Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Deadened by deadlines

This question has constantly been posed during the past few months: why is Asif Ali Zardari so hesitant to restore the deposed judges, particularly Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry? Yes, the National Reconciliation Ordinance is generally mentioned in conversations that take place on this issue. Speculation, of course, could extend to somewhat trivial matters, though the perception that the Americans do not want Justice Chaudhry to head the Supreme Court has the weight of a veto of some sort.

Be that as it may, Maulana Fazlur Rehman was rather candid on Friday night when he told Kamran Khan of Geo that Zardari had told him about why he needs time to restore the judges. This is because of his dealings with different forces — quwwaton — in the process that saw the departure of Pervez Musharraf. This does seem very credible. And many might condone this ploy for reasons of expediency.

How would one react to this revelation by the redoubtable Maulana, himself quite adept in playing politics? As for the people who are opposed to the restoration of the judges, a small minority at the popular level, any justification for such dalliance would be fine. But there has been considerable evidence, based on properly conducted public opinion polls, that an overwhelming majority of the people of Pakistan support the lawyers’ movement. And if this logic is to be negated in a democratic dispensation, what is all this hullabaloo about the demise of dictatorship?

Another question that is very relevant relates to the identity of the forces that may have persuaded Zardari to renege on solemn agreements that he had made in writing and in public, something that flies in the face of his macho image. The obvious explanation is that it could either be the military establishment in the country or the United States or both. This is what realpolitik is all about.

However, this realisation also brings into question the manner in which the impeachment drive against Musharraf was orchestrated. Apparently, some political elements were taken for a ride in this process. Besides, if extra-democratic elements – to be seen as extra-constitutional – have such sway at this stage of our present arrangement, the prospect of Pakistan finding its sense of direction becomes very unsure.

In any case, Nawaz Sharif has agreed to a new deadline for the restoration of the judges and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has assured that there is no scope for a minus-one formula. Thus, Wednesday, August 27, is the new D-day. This development has taken place at a time when Pakistan is slipping deeper into crisis, with economy in a virtual meltdown and the surge of militant and terrorist forces in the northern areas is becoming more and more alarming.

Indeed, the two suicides bomb blasts that took place on the outer gates of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories in Wah Cantonment on Thursday are extremely scary. It is instructive that the Taliban readily claimed responsibility and threatened more such strikes. Every major city in the country is vulnerable. According to one report, shopkeepers of the Rainbow Centre in Karachi, the grand bazaar of entertainment CDs and videos, have been warned to close their business. The writ of the state is being constantly challenged, with impunity.

On the economic front, too, the situation is very grim. Our rupee weakened to a record low on Friday. It fell — or rose? — to 77.15 against the dollar. This could not have been imagined in the recent past. The stock market has also been falling. There are other very striking reminders of growing disorder in the economic realm, one of them being the partial strike of goods transporters at the Karachi port.

Because of these major disruptions, little attention is being paid to the overall law and order situation and the social disarray that this environment has aggravated. One example: two women were killed by the Taliban “moral force” in Peshawar on Wednesday. Expressing shock and alarm over this incident, Asma Jahangir of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan noted “the extremists’ tactic of taking human lives on whims”. To add to all this, South Africa has pulled out of next month’s ICC Champions Trophy, citing security fears.

Meanwhile, there is also a new focus on the presidential election. You could have forecast the PPP chorus in support of Zardari’s candidature, though as president he would not be able to preside over the affairs of the party and dominate the political exercise of power. As a ‘proclaimed offender’, in terms of my sympathy for the PPP, I am worried about the manner in which the party is making its decisions. There is no indication of any serious and sincere debate being conducted within the higher ranks on very crucial matters.

It was only on Monday that Musharraf had announced his resignation, with a very unconvincing elucidation of how he thought he had served this country. In a sense, this was a great victory of the people’s will as it was expressed in the February elections. It also called for jubilation among political and civil society activists. Yet doubts lingered about how this departure had been arranged and the involvement of foreign mediators was so obvious. One can only imagine what could have happened if he were a politician and not a former chief of the army. And they would still talk about the supremacy of law and of constitution.

Because of this rush of events and the predicament regarding the restoration of judges, a major event that took place only this week has, to some extent, receded into the background. We feel totally engrossed in the judiciary issue and, at another level, in what is happening on the ground with reference to the economy and the war against terrorism. Six months have past since the elections and the pace at which the rulers are moving remains disconcerting.

It would be pointless to remind our rulers that they were swept into power, without any doubt, by the tide that was raised by the lawyers, the media and the civil society activists after that defiance shown by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on March 9, 2007. It is undeniable that without the lawyers’ movement, the outcome that we had on February 18 this year would not be possible.

It would be a great tragedy if this movement is not fully vindicated and the consequences are bound to be dreadful in terms of our survival as a democracy. We still have not come to terms with the loss of East Pakistan. One aching regret is that our politicians did not mobilise public opinion in West Pakistan about what was happening in the eastern wing of the country. This time, though, the people have spoken. But can our present rulers hear this voice?

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