Friday the Thirteenth is safely behind us but the Ides of March is now upon us. For those that keep bringing up the Ides of March, it might be worth remembering for them that the assassination of Julius Caesar let “loose the dogs of war” and eventually led to the ascendancy of Caesar’s heir Octavian as emperor with the end of the Roman Republic.
Whatever the triumphs, the faults and the failures of President Zardari might be, he is no Caesar and does not deserve that fate even metaphorically. President Zardari is at best a transitional figure in the political life of Pakistan. Whether Mr Zardari survives as president is not going to have a major impact on the future of this country.
What is infinitely more important is whether or not he allows the PPP to disintegrate as the largest and the only left-of-centre political party in Pakistan with a national following. If the PPP falls apart during his co-chairmanship, then that is what he will be remembered for in the history of Pakistan.
If Mr Zardari is no Caesar, then Mian Nawaz Sharif, his oratory notwithstanding, is no King Henry leading his troops to the Battle of Agincourt. But upon him also falls an important responsibility. Can he, and does he, have the capacity to unite all the different factions of the Muslim League into one coherent centre-right political party and thus help create a real two-party political system in Pakistan?
Historically, the Muslim League is the political party that was seduced by every military dictator to become its handmaiden. Perhaps under the present leadership, it will finally evolve into a party that will never again encourage military intervention or prop up military governments.
If President Zardari and Mr Sharif cannot prevent the impending confrontation, then they shall both be remembered with little fondness in the future. And the parties they lead will start losing popular support if both are seen to be squabbling only for political advantage.
It was hoped that the Long March would be allowed to proceed and perhaps even be facilitated by the federal government. That was not to be. So far it seems that every means possible will be used to prevent the Long March from taking place. And it also seems that positions on all sides of this confrontation have become quite hard and no obvious way out presents itself.
However, as things stand, a few things are predictable. Mr Zardari is not going anywhere, the army is not going to intervene and the Long March cannot be stopped completely. And if the PMLN government is not restored in the Punjab, the situation could deteriorate; possibly to the point where there will be complete breakdown of all law and order.
Also, if the ex-CJ is not restored in some way, the lawyers’ movement will continue. It has now taken on enough steam that it will only intensify and garner more support with time. Frankly, I am getting tired of having the Mall in Lahore blocked every Thursday morning by the marauding groups in black coats and such, making life generally miserable for all commuters.
The question then is whether the impending confrontation can be prevented. It does seem that everybody that is anybody is trying to work out some sort of compromise, and quite possibly one will be worked out by the time this article gets printed. The shape of any possible compromise and almost all its permutations have already been discussed no end.
But I do have some questions from the perspective of somebody without any legal background. The first few are, of course, about the restoration of the Punjab government to where it was before the imposition of Governor’s Rule. If such a government is restored right now, then does that mean Mr Shehbaz Sharif will become chief minister again and will his government then still be a PMLN-PPP coalition?
To me at least, it seems that the return of Mr Shehbaz Sharif will have to await the reversal of the Supreme Court decision against him and the amendment of that part of the constitution that prevents a third assumption of the chief minister’s office. As such when Governor’s Rule is removed, a new government with a new chief minister will have to be elected. But would that be acceptable to PMLN?
The other question is about the re-instatement of the ex-CJ. The constitutional conniptions required to bring him back are of course beyond my meagre comprehension, but what does bother me is his impartiality when and if he returns to the bench. Will he then not favour those that have supported him over the last two years and look unfavourably at those that opposed him? After all, the ex-CJ is a human being, not some abstract legal principle.
And what are the lawyers going to do once the CJ returns? I remember Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan saying on some TV programme or the other a while ago that he would never plead a case in the CJ’s court once the CJ is reinstated. Does that mean that all the other lawyers involved in the movement to re-instate the CJ will do the same? It would seem to me that impartiality is a bedrock principle of justice and any conflict of interest, imagined or otherwise, undermines that principle irreparably.
Finally, some sort of a deal between the PPP and the PMLN seems necessary to settle things down. Perhaps it is time for both parties to resurrect the grand coalition of a year earlier, but based on ‘enlightened’ self interest this time around instead of some fuzzy concept of honour or trust. The time to fight it out will come, but it should not be in the streets but through the ballot box.
Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reproduced by permission of Daily Times