Promise is a Promise; Pakistan proves and PPP falls
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, front, reacts as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad looks on, background, during a summit of Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) in Tehran, Iran Wednesday March, 11, 2009. Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are members of ECO. (AP)
"After Musharraf is gone both Zardari and Sharif will collide," – "A nation founded on ‘Unity, Discipline and Faith’ has fallen into such a perplexed situation today. It wouldn’t be too long before one gets to hear ‘Go, Zardari, go."
The above two quotations were part of what I wrote in another paper on August 13, 2008, and September 3, 2008 respectively. Both Zardari and Sharif collided immediately after forming government. Last week Go, Zardari, go’ was heard in the hook and corner of Lahore. A year ago, it was ‘Go, Musharaff, go’ through out the country. When will Zardari go? Though President Zardari has become increasingly unpopular his party retains enough support in parliament to make an impeachment unlikely but it is quite doubtful whether he would complete his term.
His aim is to change the baton to his son Bilawal  after he finishes his studies from Oxford, so that Bhutto Doctrine would carry on. Asif Ali Zardari has enjoyed the "fruit" of his wife’s tenure for which he was imprisoned for nine years. Under no circumstance he would easily give up. Wall Street Journal said ‘the possible collapse of Zardari’s government could take some time to play out’.
"The grassroots support is melting away. This party can not survive if he does not continue the popular politics of Madam Bhutto and her father, Zulfikar Bhutto, the party’s founder. The current leader has withdrawn in to his bunker", said Dr.Abbasi, a PPP senator. It is true. President Zardari has hardly been seen out side. Media reported that 15th Sunday the White Palace was surrounded by a ring of shipping containers, creating what one news paper called an "iron wall" in the heart of Islamabad.
In a front-page commentary on 16th Monday in the influential English-language newspaper Dawn, Editor Zaffar Abbas spoke of a "besieged leader" holed up in his presidential palace, gazing out at the maze of fortifications that had been erected to keep protesters from the capital. Zardari is used to such confined life. Even his prison term was spent in solitary in a building or hospital.
On his address to the UN General Assembly on 26th September 2008, he said "I am a democratic President of a democratic country that intends to be a model to our region and to our religion, for a vibrant, modern, tolerant, peaceful, moderate democracy committed to economic and social justice. People, including my wife, died for this movement. We will not waste their sacrifices". There is no semblance of his statement in any sphere where he practiced democracy in his six month rule. On the contrary the president has been accused of overreaching his official powers by enforcing decisions and appointments that legally should be made by the Prime Minister.
Benazir had a deal with President Musharaff, initiated by Washington that corruption cases against her and her husband would be dropped, and amnesty would be given with constitutional changes which will enable her and Musharaff to be Prime Minister and President respectively. To mend or bend the law, Musharraf needed a favourable Chief Justice. Surreptiously independent minded Ifthikar Muhammad Chaudhry was replaced by Abdul Hamid Dogar.
Chaudhry is a maverick who confronted powerful politicians and military officers calling them to court in 2006 and 2007 over corruption and human rights abuses. He also let the Supreme Court consider a petition that challenged a Musharraf order setting aside corruption charges from the 1990s against Zardari and other politicians. Though Benazir accepted Musharraf as President, she insisted he should not be Army Chief any more as he has passed the age. In between she died.
As Benazir’s assassination strained relationship with Musharaff, in addition to ‘the Charter of Democracy’, which the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif signed in London, Pakistan’s People’s Party PPP headed by Asif Ali Zardari made an electoral agreement with former Prime Minister Nawas Sheriff’s Muslim League, where the main point was to reinstate Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other deposed judges, and release the detained lawyers. It said ‘the next day Musharraf leaves, the judges would be reinstated.’
After gaining power Zardari somersaulted and ignored the promise of reinstating the Chief Justice fearing he might make void the amnesty he got from Musharraf appointed CJ. Nawas Sheriff went to town with the agreement papers. Zardari’s reply stunned Pakistan. He said the said agreement could be altered according to the situation since it is not The Holy Qur’an — verses of God. What a hypocrisy!
In fact, Zardari flirted with Musharaff till he got the amnesty passed and then went to Nawas Sheriff to impeach Musharaff. He torpedoed Nawas Sheriff and entered the presidential election without consulting him. Now he was alleged to have influenced the Chief Justice to disqualify Nawas Sheriff and his brother Shahbaz Sheriff from holding political office. Will they keep quiet?
What followed the court verdict of February 25th till the 15th March is history. In a way one may not be wrong to think that the gun attack on Sri Lankan cricketers on the 3rd March could have been an outcome of the administrative instability created by the political chaos in Lahore.
What surprised the NDTV watchers on Monday 16th March early morning was, the channel was playing a card that the Pakistan Prime Minister would address the nation shortly. Perplexed were those who went to bed watching the mammoth procession Nawas Sheriff was leading and shouting, ‘now or never’ calling the youth to come to the streets to guard democracy, where as it was more of senior citizens behaving like in a college big match. One thing assured was no violence in sight and people were joyous.
There came, about 6 am, the Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousuf Raza Gilani, "In keeping with the promise made by the President and me, I announce the restoration of all deposed judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, to their posts. Chaudhry will assume the post of Chief Justice once current incumbent Abdul Hamid Dogar retires on March 21. A notification to this effect is being issued now" Gilani said. What a miracle? How did the whole scene change?
In Pakistan the military used to be equally powerful with people’s governments. In a way it was a cat and mouse game for the military to take charge when ever a government floundered. But this time military became the guardian of democracy. Well, the moment Nawas Sheriff announced his long march, armed forces sensed trouble. Army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, a Musharraf appointee met the Prime Minister and asked the government to settle the political dispute before the 16th..
Though Kayani said army had no intention for power, his gesture was taken as an ultimatum and rumour was ripe that an army coup was in the offing. Following, he met the President Zardari and requested him to relent to opposition request to avoid unnecessary clash in the country. Gilani too suggested to oblige the campaign promises. But the President was defiant, relying on a few advisers under estimated popular demands, and had his own counter plan. People’s Party’s many senior members were horrified by the authoritarian measures Zardari ordered to suppress the march.
But on Sunday 15th the situation in Lahore turned quite different. The police that baton charged and used tear gas to disperse the crowd in the morning was surprised to see a sea of people gathering in the after noon as Sheriff was on the road and Lahore was fully in support of the opposition. Slowly they disappeared from the streets for their own safety.
The early hours of 16th was quiet decisive in Pakistan’s politics or history. As law and order was slipping rapidly Gen. Kayani had a marathon discussion with President Zardari in the presence of the PM where the army chief told bluntly that the President could not rely on soldiers to confront the protesters who were threatening to descend on Islamabad, and "the army would not shoot people to defend you", specifically he said. Kayani’s message was that you have created this problem and you solve it.
It was said, the army chief had been "invisible but around, fully informed and acting through well-timed and effective influence in the right quarter. The whole episode proved, a promise is a promise and mistreating the Chief Justice was unwise. President Zardari’s political set back has brought about family displeasure. Now he has to do some damage control for his own survival as the prestige of Nawas Sheriff and Gilani has soared many folds as good democrats.
Pakistan’s benchmark stock index jumped next day by as much as 5.6 %, the most in nine months. Pakistan stocks may rise about 30 percent by year-end as the nation’s political tension eases, Credit Suisse Group AG said in a report. This alone showed who was right, who was wrong.
Courtesy: Arab News