Friday, July 29, 2011

A Determined Chief Justice: A Defiant Prime Minister

July 28, 2011

By Saeed Qureshi

The tug of war now apace between the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Prime Minister Gilani and the PPP government is for divergent purposes. The Apex court under the chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry with a fame of absolute propriety is determined to uphold the rule of law.

On the contrary, prime minister and some of his ministers are entrenched to thwart the Supreme Court’s decisions and rulings that involve such of their close kith and even themselves.

For instance prime minister’s own son Abdul Qadir Gilani is one of the culprits involved in the huge Haj scandal. The principal character in that abhorrent scam is the former Minister for Religious Hamid Saeed Kazmi charged for money laundering, corruption of mega scale and mismanagement for pilgrims at Mecca.

The prime minister was incensed when in accord with the Supreme Court’s orders; the secretary establishment Suhail Ahmed transferred Hussain Asghar, the investigative officer in the Haj scandal case back to the FIA.

In return the prime minister immediately removed the secretary from the prestigious post and demoted him as an OSD. The Supreme Court has taken a strong notice of that action and has sternly called upon the prime minister to reverse the orders.

As similar situation arose when in the NICL (National Insurance Corporation Limited) corruption case, a former secretary establishment Rauf Chaudhry reinstated Zafar Qureshi additional DIG as the investigating officer. Mr. Chaudhry was also removed from his post and made an OSD.

It is auspicious that the Pakistan’s army is not meddling in these contentious and sordid affairs. The army might be keeping a vigil from a distance but so far all is quiet on their front.

Sometime back, the Supreme Court’s appointed benches had started reviewing the NRO cases that were swept under the carpet of amnesty. The party in power is ambivalent on the Supreme Court’s judgment on NRO and is in no mood to make any headway on the follow up measures.

The PPP government is blowing hot and cold at the same time thus emitting mixed signals of both compliance and non compliance of the court’s ruling. Initially they announced acceptance of the courts decisions what these might be. But the implicit fallout on the ministers accused of misuse of power and bribe, has provoked stiff and defiant reaction from the government.

On the whole the government’s stance has been that the accused ministers will not resign their posts. Their only recourse is left to get themselves bailed out from the relevant courts as law minister Babar Awan had done well in time. The inimitable interior minister Rehman Malik did the same.

But the situation is not that much placid: it is simmering with dormant turbulence that can explode in the time to come. Such a chaos can burst out in case of a clash between the court’s orders and the executive's refusal or foot dragging on complying with those orders.

It is foregone that the Supreme Court’s landmark decisions on various high profile and unprecedented corruption cases has rocked the government and the things are not going to be peaceful or amicable.

The government stalwarts in the recent past had been throwing hints of hostile action or interference by the forces which were outlined as ISI and the army by the then government’s defense lawyer Kamal Azfar.

This disclosure must have created strong tidal waves in the army which has so far demonstrated allegiance to the incumbent government. The pre-emptive apprehensions and anticipatory warning shots by the government look premature and childish.

The case of the defense minister Ahmed Mukhtar is indicative of the government’s resolve to fight back if there was a situation of protecting the common cause and monolithic interests of the ruling cabal.

The defiance bordering on unusual bravado displayed by the so called moderate prime minister in the brief encounter with the journalists in December 2009 betokened the mood of the government.

The prime minister was in an aggressive posture and categorically ruled out the arrest of the NRO affected ministers including the interior minister Rehman Malik. Rehman Malik showed prudence by pledging to respect the court’s proceeding and directions, whatsoever.

The PPP inner cabinet that met from time to time invariably put up defiant postures by hurling accusations at the forces that it alleged was out to derail the democratic process.

The PPP”s claim that it brought the democracy back to Pakistan rings hollow because when the civil society was up in arms against dictator Musharraf , PPP was busy in closed door rooms to strike a bargain with him under the NRO.

The PPP government later remained as hostile to the restoration of the senior judges as was Musharraf. The stormy agitation of the lawyers and political workers and media, sans PPP cadres forced president Zardari, at the last moment, to restore the sacked judges.

So PPP does not have a valid claim of fighting for the revival of democracy and restoration of the removed judges. It did manipulate its victory in the elections that were won on the slogan of changing the status quo, revival of 1973 constitution and making policies for welfare of the people and the country and exposing Benazir Bhutto’s murderers.

However, it didn’t make good its promises made to the people of Pakistan and to its own political allies. Instead it unleashed such governance which was worse even than that of Pervez Musharraf. The PPP”s performance and credentials pose a big question mark.
If PPP delays, defies, sidetracks or hinders smooth compliance of the Supreme Court orders, there is going to be a real problematic situation. If such a standoff takes place and the government keeps sacking the bureaucrats obeying the court’s orders as has been in various cases, then who is going to ensure the respectability for and compliance of the court’s fiat?

Will it be done via street protests by the lawyers, the civil society or through pressure from the armed forces? It is possible that the court in that situation under the constitutional caveat 190 asks the army to pressurize the government for enforcement of the court’s orders with regard to the detention, arrest, or jailing the indicted cabinet ministers or similar stalwarts.

That should be a simple application of pressure by the army and not take-over. As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court can only issue orders. It doesn’t have physical force to get those orders complied with. The army’s pressure can be viewed as a kind of intrusion as variously pointed out by the PPP ministers and party leaders.

The Sindh card is a very clumsy and counterproductive bid to demonstrate PPP’s prowess to counter-attack the political adversaries. But if late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto could not cash on the Sindh card that he had also threatened to use against his incarceration by the military regime of General Ziaul haq, how can Mr. Zardari or PPP burdened with innumerable controversies and myriad corruption scams and bad governance can use it to their advantage.

This would be injurious to the national unity and may even backfire against its promoters. At least MQM would never be part of it because it being an ethnic entity can also become one of its targets.

Presently for all indications the incumbent federal government is under siege. It appears doubtful that despite its making lowly compromises to stay in power, it can complete its term of five years.

In retaliation to the government foot dragging on seriously abiding by the apex court’s various orders, the PFUJ, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMNL) and Imran Khan chief of Tehrik-i-Insaf among other civil society segments have vowed to launch an anti-government movement and in support of the supreme court, for rule of law and constitutional ascendancy.

There is no visible way-out for the government to dither or suppress cases such as Harris Steel Mills case, the Swiss Bank accounts of the president of Pakistan, the Pakistan steel mills sale at throw away price, and later cheap selling if its products to hundreds of buyers causing an accumulative loss of Rs. 43.25 billion from 2009 to June 2011.

The Haj scandal, the NICL gubernatorial money making scam and pending follow- up action on NRO stare in the face of the incumbent government.

In view of the Supreme Court’s blurring verdicts and the pronounced call of agitation by various civil society groups and political parties, the government is proverbially caught between the devil and the deep sea.

If the government keeps bracing against the Supreme Court and goes on stalling the follow-up administrative measures, it has no future.

The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat
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