Pakistan is a theatre that is seldom vacant – high-voltage dramas are part and parcel of the country. The one thing that has remained constant in the flux of characters is the plot, which has remained tripartite – army, civilian government and judiciary. Another thing that has remained constant is the internecine turf war that has been the dominant theme of all the dramas; fortunes have fluctuated but none of the dramas have culminated in a clear-cut victory of any of the three.
The one protagonist that has assumed ascendancy not long ago is the higher judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court and the character that embodies this party is the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. His latest assault has been on Yousuf Raza Gilani who has now become a ‘sidekick’ as the ‘ex-Prime Minister’ of Pakistan.
Gilani, seen as an ardent pillar of democracy both inside and outside of his Pakistan People’s Party, has been in the cross hairs of Chaudhry ever since the judge wanted to reopen the graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari even though Zardari has already served 8 years imprisonment for the charges. Chaudhry revoked the amnesty of the President against prosecution under charges of corruption in 2009 and ever since, the two arms of the state have locked horns in a war of one-upmanship.
Zardari has been accused of embezzlement of funds and stashing them in a Swiss bank account. The Court had ordered Gilani to write to the Swiss authorities and reopen the cases. Gilani had cited Presidential amnesty and refused to do so. He also cited that the cases had been already dismissed by a Swiss court on merit. In April this year, the Supreme Court had charged Gilani with contempt of court in so much as he had failed to carry out an express missive of the highest judicial authority, and convicted him. The conviction was token and
Gilani was spared a jail term.
In his direct confrontation with Chaudhry, Gilani came out even more powerful and the
tokenism symbolised by the conviction was seen as his personal victory. In fact, Gilani has been a popular leader even as Zardari has been equally unpopular with both the opposition and the people.
Barely a couple of months later, Chaudhry turned this into a pyrrhic victory for Gilani as the Supreme Court disqualified Gilani from Majlis-i-Shoora, the Parliament, and also from the post of the Prime Minister. But why?
The Supreme Court gave the argument that it had taken this decision because Gilani had failed to make an appeal against the former conviction and thus the Prime Minister stood disqualified with the effect from 26 April 2012 the date of his conviction. But a lot needs to be explained.Why has this verdict come just after the Memogate commission, instituted by this very court, pronounced former Pakistani diplomat to the United States, Hussain Haqqani, as a traitor for having allegedly authorised the memo that was delivered just after the killing of Osama bin Laden to Joint Chief of Staff of America, Michael Mullen? The memo asked the United States to help in case of an impending army coup.
Why has this verdict come just after the Chief Justice’s son, Dr. Arsalan Haider, has been accused of receiving millions of dollars from the real estate mogul, Malik Riaz? Interestingly, Riaz claims that he had given this money to Arsalan to influence the outcome of a number of cases pending against him, from murder to illegal land grab. Another noteworthy fact is that Riaz is supposed to be very close to the army and has earned the epithet of the ‘most powerful man in Pakistan’ for having many top officials on his payroll. These questions attain paramount political significance in the light of the accusations that have been levelled against the Supreme Court and the army establishment. The perception that found resonance in Haqqani’s words is that the Supreme Court is working hand in glove with the army. Haqqani has alleged that his real crime was a pro-America stance in a domestic mileu where anti-Americanism has become the staple of official and public discourse. In the case of Gilani it must be remembered that of late he had become highly critical of the army, especially in the wake of Memogate when the army tried to malign the government.
Given this bitterness between these two protagonists, the disqualification of Gilani raises serious doubts regarding the bona fides of the Supreme Court and Chaudhry. If Chaudhry is such a staunch supporter of democracy and civilian rights, is he in the right in pronouncing this verdict? There might be, experts believe, pressure upon Iftikhar Chaudhry to do so from the army whence the latter wants Gilani out of the equation. Also, it is convenient for Chaudhry as it deflects
attention from him to somewhere else. For sure, now that the political situation has again become so fluid, not many would be talking of Chaudhry and his son.
Whatever be the truth behind all these matters, what emerges is the fact that our neighbour is going from bad to worse day by day. The judiciary that had been elevated in the eyes of the people in an otherwise systemic failure stands accused itself. The army is trying to nurse its hurt vanity post-Osama assassination and is trying to put pressure on the civilian government through numerous tortuous machinations. Some quarters within the civilian establishment believe that Memogate might have been the handiwork of the army and ISI to discredit the Zardari regime. Some also believe that the army might be working in tandem with Riaz.
Obviously, this entire quagmire in Pakistan does not augur well for its neighbours. The exit strategy of NATO forces announced by Obama during the Chicago Summit of the alliance has further complicated matters. Pakistan has become all the more intransigent on the issue of drone bombings within Pakistani territory and has refused opening transit routes via its frontiers for NATO forces to ply to Afghanistan even after numerous parleys with the United States.
India must closely watch the situation in Pakistan as any further destabilisation will surely open the window for another army coup which could spoil India’s game in the region. India has invested a lot in Afghanistan to
proffer its soft power status and a Pakistan under military dictatorship is the last thing that both India and Afghanistan would want.
Asif Ali Zardari:President
One of the most controversial and unpopular leaders in Pakistan, he is often called ‘Mr. Ten Percent’. He is supposed to be an accidental President: he came to power riding on the assassination of his wife and ex-premier of Pakistan, Late
Benazir Bhutto. His tenure has been full of turmoil, and relations with America have touched a new low. He is dogged by corruption cases which the Supreme Court has sought to be reopened. His reign has seen Osama being found and killed in Pakistan. He denies any involvement in ‘Memogate’.
Yousuf Raza Gilani:Ex-Prime minister
‘There can’t be a state within the state. They have to be answerable to this parliament’, is how he sees the army−government relations. Became increasingly vociferous in his criticism of the army and perhaps, paid for by his disqualification. Refused to reopen graft cases against Zardari citing President’s immunity and the Supreme Court gave him a token punishment in April 2012. He had not appealed against the conviction as he feared an even strong reaction from the Court; also he did not want to alienate the Court. He did not see the disqualification coming.
Parvez Musharraf: last Dictator
The last military dictator of Pakistan. Later became President. Stepped down in 2008. Since then has been in exile. Though unpopular, he is still seen as a potent figure in Pakistani politics. Announced his return which caused a lot of flutter in the country. He is liable to be arrested and tried for not having given adequate protection to Late Benazir Bhutto, which led to her assassination. The military is likely to view his return with suspicion.
Nawaz Sharif:Opposition Leader
He is the main Opposition leader in Pakistan. He is the President of Pakistan’s second largest political party, Pakistan Muslim League-N. Twice Prime Minister in the past. Many believe that had Benazir not been assassinated, he would have come to power. Has kept his cards close to his chest and is waiting for the opportune moment, though many believe that he has failed to play the role of Opposition. He was the one to highlight the ‘Memogate’ scandal and accused the President of complicity.
Imran Khan:Leader of Tehreek-e-Insaf
The former international cricketer is the head of Tehreek-i-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party but has failed to make much of a mark on the political scene despite being there for long. Recently, he has become quite popular riding on widespread disenchantment and his clean image among the urban population. He has been called politically immature. He has given the slogan of cleansing the polity of corruption. He may not be close to seizing power but is ostensibly the army’s blue eyed boy.
Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary:chief Justic
The Chief Justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court. He became the symbol of people’s opposition to Musharraf’s dictatorship. Became the poster boy of public resistance against corruption and oppression. Has been in the eye of storm as his son is accused of taking money to influence the Court in cases against a powerful real estate tycoon. Chaudhry recused himself from the bench hearing the case. Has also been accused of working in tandem with the army and of being populist in his selection of cases. Hussain Haqqani, ex-ambassador to the United States and accused in ‘Memogate’, alleged that he is close to jihadists.
Gen. Ashfaq kayani:Army Chief
Has presided over the most difficult times for the army. Came under heavy criticism after Osama was found and killed by America without informing anyone within Pakistan, seen to have harboured Osama instead. He drew a lot of flak from the United States. Has long been suspected of planning a coup. Also, drone attacks by Americans have killed a lot of his men along with innocent civilians. Thought of being the mastermind of ‘Memogate’, case against Iftikhar’s son and suspected of plotting Gilani’s disqualification.