Arsalan-gate: Time to be patient! – by Saad Mansoor

The implication of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s son is being considered by the political class of Pakistan in general and the supporters of Pakistan Peoples Party in particular to be a divine gift descended from heavens. In talk shows, in press conferences and in rallies most PPP leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to suppress their grins: the satisfaction that I and most jiyalas feel is truly a treat: stated simply; we can’t stop gloating: yet this is exactly what we should do!

The government has been wise not to box the judiciary despite the allegations leveled by Malik Riaz. After the great deception of lawyers movement which resulted in considerable confusion tinged with resentment between jiyalas and the PPP leadership it is only befitting that we pay heed to the calls for silence.

Arsalan-gate scandal is just too good to be true. The Chief Justice allegedly caught taking bribes through his son dealing through the Supreme Court registrar is possible. The timing of the scandal is however, curious. Despite the verdict against the Prime Minister: PPP is strongest it has been during the past four years. The slumping oil prices are poised to give it more space to manage fiscal policy and a general consensus with or without grudge is emerging about a looming electoral victory and return to power. For the government to encourage the scandal does not make sense.

The question remains if not government who started feeding the stories of this alleged affair between Malik Riaz and Arsalan Iftikhar to media sources? Of course many are innocently jumping to the conclusion that it is definitely the agencies. My take: it is the agencies but not for Balochistan case or veiled threats about summoning the army chief. Anyone who thinks Supreme Court which has not been able to issue contempt orders for IG Frontier Constabulary’s failure to appear before Court is going to summon General Kayani deserves two slaps. One to forget that similar so called summons were made right before the whole act of 9th March 2007 and trumpeted in our faces and the second to think that the Chief Justice actually gives a damn about the missing persons of Balochistan (curiously he does consider the illegal arrests of Hizb ut Tahrir activists and other militant and non militant pan Islamists to be important). In this reasoning lies the answer to continued democracy in Pakistan, as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani said a plot to derail the democratic system is underway.

With elections less than a year away and the PPP poised to win another term in office, the Deep State is getting restless and so are the two citadels of status quo in Pakistan: the generals and the judges. With the turn of events following 9th March 2007 though the establishment finds itself in a difficult position. The troika of three ‘jeems’ has disintegrated as the judiciary has become increasingly powerful to lead rather than follow like it has been doing for past six decades.

In 1977 the judiciary cut to its size by Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto lined up behind the armed forces with no unease. The same episode was repeated in 1999 and the same is something which establishment intends to pull over during coming elections. With its stooges the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf and Jamat e Islami wielding considerable street power in urban areas a mass campaign to fill the television screens could at least be started. Once started, the unrest could easily be used to annul or postpone elections and derail the democratic system. The problem is: who gets to be the driver?!

The judges have had it enough: they have the support of the public, sections of media and strangely enough powerful individuals within military who seek a more ‘Islamic’ system (read Khilafat). Why then play second fiddle to the generals when you can grab the throne for yourself? After all the game of thrones must be played to win.

The generals on the other hand have the big guns. They have the ISI and the MI and their own lot of media men. Yet the judges were simply not giving in under the leadership of Iftikhar Chaudhry who has been running the Supreme Court akin to a trade union. Something had to be done so the generals started whispering in the right corners. This was followed by a more direct action with Malik Riaz who make no mistake is friendly with all but friends only with the khakis calling Aitzaz Ahsan. The news reached the ears of ruling coalition but to their dismay Zardari did not use it to his advantage. Desperate times call for desperate measures Malik Riaz was ordered to invite the likes of Kamran Khan and Hamid Mir and lay evidence before them. The Chief Justice reacted and took a suo moto notice of the whole affair. The rest is history.

The situation is simple: the generals want judges to bend a knee before they go for the kill during coming elections: the judges want to go for the kill themselves this time. Should the Supreme Court fall the PPP will be not reach parliament despite an electoral victory. The next Chief Justice maybe honest but it’s a fat chance that he will not surrender to the army by way of resignation if not a PCO.

Thus by a bizarre turn of events the PPP’s best bet to return to power is to ensure that Iftikhar Chaudhry stays in office at all costs. His any attempt to impose a Bangladesh model will not find many takers in the army. The PPP meanwhile can muster enough street power to force such a government to hold elections and any misadventure by generals is only going to end them cornered from both sides. All pointers of establishment’s clock should not be allowed to align as they briefly did during the Memo-gate scandal. For entirely wrong reasons, Iftikhar Chaudhry has indeed become the key to continuance of democracy in Pakistan!



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