Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank.
Zardari’s options and the “Political statement”
Pakistan People’s Party Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari on Monday went back on his word about judges’ restoration in 30 days, agreed in the Murree Declaration. Talking to a private TV channel, he said what he along with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif announced in Murree was just a political statement and it could be interpreted in different ways. He might be suggesting that political statements are based on political expediencies and conveniences, and are disposable. Putting it simply his statement might be construed as the kind of confession about conducting politics that borders on dishonesty or outright deceit. The aspiring future military dictators must be delighted to read the statement as Mr. Zardari might be disseminating the message and image of politics and politicians generals always do, i.e., maligning the politicians and politics.
This is not the first time Mr. Zardari has tried to evade the issue of reinstatement of the judges deposed on that fateful night of 3rd November when the constitution of Pakistan was desecrated by a government servant under oath to protect it. That night Pakistan was ridiculed throughout the world and it lost much of the goodwill it earned after 9/11. The public reaction to this unlawful act was so intense that all politicians had to support the deposed judges including Zardari but they are finding fulfillment of their promises difficult. Some PPP sympathizers remind us about the past of some deposed judges and their oath taking under another PCO and at other times they find hard to forgive them for Zardari’s long stay in jail without bail. Surprisingly they are ready to forgive judges taking 2 oaths under PCOs but not one. They are ready to forgive the people who put him in jail but not the judges who were working with a loaded gun pointing on their heads. In the name of reconciliation he is again ready to forgive people implicated in a series of massacres, even the very recent ones, but not the deposed judges. At times he appears to be defending the indefensible and appear like supporting usurpers at all costs.
To understand these obvious discrepancies in the attitude of Mr. Zardari we have to analyze the situation rationally taking a detached view to really comprehend the options available to him and his limitations.
The actual issue is that Gen Musharraf well aware of his inability to contest Presidential elections legally committed a blatant unconstitutional act. Fearing the non-pliability of the CJ and other judges he sacked them en masse. Now the PPP made a political deal with the General who promised to share power with the party. So here the major beneficiary is the PPP, which also has the most to lose. The fee it demanded for providing public support to a very unpopular General was immunity from the dozens of cases some of which were close to being decided. This also explains why our military dictators are quick to send cases against politicians to the courts but reluctant to get decisions, as pending cases with proof’s make the politicians pliable and hence useful for them. General Musharraf provided this immunity in the name of National Reconciliation Ordinance and then helped in letting him contest elections despite being a non-graduate.
The major issue here is that if the illegal and seditious actions of 3rd November are reversed it will cause 2 major problems; 1. Presidential election of Musharraf would be annulled, as it is too obvious and 2. The NRO might be negated exposing Mr. Zardari who can afford neither. This makes it quite understandable why he is avoiding the judge’s issue despite the enormous public pressure. Sometimes he wants to reduce the term, at other times he wants to curtail the powers of the CJ to constitute benches and wants to keep the PCO judges to create a split. Apparently he is trying to protect the general president from the law of the country. Chances are that he will continue to sabotage the struggle for the restoration of judiciary without declaring it.
Although the above-mentioned pressures are enough to explain his reluctance about reinstatement of the judiciary, the matter gets even more complicated with the obvious foreign involvement. The simple fact that our politicians are traveling so much and holding discussions abroad is a clear sign that our matters are decided there. US was the guarantor of the deal between the PPP and Musharraf and it still finds him useful. Then there are a host of other smaller countries enjoying considerable power in Pakistani politics playing their role making the people of Pakistan the most unimportant factor. So much for our national sovereignty.
Can we realistically expect from a politician carrying a heavy baggage of his past to defy the powers? Can he stand up to the people who have the proofs against him for corruption? Can he disregard the demands of foreign powers well aware of his bank accounts and assets? The answers are certainly not simple.
Maybe Zardari just doesn’t have the options the nation is expecting from him as his hands appear to be tied mercilessly. Despite this apparently bleak situation the prospects aren’t that desolate and the brightest ray of hope is the recent public awakening and the ending of chronic apathy of the civil society. This might be the most hopeful thing to happen to Pakistan since a long time. The relatively fair elections of 2008, or the recent retreat of Gen Musharraf weren’t due to someone’s benevolence but the direct consequence of the check on the dictator created by the lawyers, media and the civil society. We don’t need to be grateful to anyone except Allah for these gains as we earned them and paid a heavy price for them. Our hope lies in creating sufficient public pressure on Zardari, which neutralizes the different opposing pressures.
Leaders unlike intellectuals don’t initiate change rather ride the waves of public opinion. Zardari must be convinced of the political dangers associated with siding with a constitution breaking general. If he is sufficiently persuaded of the resolve of the civil society not to surrender to the usurpers again, he might free himself of the numerous shackles around him. After all even the foreign players deal with him because they perceive he can affect the public opinion in Pakistan due to the Bhutto name he has somehow inherited. If he loses the public support, he will lose his utility for the foreign powers making him irrelevant and vulnerable. The nation should provide him the indemnity the General did freeing him of the worries of his past. Pakistanis are very magnanimous and forgiving and they have shown their support for the PPP and its leadership on February 18th. By reinstating the deposed judge’s side Zardari might be risking his government and even his personal liberty and reputation. We must emancipate him by supporting and protecting him to enable him to make independent judgments. By doing this we would be protecting our liberty the dictators stole a long time back with the help of foreign powers.
Liberty is not a gift of God alone but a hard won achievement with the help of God, after all He helps only those who help themselves. The condition upon which God has given liberty to man is eternal vigilance and we must guard our hard earned liberty very jealously. We cannot afford to be complacent about it. No constitution, no court, no law can save liberty when it dies in the hearts and minds of men and women and we must never allow it to happen. We have been repeatedly used and abused by foreign powers with the help of local collaborating dictators and suffered very badly for it. The recent awakening of our civil society can and should be the strongest guard against this dreadful risk. The simple message of the civil society prevailing over the status quo forces representing the foreigners can solve most of our problems. We must continue our struggle and help Mr. Zardari fulfill his promise. If he still doesn’t, he runs the risk of Qleaging the PPP, ZABs party, the party representing the poor, the party that could not be destroyed by the atrocities of Zia. If that happens, it would be another tragedy of 16th December and 3rd November scale.