An uncertain future —Shaukat Qadir

Some PPP leaders have, in private, explained that Zardari wants to delay the restoration of the judiciary until after Musharraf leaves the country, since he is apprehensive that a proactive judiciary might challenge the ‘safe exit’ for Musharraf — and he may not be off the mark

Finally, Pervez Musharraf is in the past. An act that should have been the first achievement of the coalition within days of taking over, immediately following or preceding the restoration of the judiciary, has taken five months.

While the country is jubilant, there are individuals sounding a note of caution. There is yet the other hurdle that this government should have crossed within days of taking over, which is far more contentious than Musharraf — the restoration of the judiciary — one that we need to get past before the government can even begin to address the issues worrying the common man.

Musharraf has gone, singing his own praises, which was to be expected; his latent narcissism had been steadily increasing during his eight-year reign. However, Musharraf has also left predicting doom for the coalition, promising to wait for an opportunity to return and play his destined role. While the latter part of this may be wishful thinking, there is certainly room for considerable concern regarding the future of the coalition.

Asif Zardari, having realised that the domestic scene left him with little option but to get rid of Musharraf and that the Bush government had also recognised that reality, very astutely ‘gave in’ to this demand of Nawaz Sharif, promising to follow it up with the restoration of the judiciary within three days of Musharraf’s exit.

However, Zardari was never comfortable with the restoration of a proactive judiciary, particularly Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. He was always apprehensive of the CJ challenging the dubious NRO, under which he, along with his cronies, is the principal beneficiary.

Within a day of Musharraf’s exit, as usual, Zardari is going back on his word, talking of restoring the judiciary under a constitutional package instead of the executive order that he had agreed to do; he is also once again talking of the ‘minus one’ formula, to exclude the Chief Justice.

Some PPP leaders have, in private, explained that Zardari wants to delay the restoration of the judiciary until after Musharraf leaves the country, since he is apprehensive that a proactive judiciary might challenge the ‘safe exit’ for Musharraf — and he may not be off the mark. Those same PPP leaders explain that the reason for excluding Iftikhar Chaudhry is that he has made himself too political a figure.

Zardari’s is too devious a mind for one to readily accept such ostensible reasons without question. Nonetheless, to be fair to Zardari, I share his apprehensions of the CJ’s politicisation. His unquestionably courageous stand against the then all-powerful Musharraf made him a public hero, which he has unfailingly capitalised on.

To the public, he remains the symbol of hope for justice — and he knows it. It is this knowledge and the public support that he enjoys that could make him a very dangerous thorn in the side of any government. In fact, he could, for the first time in our chequered history, tilt the balance of power between the three pillars of state in favour of the judiciary; and that could be no less dangerous than the traditional tilt in favour of the executive.

Nonetheless, Nawaz Sharif is adamant on the restoration of the judiciary in accordance with the agreement inked between the coalition partners at the time of the decision to impeach Musharraf; his popularity rating has soared to 86 percent due to his support for the judiciary, determined opposition to the perpetuation of Musharraf’s rule, and his apparent unwillingness to accept American diktat unquestioningly; and he will not willingly lose his popularity.

The ANP and the JUIF have taken the position that they were not signatories to the Murree Accord and are inclined to side with Zardari. Will the coalition survive this deadlock or will Musharraf’s prediction of their break up be proven within days of his ouster?

This is the question that is going to haunt us for the next few days and there is concern as to what will happen if the coalition does not survive.

Both the PPP and the PMLN still have incentives to ensure the survival of the coalition. The PPP will need support of the PMLN to muster the numbers necessary for constitutional amendments and, in the event that the PMLN leaves the coalition and refuses to support the PPP in the National Assembly, the PPP will find it necessary to find a working relation with the PMLQ, which is tantamount to signing its own death warrant as far as future elections are concerned.

On the other hand, the PMLN does not enjoy a majority in the Punjab Assembly and will be loath to lose the provincial government if the PPP withdraws its support.

It is impossible to predict what course events will take in the next few days or weeks; however, if these two parties are unable to break the deadlock, it is most likely that the PMLN, while refusing to hold any governmental posts in the centre in protest, will continue to support the PPP, in return for its support in the Punjab Assembly.

Whatever course events might take, it is obvious that, in the absence of the common enemy, Musharraf, the coalition’s future will be tested; with dire consequences for the populace, and for the future of the war against terrorism.

The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)

Source: Daily Times, 23/8/2008

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