The day President Asif Zardari supposedly unleashed yet another round of the so-called clash between the judiciary and the executive – nay, an ‘independent judiciary’ and a ‘tainted, corrupt executive’ – I rushed home to catch the action on television.
You see, the impact and the action that accompanies most ‘political crises’ in Pakistan these days is hardly ever found on the streets of the country; instead, all the hoopla in this respect takes place on TV screens, with most local news channels shifting into the usual hyperbolic, melodramatic mode, screaming bloody apocalypse!
As my murky and ‘cynical’ disposition perversely relished the dingy black comedy of the not-so-impartial TV channels taking off once again, I couldn’t help but remember that one of the media groups on air still owes me a sum of Rs. 32,000.
The above has never really bothered me much, but it crops up whenever this same channel transforms itself into a bastion of corruption-free, honest, and conscientious journalism. Those of us who’ve been in the business for over a decade now do end up scratching our heads when we see some of our colleagues on this channel gallantly stand up to cast the first stone at corruption. This hardly ever bags them any spontaneous applause from cynics like me; rather, a quiet but disparaging crack: “Yeah, right, look who’s talking!”
Well, that’s that. Back to the evil ways of the one called Beelzebub (aka Zardari). It’s his bad luck that he has come in at a time when most of my Pakistani brothers and sisters have started to comprehend politics, society and life in general in black and white, that is, good and evil. There are no grey areas as far as we are concerned, especially in politics, even when politics mostly constitutes the murky middle-ground and democracy has more to do with pragmatic manoeuvres than absolutes.
Even though I have never met Zardari, my country’s media and, consequently, our drawing-rooms insist he is an evil man. I have not met Nawaz Sharif either, but if one goes through the many articles that were written on his political disposition when he was prime minister in the 1990s, the bottom line was that Sharif was stupid. Similarly, Benazir Bhutto was a spoilt brat and Altaf Hussain is a violent, totalitarian.
Some of this may hold a quantity of truth, but then such a quantity is present in each one of us, including in the many TV anchors that are now regularly seen jumping up and down, almost foaming at the mouth at the mere mention of the name Zardari.
Heck, I have yet to see so much foam, anger and condemnation spilling out when a hairy psychotic blows himself up in public, taking with his mutilated body a number of men, women, and children. And yet, for anchors, journalists and men like Sharif and Munawar Hussain, it is Zardari who becomes the “greatest threat to Pakistan.”
Funnier still was hearing Sharif describe Zardari as the greatest threat to democracy for trying to ‘protect his corruption.’ Now, anyone politically conscious during Mian Sahib’s second stint as prime minister (1997-99) would find this a rather odd statement coming from a man who once was a darling of the strategically placed remnants of his mentor, Ziaul Haq.
Sharif is the same man who actually wanted to make an amendment in the constitution just so he could be crowned as ‘Ameerul Mominin’ (leader of the faithful); a man who (quite like the evil Zardari) is usually perceived to be on top of the corruption food chain; a man who is on record confessing that his government constructed a number of false cases against Zardari and Benazir; a man whose party runs Punjab, a province today in the clutches of some of the worst economic disasters and from where, every now and then, cases of blatant incompetence and fraud emerge, usually involving Mian Sahib’s own party men (and some women).
That said, I am still an admirer of Sharif and the way in which he’s been conducting himself ever since his return from exile. But the admiration simply collapses when he starts to point fingers at his opponents for reasons that may actually be swung around and pitched against him as well.
In other words, Zardari can rightly be accused for committing some major blunders, but suggesting that anyone or everyone opposing him is doing so with a clean slate and taintless history is clearly exhibiting the kind of partisan political exaggeration (read hypocrisy) one is often faced with in this Land of the Pure.
And what to say about the usual knee-jerks like Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI). They can be found crouched like hungry hyenas to jump at any cheap opportunity to prolong their 15 minutes of fame. They jump from issue to issue according to what has taken the hyperbolic electronic media’s fancy for the hour. For example, they’ll hop from the issue of drone attacks, to that of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, to the judicial-executive crisis, making sure that their unelected and non-parliamentary existence doesn’t face the status that it truly deserves.
Imran Khan is more of a TV personality than a politician, so let’s just keep him aside. But check out the kind of noises the JI has been making since it came under attack for supporting General Musharraf’s controversial seventeenth amendment that gave the president the right to remain in his Army overalls.
Along with Mian Sahib (whose party clashed with the judiciary back in 1999 and whose party men literally attacked the Supreme Court building), the JI too has been raising a hue and cry about an independent judiciary and how it is being maligned by the Zaradri-Gilani regime.
JI is known to have joined forces with the Yahya Khan dictatorship in the carnage in East Pakistan, and then served as an important partner of the very unjust Ziaul Haq regime, going on to support the Musharraf. As columnist and scholar, Faisal Bengali, once suggested, “under the circumstances, (JI’s stance on the judiciary) appears to be a strange voice for judicial, civil rights and democratic causes.”
Thus, even if one keeps in mind Zardari’s many financial misdeeds (none of which have ever been proven in a court of law, mind you), it must be asked, exactly why the cause of the so-called ‘independent judiciary’ is being taken up by elements who were once directly associated with a staunchly anti-democracy ‘establishment,’ and who are today the lead vocalists of post-9/11 right-wing politics in Pakistan?
Most of these people have also been criticised for keeping awkwardly quiet on the issue of the rising cases of extremism in the society.
This is an important question because it is symptomatic of a rather intriguing phenomenon in which politicians with a history of having warm links with conservative establishmentarian politics have been the most verbal in their support for what is basically a liberal concept (independent judiciary).
Explaining this idiosyncrasy, some go on to suggest that this is because those who have been turned into ‘judicial heroes’ symbolise the rise of a New Right in Pakistan. Or that this is a brand of right-wing politics that has little to do with the military anymore, and more with groupings within judicial activism and the media, which have expanded the scope of right-wing politics in Pakistan.
So far, the PMLN is the Pakistani New Right’s only valid electoral organ, and a glorified judicial activism its loudest cry. The phenomenon’s many junior partners include small political parties (JI, PTI, etc.) and certain media groups, journalists and TV anchors. Their role, it seems, comprises of becoming 24/7 alarmists (but not for issues like extremism and terrorism).
However, the most interesting position taken in this respect is by some of the leading lights of the lawyers’ movement. These are the lawyers (such as Ali Ahmed Kurd and Asma Jehangir), who have already started to exhibit their disillusionment with the consequences of restoring the kind of judiciary that they wanted to reinstate.
I think, thus far, I would personally like to endorse the stance taken by such lawyers and social activists: this tussle is nothing but a clash of egos of two very opinionated men. But it is a tussle that can easily be overcome without raising the kind of alarm, paranoia and hysteria that the champions of the New Right have adopted as habit.