delayed. No way, said an equally affronted Nawaz Sharif and matters came to a critical standoff. It happens all and it happens now just as was agreed, was his stand. And that’s when the Asfandyar-Maulana duo swung into damage control action.

Word has it that even within the PPP camp itself, virtually all senior leaders involved directly in this final negotiation process have favoured the restoration of the judges en block and even this argument has been given to their party co-chairman that even when Justice (retd) Sajjad Ali Shah had enjoyed the full support of the then president, he could still not do a damn all to the sitting prime minister who enjoyed a strong parliamentary strength and the fortune of having around an army chief who did not want to a part of the melee.

And today, it was argued, the scenario is way different with Musharraf gone and the entire structure suffering from severe agitational fatigue, including the CJ’s staunchest supporters. It was also evident that the khakis too had no current appetite for any more confrontation between the key state institutions and therefore everyone would play pretty much by the rules. It was also told by another source that two key people, who have virtually become face of the judicial movement, have also assured PPP’s top man about the unpredictable deposed CJ not indulging in any maverick behaviour that could threaten the current political dispensation or the newly established democracy.

For his part Asif Zardari, who is unquestionably riding high after scalping Gen. Musharraf, has a very tough sell on his hands when it comes to securing any more maneuvering room for himself, thanks to the binding and unambiguous wording of the latest two-page agreement signed between him and Nawaz Sharif. Somebody who has read the latest covenant, whose each page has been jointly signed by both leaders, revealed that contrary to common belief about a three-day time frame, in actuality both leaders have bound themselves to restoring the Nov 2nd judiciary within one day of the impeachment/resignation of Gen Musharraf. And this isn’t all.

In another clause, the PPP has also abdicated its claim to the office of the president until the repeal of the 17th Amendment. Whoa, things just keep getting tougher for the PPP’s tough man. But judging from his latest political moves, which have ultimately proven successful, Zardari just may be able to convince others into a somewhat amended mutually agreeable arrangement.

A lot of action and news for a 24 hour time span wouldn’t you agree? Yesterday evening (Wednesday) Asfandyar Wali and Maulana again met Zardari and word has it that things are finally moving towards a positive resolution of matters. What however did not happen during the last 48 hours was any serious or focused discussion on the names of the new governors or the candidature of the next president.

Just as an aside though, Raza Rabbani of PPP would have made a fine president but unfortunately nowadays he isn’t really one of the darlings of the current decision making party hierarchy. So who could be the next president anyway? We have all read the names of the likes of Aftab Shabaan Merani, Attaullah Mengal, Dr. Fehmida Mirza and a few others. And would it really be an office worth dying for because as promised by both parties it would revert to being a titular head of state with nothing more than ceremonious powers at his command and the president himself more like a noble master of ceremonies himself. Well the answer to that question will reveal itself in the coming days but what I can share with you at this point is that though it might sound preposterous at this point in time but the next president shall come from Zardari House, and no the nominee is not an occasional visitor there either. As for the reaction of the ‘reactionaries’, they aren’t pushed by the possibility as long the real powers to do damage, or appoint you know who, are no longer vested in the presidential office.

Source: The News, 21/8/2008

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