Zardari at a crossroads – An analysis by Mahmood Sham

Perhaps, the members of the central executive committee of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) do not realise that this meeting is taking place at an extremely decisive juncture of the Zardari era. The apolitical forces have made up their mind to oust a political president.

So much moral pressure has been exerted on the presidency of Zardari through the media, judiciary and the coalition partners of the PPP that these forces believe there would no serious reaction in a few circles in Sindh in case he is removed from the office and there would be calm after a few days.

These forces claim US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after reviewing the situation herself, has signalled from Washington that they would issue statement saying that it is internal matter of Pakistan. These quarters do not think that Zardari has some trump card to stop any such development.

It is to be seen as to which way out is suggested by the PPP central executive committee to its leadership of this situation and as to what steps President Zardari can take, after taking the party into confidence, to save the democratic system. There is a chance that any respectable personality is made a powerless president in consultation with all political parties and all powers are vested in the prime minister. Permission may be sought from the judiciary for appointment of a cabinet comprising technocrats so that the objectives of good governance and economic stability could be achieved. On the other hand, the military can focus all its attention on elimination of terrorism. The provincial governments may not be touched in the first phase. President Asif Zardari wants to improve the situation by announcing in the first week of December the abolition of the 17th constitutional amendment.

It is being stated that Eid of many may be spoiled as the month of sacrifice demands sacrifices. Who comes up to the standard of sacrifices and besides the individual sacrifice, arrangements are also being made for collective sacrifices. In a democratic system, voters and then parliament has the authority to take decisions but the schedule is being finalised somewhere else. Nobody is suggesting a formula to make the parliament powerful and supreme. The fate of 75 million people, who have to make their destiny, is being decided in Washington, GHQ, Aiwan-e-Sadr and Raiwind. Much is being heard about the impending change and only procedure is being settled.

Before addressing the readers, I first went to the power corridors in Lahore and Karachi to have firsthand knowledge about the facts and then went to Islamabad to observe the situation. According to one scenario, it is being thought that everything should go ahead in accordance with the constitution and it does not happen. But there is no harm in assuming that the government of the majority party elected in the February 18, 2008 elections should complete its term, the prime minister should hold his office till March 24, 2013 and President Asif Zardari should stay in the presidency till September 8, 2013 after announcing fresh elections in February 2013 before completion of the term of the National Assembly. Moreover, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry should hold his office till 2013. Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani should retire on completion of his three-year term on November 29, 2010 and his successor should be appointed. This scenario is of the civilised and democratic societies where the government, judiciary and military do their respective jobs.

Most of the rumours circulating in the country are about President Zardari and it seems that a politician became the president against the will of many. It has been experienced several times that a prime minister commanding majority in the parliament is removed from the office but the action against a president elected by majority in the parliament will be the first of its kind.

One of the efforts to flood the national and international media with so much old scandals to increase moral and political pressure on the president to such an extent that he himself is compelled to find solace in stepping down. This advice is also being conveyed directly through friends and close circles and this impression has been deepened that the military is uneasy with his status of the supreme commander. Therefore, the comments and intentions of President Zardari and Pakistan Ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani regarding the military in direct and telephonic conversations with the US administration are being made the major justification. The gulf between the military and the president widened after unveiling of the details of the Kerry-Lugar Bill. The military circles expressed their disliking for the bill covertly as well as overtly and it seems there is no chance of backtracking.

Some circles within the PPP are of the view that the electoral victory of the PPP and election of Asif Zardari as the president were not wholeheartedly accepted in the very beginning but the gulf started widening when President Zardari offered India to sign an accord for not using nuclear weapons in South Asia. They claim that the step was taken after taking the concerned military quarters into confidence. They said that the efforts regarding the trade across the Line of Control were also disliked and then the Mumbai terrorist attack created a lot of misunderstandings between the military and political leadership. The issue of the identification of Ajmal Kasab added fuel to the fire while objections have also been raised about the close ties with and repeated visits to China saying that the military leadership is not taken into confidence. The efforts to address the problem of political unrest and sense of deprivation in Balochistan and stance of a standing committee about non-construction of cantonments are also a source of conflict whereas the military circles describe the notification to give the control of the ISI under the Ministry of Interior as the beginning of the differences. Asif Zardari was not president at that time though he has been held responsible for that. The notification was issued when the prime minister embarking upon his maiden trip to the US, and we too were accompanying him, directed for issuing an explanation in this regard. But when a condition was attached with the Kerry-Lugar Bill to vest the power of appointments and promotions in the military in the civil administration, it was linked to the notification of July 2008. Some ministers talked about the military irresponsibly. The prominence of the pictures of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto as compared to that of Quaid-i-Azam in the Aiwan-e-Sadr has also been described as tantamount to tainting the image of this purely apolitical office. Holding of the party leadership and the party meetings in the presidency has also been disliked by the establishment. It is ironic that the president, who is head of the establishment, and establishment are pitched against each other, and at a time when the armed forces are fighting the militants in various parts of the country, this might be extremely harmful for the country.

The November 28 will be made doomsday with regard to the NRO and those who benefited from the ordinance will have to seek bails but the courts where their cases were being heard will be unable to grant them bail and high courts are being described as eligible to do so. There is an impression that the chief justice was not restored by President Asif Zardari on his own but did so under the pressure of the long march, the US and army. Some circles are describing the executive order to restore the chief justice as unconstitutional. This order could have been passed earlier and that would have benefited the president. Instead of a good opinion, the attitude of the senior judiciary is rather adverse. Therefore, it is being expected that the judiciary and legal pendulum will swing in disfavour of the PPP. The closest aides of the president including Rehman Malik and Salman Farooqi seem to be caught in the NRO snare and PPP Secretary General Jahangir Badr will also fall prey to the NRO while no action can be initiated against the president because of the constitutional protection. However, an affidavit submitted by him in a British court about his mental health has been found and a senior lawyer is drafting an application on the basis of that document. Some legal circles are highly confident that the chief justice would immediately rule him ineligible for the office of the president. The PPP circles are not giving it importance more than a joke but the ruling given by the chief justice would be accepted because he is currently stand high moral ground.

Stories about the relationship between Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Zardari have also been making rounds and several quarters tell the prime minister that he is the chief executive so he should assert himself. It is said he is close to Mian Nawaz Sharif and in case of a no-confidence motion, the PML-N will vote for him. One impression is that the military finds itself closer to the prime minister. There is no immediate chance but if the PPP decides to elect a new prime minister, a crisis might erupt because the PML-N and media will make hue and cry.

But the issue of coalition partners, ANP, JUI and MQM directly pertains to President Zardari. He has been meeting commitments made with them and fulfilling their conditions. It will be seen as to whether or not the army will intervene in such a scenario to create internal strife in the PPP.

The US might want political crisis in Pakistan in view of the deteriorating political situation in Afghanistan but no alternative to Gilani is been searched for the time being. However, the president will emerge victorious if such an attempt is made.

The way the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is opposing President Zardari on the Kerry-Lugar Bill, NRO and submarines deal, it might turn PPP’s coalition in the Punjab as an unnatural alliance. Leaders and workers and even ministers of the PPP in Punjab are themselves not satisfied with the present dispensation. Besides political opposition, they say that police and government servants are not being given their due respect. Mian Sahib is often repeating that Musharraf’s era is continuing.

When the PML-N is not ready to join the government at the Centre, why in the Punjab power is being shared with those dubbed as corrupt, ultra-constitutional, and bargaining their respect for American slavery? Loyalties of the bureaucracy have been divided.

Mian Shahbaz Sharif despite all his abilities and enthusiasm has not been able to show the mettle of the past chief minister and this in turn is taking its toll on the Punjab. Here any change in the government from any side before budget could be both historical and logical. How long the president and the prime minister would tolerate it? Both the army and the judiciary could play a key role in averting this crisis.

There is also a possibility of operation against the terrorists in south Punjab. Logic of the same is being found in reports from the US and contents of the Kerry-Lugar bill. The Punjab Government is not showing any seriousness in ending extremism here. Therefore if any plan to destabilise the Punjab Government is made, the operation will be its focal point.

It is being painfully thought that nothing should be said to the provincial governments and a cabinet of technocrats be set up at the Centre under the prime minister. It is also being called as ‘Bangladesh formula’, where the chief justice is leading the cabinet. This way an independent and courageous chief justice could be jacked up from here and brought at the top before 2013. However, technocrats have to be taken from the political parties so that political forces do not make a hue and cry against such a dispensation.

The objective is to create political and economic stability in the country. Except the PPP, others have already given the names of such persons. All these formulas are making rounds but what will be the course? Will it be ultra-constitutional or will be a legal framework order? What homework would have been done for making such a system acceptable both morally and politically? Can’t the PPP stop all these scenarios through its political sagacity? The success of PPP in Gilgit-Baltistan is though a harbinger of victory for the PPP but, by making tall claims of rigging, the rival political parties want to turn it a part of the charge-sheet against the party. We wanted to know as to what damage control steps the high echelons of the PPP in the Presidency and Prime Minister House are taking in Islamabad.

Both the president and the prime minister are openly expressing their concern over spreading of these landmines. It is being heard that the president while sensing the dangers is ready to confront them and not leave the ground open under pressure. He does not believe that the army or the judiciary have decided to send the democratic system packing. We restored the chief justice and he is now deciding the fate of judges without any interference from our side. Every PPP government has always given strong institutions to the country. It established the National Finance Commission, set up the Council of Common Interests, formed the Friends of Pakistan at international level which will help Pakistan during the PPP rule but also in future. Long-term projects are being planned as a result of frequent tours to China. In the past the formula of Maxi Pak seed was obtained from the US and now the experience of China is being exploited which will provide seeds that give good yield even in little irrigated lands. He believes that in India too the small political alliances tease both the Congress and the BJP but this does not result in ending the democratic dispensation adding why then such fears persist here.

The PPP is striving to forestall events like political parties summersaults on the NRO in future. Negotiations have been taking place and some parties have been making demands that would have been difficult for any one to pay.

In so far as good governance is concerned, the first two years were consumed in clearing the dirt of the past. Loadshedding, water, dams and such other issues are being dealt with on permanent basis. The party high command believes that if it goes by the advice being given that some ministers and corrupt colleagues be removed to restore the party’s image, it will lead to a division within the party. It instead wants to adopt a legal course in this regard but will not leave colleagues in the lurch during difficult times. They still believe their policy of reconciliation to be in the interest of the country. We want to come so closer that there is no foe in future and the PPP, ANP and MQM join hands as political partners. It will stabilise democracy. High echelon of the party and the government do not believe at any stage that those elected on the party ticket will change loyalty. NRO could have been got through the parliament but when it was felt that it was not in the interest of the country it was not made a matter of ego and thus not taken up in the parliament.

Counselling is being offered for using presidential pardon for corrupt elements but these pieces of advice are not being accepted. Circles believe that steps taken in urgency in face of the media campaigns and some irresponsible statements from individuals within the government have morally dented the government image to a certain extent but why then all the blame is put on the president? After all the prime minister is the head of government. It is a sort of one-sided campaign where the wrongs committed by the opposition and the prime minister are also being ignored. The president alone is being made a scapegoat. But, if the president shows steadfastness and keeps close contact with party colleagues and other institutions of the state, an atmosphere of tolerance among them will develop.

In past, collective sacrifice had inflicted damage on the country, which could also happen now. Some circles have advised that the whole mess was created by media, TV channels and ban should be imposed on them. But, the president and prime minister have categorically decided that no action would be taken against media despite the propaganda against them.

Co-Chairman of the PPP and President Asif Ali Zardari has been facing internal and external challenges which were never faced by any Pakistani leader in the history of Pakistan. Could he and his team overcome them? Have they such an ability and capability. Sympathetic circles say that if it is not evident then they should be helped, as no leader of any other party could face these threats so easily.

The concerns of the establishment are right, but its solution lies in collective leadership and mutual consultation. Packing the whole democratic set-up would not serve the purpose. The country has been weakening. Still there is need for the reconciliation ideology of Benazir Bhutto, which President Zardari had made base for democracy.

On the other hand if the non-political forces expect better results from technocrats, then why a road map for this democratic set-up could not be made by technocrats that should be implemented through Parliament, through which the ministers and parliamentarians could get training.

The US has been facing difficult situation in Afghanistan and its worst effects could engulf Pakistan. In such a situation any crisis in Pakistan would not only be dangerous for itself, but also for the whole region.

NWFP is fighting against terrorists, Balochistan has been suffering from sense of deprivation and if Sindh was inflicted with political setback, then such chaotic and violent social set-up whether political, non-political or technocrat would not bear the internal and external challenges. Those who are crossing the limits should be pressed to conduct meaningful debate in the Parliament. At last a strong Parliament could create a society of rule of law and democracy in Pakistan, like the US, Europe and India.

Monday, November 16, 2009 (The News)

PPP CEC meeting
Dawn Editorial
Monday, 16 Nov, 2009

THE meeting of the Central Executive Committee of the PPP in Islamabad is a chance for the party to hit the reset button and steady the ship of governance that has been rocked by political crises in recent times. As the largest party in the coalition at the centre and a member of three of the four provincial governments, the PPP is clearly the most politically powerful party in the country. However, as the recent NRO debacle vividly demonstrated, the PPP’s parliamentary advantage is not large enough for it to go it alone and therefore does not automatically translate into legislative and policy successes. Politically, therefore, the PPP remains vulnerable and under pressure and the party must use today’s meeting to chart a new course for itself. There are some obvious things the party can do to reduce the prevailing political uncertainty: speed up the passage of the 18th Amendment bill, strip away the anti-parliamentary powers of the president, lift the bar on a third-term prime minister, etc. Such measures would be proof that the party leadership can be statesmanlike and rise above the poisonous environment of cut-throat, mutually destructive politics.

But the weaknesses of the PPP-led coalition are not purely political. There is a palpable sense of drift in Islamabad in governance matters. Does anyone know if the PPP has a legislative agenda, and if so, what that agenda is? There are scores of ministries and ministers and ministers of state, but what have been the policy initiatives of the vast majority of them? The PPP has fully backed the fight against militancy and its economic team has helped at least stave off economic disaster — for which the party does deserve the appropriate credit — but the problem is that on the achievement front there is little else of any significance. With nearly a third of this parliament’s full term having already gone by, it is unfortunate that politics, and not policies, continues to occupy centre stage.

Away from the national, inter-political stage, intra-party politics may also need to be addressed by the CEC. One of the persistent uncertainties is the relationship between the president and the prime minister. As co-chairman of the PPP, President Zardari would still technically be the boss of Prime Minister Gilani in party affairs even if the powers arrogated to the presidency by Gen Musharraf (retd) were to be given up by Mr Zardari. As such, any tension or difference in opinion between the two men could impact national political stability. Messrs Zardari and Gilani, therefore, need to demonstrate that they are in fact on the same page. (Dawn)