Sunday, April 5, 2009

How long could he hold the Avalanche?

By Saeed Qureshi

How long could Zardari and his handful cohorts hold on against the lawyers’ unrelenting avalanche of protest, rolling for two years now. The state’s coercive apparatus had been copiously mobilized to suppress the public outcry on the baneful policies and the regal style of governance of the president of Pakistan. With heavy hearts, the discerning citizens helplessly watched the sheer contrast between the utterances of the slain chairperson of Pakistan Peoples Party( Parliamentarians) and her ignoble spouse who jumped over the throne of the presidency because Benazir wrote so in her will. Look at the grossly ungrateful husband to be wary and indifferent to the calls of registering an FIR of her wife’s brutal murder and mounting an investigation to catch the culprits. By following in the footprints of those rulers who had brought untold miseries upon the adherents of Bhutto and their party, he has stubbornly and impudently distanced himself from the philosophy and mission of Bhutto family.

To thwart the lawyers’ long march, he and his band had cordoned the entire country and brought it to a standstill merely to suppress the long standing protest of legal fraternity that was instrumental in the removal of Musharraf and paving way for the PPP to step into the portals of power. There were a plethora of promises that were made to recast Pakistan into the mould of a veritable successful democratic state. The cherished expectations of the people were as genuine as these were long overdue to be realized. People and the political forces both in power and out vehemently supported president Zardari and his pliant prime minister to feel comfortable with the absolute majority.

But no one had the slightest inkling that a fox was being given charge of protecting a henhouse. Whatever semblance of modest governance was left by president Musharraf has been unabashedly cast away. A civilian president has been trying to be as powerful as a military head of government. He refused to listen to neither public clamour nor the refrain of the politicians to honor the pledges that he had made to the nation. He refused to purge the constitution of the objectionable clauses that bar Pakistan from having a true parliamentary democratic edifice. He has engaged himself in throwing high profile offices and perks to his close friends without going into the intricacies, merit and laid down procedures. He bypasses his ministers and prime minister in issuing direct, dubious orders to the departments and government servants for compliances. He behaves like a monarch of the Middle Ages.

Benazir Bhutto’s footages repeatedly telecast on the Geo Television and other electronic channels show her vehemently calling for the reinstatement of the deposed members of superior judiciary with specific mention of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. She had also emphasized expunging the so called odious 17th amendment from the constitution that empowers the president, to defy the spirit of the true parliamentary democracy. These categorical enunciations by their very chairperson did not cut much ice with the PPPP cadres from the president down to the lower rank and file. It’s a sheer shame that they prefer to tread the path of a dictator than their own chairperson who besides her other sacrifices such as long exile, finally lost her life for the sake of the country. It is because of her that Asif Zardari is now the president of Pakistan.

The fact is that former president Gen Musharraf was considerably diminished after the refusal of Iftikhar to resign under pressure. The protest of the lawyers that later gathered momentum in due course, emboldened the people and the political parties to openly come out and raise the ante of protests against the Musharraf. The lawyers along with the political and civil society activists remained in a state of agitation for two years.

Ironically the promise by PPPP about restoring the deposed judges had remained unfulfilled from March 25, 2008 when the PPPP formed the government at the center with Yusuf Raza Gilani as the Prime Minister, through September 9, 2008 when Asif Zardari became president, till the D-Day of March 15, 2009. During all this period, it was expected that the party in power, would waste no time in making its promises good. But president Zardari chose to sail in the same boat which was previously occupied by the former president.

Until the deadline of March 16 given by the lawyers for reinstatement of fired judges, Asif Zardari had been offering a very intriguing logic to not restore the judges. He was not even prepared to give any credit to the agitating judges’ decisive role in the exit of the former president and restoring power to the genuine political forces. In blatant contrast to his previous promise and stark betrayal to Benazir Bhutto’s unequivocal declarations, he argued that the PPPP got power because of the backdoor arrangements for a quid pro quo and mutual accommodations with the former president. That questionable pact might have also contained the commitment not to restore the deposed judges. He further said that the mandate given to him was not for the restoration of the judges but for Roti, Kapra and Makan (bread, clothing, shelter)

The proclamation of emergency on November 3, 2007, was a response of the former president to the reinstatement of Chaudhry by an order of the Supreme Court on July 20, 2007 and to pre-empt an impending court decision against his re-election. But this move, instead of silencing the agitating lawyers proved to be the fuel to the fire of protests and his position viz a viz lawyers and civil society protesters further weakened. Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, thereafter, promptly, convened a seven-member bench which issued an interim order against this action.

The alliance between PPPP and Musharraf was unholy and unethical because it was based on partisan aggrandizement of both the contracting parties. The PPPP leaders wanted amnesty for their misdeeds while Musharraf wanted legitimacy for his illegal acts and to remain in power with the support of a political force. It was a classic example of opportunism and self interest on both the sides. It was not meant for democracy or was in the interest of the people of Pakistan.

Later with the help of PML (N) Zardari, also ousted the former president. Thereafter, he went back on his pledge of revoking the 17th amendment and the restoration of the judges. Thus by doing so he trapped himself in a situation he was now trying to get out by mercilessly using the state machinery as the dictators do. He had been stalling the reinstement of the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar under the fear that he would nullify the NRO thus reopening the money laundering and other criminal cases against him. While the PML (N) broke ranks as the coalition partner with the PPPP at the center and joined the lawyers’ movement with renewed vigor, president Zardari got the Sharif brothers disqualified from a pliant Supreme Court panel. Immediately thereafter, the Punjab government led by Shahbaz Sharif was dissolved by imposing the governor rule.

In this nerve shattering political battles first against the former president and now against president Zardari, the lawyers have emerged victorious consequently. By losing against his arch rival Nawaz Sharif and lawyers, the powerful position of president despite 58-2/B has been considerably whittled down. In a bid to marginalize his political rivals and lawyers and also to save him from the overturning of NRO, as well as to protect his mentor Musharraf, he has instead isolated himself.

With Chief Justice Chaudhry back in his hard won seat in the Supreme Court chamber, one can only conjecture that he would arraign former president Musharraf for imposition of November 3, 2007 state of emergency. This case along with the reelection of president Musharraf is still pending before the Supreme Court of Pakistan. With that, the NRO might also come under the purview of the Supreme Court. Thus the October 2007 election of Pervez Musharraf and that of Asif Zardari last year might become invalid. But one redeeming feature expected of the revival of the deposed judiciary could be overhauling and refurbishing the flawed and debased judicial system in Pakistan and removing its distortions and deformities.

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