Political potpourri —Shaukat Qadir

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Another NRO could permit both the Sharif brothers to hold office, permitting Shehbaz Sharif to return as Chief Minister Punjab. All this will have to happen before things get really messy; there is almost no time left

I think it was in Shakespeare’s King Lear that a commoner shouted, “justice lives; there is a judge who would defy the king”. Alas, the Pakistani judiciary ceased to qualify for such an infamous allegation a mere eleven years after our birth, when the ‘doctrine of necessity’ was first applied to justify a military takeover, though we continued to have some judges that stood tall for some more years.

When I was young, Pakistan was not a well-known country in the world; however, among the countries that were familiar with sports like cricket, hockey or squash, Pakistan was well-known. For a short period in the 1960s, we were also well known in economic circles as the fastest developing country; one most likely to be going places. We were worthy contenders in cricket, virtually unbeatable in hockey, and the unquestioned kings of the squash court.

Then the rot set in. We lost our dominance of the first two sports quite a while ago, but continued to seesaw in cricket. However, we can no longer claim to be unknown internationally, we finally have our fame: today our country is known to all as the leading victim and exporter of terrorism, and as a ‘near-failed state’.

In 2008, a popular movement, led by the lawyers, managed to finally oust a military dictator and, despite attempts at manipulating elections by the incumbent rulers, we witnessed a return of elected representatives to lead this country out of the mess we were in. Despite the fact that, due to the unexpected, tragic death of Benazir Bhutto, we found ourselves saddled with a president who did not inspire confidence in any thinking Pakistani, there was still a collective feeling of hope.

A year down the line, beset by increasing terrorism; with the economy plummeting; with a vibrant lawyers’ movement seeking the restoration of the CJ and an independent judiciary even as the president continues to hastily fill vacant seats with his own loyalists; and with Swat being handed over to the Taliban, the only thing left was to worsen the political turmoil by disqualifying the Sharif brothers.

Even as many another individuals who might have been disqualified from holding public office under the same laws continue to hold public office, including the highest in the land, thanks to the infamous NRO, the Sword of Damocles finally fell on the Sharifs. It is for someone better versed in the intricacies of law to comment on whether justice has been done in this instance, but it was certainly not ‘seen to be done’. As if to testify to this, the Punjab governor had predicted days before the SC judgement that there would shortly be a PPP-led government in Punjab.

Every member of the ruling PPP-led coalition — from the JUIF to the ANP to the MQM — has condemned this attempt to oust the leadership of the other major party, an erstwhile disillusioned member of the coalition, from the political scene. Cracks within the PPP are becoming fissures. Enver Baig, a hardcore PPP stalwart, hit hard at the president in his farewell to the Senate on the same grounds. Raza Rabbani, one of the few respectable individuals retained by Zardari in a position of power, has resigned from his position as leader of the upper house as well as his position as a cabinet member. Despite the coalition majority in the Senate, the upper house has also condemned the disqualification.

As both sides harden their positions, we are reliably informed that western diplomats are attempting to negotiate a deal between the two parties! No wonder. Pakistan’s political turmoil is no longer just a domestic concern. Considering the potential for damage, this confrontation can have serious international repercussions; thus their justified concern.

The promised ‘Long March’, led by the lawyers but supported by the PMLN, has been launched. The marchers have urged their followers to remain non-violent; the government has promised to facilitate it if it remains so, though the government has made attempts to sabotage it at the micro level. Assuming the best of intent on both sides, there are outside actors, least concerned with what is best for the country, for whom this will offer a priceless opportunity. The consequences could be disastrous.

Instead of threatening sedition, is this not a case for another, less infamous NRO? Should not the president emerge from his presidential fortress and undo what has caused this confrontation? I fully agree that, for a number of reasons, Mr Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry has become highly politicised, but a workable solution can be found by restoring him for a few months with the undertaking that he would recuse himself (a legal term used for a judge who voluntarily refuses to address an issue in which he might deem to be biased) from sitting on a bench addressing the government’s controversial activities. This is something that, to his credit, CJ Chaudhry has demonstrated himself to be capable of; when reluctantly reinstated by Musharraf, he refused to sit on any bench involving the General-President.

However, the recent appointments to the benches of the superior judiciary must also be undone. Some semblance of democracy must return; with a parliamentary committee, including members from the opposition, recommending individuals on merit for appointment by the president. A democratic country is not an individual’s jagir.

In the meantime, another NRO could permit both the Sharif brothers to hold office, permitting Shehbaz Sharif to return as Chief Minister Punjab. All this will have to happen before things get really messy; there is almost no time left.

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

Reproduced by permission of DT


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