Now what? By Ikram Sehgal

  • by

Overcoming its reservations about getting involved in the political process in counselling wisdom to Zardari quietly, the US kept up a drumbeat of pressure, culminating in Hillary Clinton’s late-night calls to the main State and non-State actors concerned. The lawyers’ protest turned ugly with the police violence in Karachi, displaying far more venom a la Taseer in Lahore a day later. As Mian Nawaz Sharif boldly forced his way through the police barriers outside his home the police melted, a “silent” rebellion consequently swept through its rank and file. The manifestation of political force in the streets finally removed all roadblocks to constitutional sanity. The snowflakes of change became a snowball, and then gathering momentum, turned into a landslide.

Salmaan Taseer made a laughingstock of himself by his contemptuous dismissing of the long march “as being lucky to gather even 100 people,” the streets swelled to several hundred thousand protestors. By the time Mian Sahib crossed the Ravi Bridge the endgame was clearly near. When late in the evening of the Ides of March Gen Kayani advised the president the Army would not fire on the protestors, the PM finally mustered the necessary courage to get off the political failsafe line and do what he had been promising for sometime, his duty to the nation as the executive head of government. Persuaded that discretion was the better part of valour, the president lived to fight another day in his presidential bunker.

Fifteen months ago, on Jan 31, 2008, I had written about Zardari’s predecessor: “Pervez Musharraf must do comprehensive re-evaluation of his own position, making compromises to bring harmony between rhetoric, perception and reality. He is too smart not to know that the dice is loaded against him, he should not try to brazen it out but to come to terms with reality. His lonely task is to decide (before others do it for him), how to keep his destiny and that of Pakistan in sync.” Till giving up his uniform as COAS, President Musharraf wielded absolute authority, doing more or less what befits a monarch! The two US$64,000 questions were: (1) could civilian Zardari be able to emulate Musharraf in similarly cashing political cheques he was writing at his sweet will using the strength of the uniform and (3) could the Army afford to reinforce this public perception?

Musharraf says Zardari and Kayani frequently “consult” him. One can believe Zardari turning to him, and Kayani will certainly accord respect and consideration to his former COAS. Why he would still give him the time of the day on matters of State is incomprehensible. Rumours are that Musharraf is actively seeking a political power base in Karachi, he is to be applauded for choosing this democratic route. He is certainly popular in this port city, will his political ambitions go anywhere without the MQM, its founder and long-time leader, Altaf Hussain, being persuaded to share power, albeit by proxy? Musharraf’s certainly has courage, without the cover of the uniform the political route is fraught with legal landmines. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry may not seek retribution, others may not be that charitable.

To quote my article before Musharraf resigned as president on Aug 18, 2008: “The silver lining is that the President now has a historic opportunity to correct two great wrongs, viz (1) scrap the National Reconciliation Order (NRO) and/or (2) annul his action of Nov 3 and restore the superior judiciary. Restoring the superior judiciary will put himself at risk but in the circumstances what has he got to lose? The onus of responsibility will then be firmly on Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to revoke the NRO. He is morally bound to send this black law to the dustbin. This will be Iftikhar Chaudhry’s real acid test, was all the rhetoric about the rule of law during his long period out in the cold mere lip-service and Musharraf-specific?” The test of Iftikhar Chaudhry’s integrity will be measured by how (and when) he consigns NRO to history.

The period from Aug 18, 2008, to Mar 15, 2009, has matured Mian Nawaz Sharif politically, Asif Ali Zardari contributing to his education that political agreements are sometimes not worth the paper they are written on. One hopes his future decision-making will be rational instead of letting his emotions be swayed either by feigned charm or by the raw adulation of adoring masses. His continued support for the democratic system in place today is vital, there must be no “Minus One” agenda, the president must continue in office. On the other hand, will he now act as a constitutional president and do what is right by PPP and the country, letting Yusuf Raza Gilani exercise his powers as PM? Will the PPP co-chairman get all the close aides of PPP’s tragically assassinated leader Ms Benazir back into the inner power circle, their right by merit of their long struggle?

Whatever was said on Aug 7, 2008, about the many problems the country is facing remains true today: “The Federal Cabinet must be re-formed and expanded to include all political parties, a truly national government to meet the crisis as one united nation. Our leaders should stand fast in the face of clear and present danger, or stand aside and let others do the job.” We must not forget to eulogise the services of leaders who are presently out of Parliament like Imran Khan, Qazi Hussain Ahmad and others. Imran Khan’s Tehrik-i-Insaaf (TI) has finally caught the imagination of the public, his political star is clearly ascendant. A mechanism must be found to get all our national leaders into Parliament, voices like Imran Khan’s need to be heard in framing the future vision of Pakistan.

All the visible gains of the Ides of March will be lost if complacency sets in and vital pending issues that have disfigured the Constitution are not tackled swiftly and effectively. Other than cleansing the judiciary, declaration of assets, repealing 58 (2) (b) and the 17th Amendment, the proposed 18th Amendment must be enacted quickly to ensure that. The future of our country will only be secure when the Sword of Damocles is not kept hanging over the PM’s head and he fully exercises the executive powers guaranteed to him by the Constitution in a parliamentary democracy.

The writer is a defence and political

analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9 .com

Leave a Reply