My choice today: Sunday 8 June 2008 – ‘Peace deals’ and suicide-attacks –

Back to the president

PRESIDENT Musharraf has confidently scotched all rumours of his imminent resignation that were doing the rounds of late. Talking to senior journalists in Islamabad yesterday he looked and sounded more self-assured than what appeared to be his wont since the February election. He is here to stay for now, he says, and willing to work with parliament which he holds supreme. Parrying questions on whether he would consider using the infamous Article 58-2(b) to send the government packing as and when he believed it had failed to deliver, he struck a conciliatory note saying he was willing to accept whatever parliament decided on the scrapping of his many powers. Then, in a commanding tone, he went on to dismiss the allegation that any conspiracy was being hatched to destabilise the elected government. On the judges’ reinstatement, he was equally clear-headed: let parliament decide their fate and he would go along with the decision.

Mr Musharraf is back in his element, evidently, knowing once again what he is talking about. Is it for good reason? Has he been assured by his interlocutors that he has little to worry about the constitutional package the PPP-led government has proposed? Even as parliament will debate the 82 amendments when it does, none of these suggest the president’s impeachment. Instead, the package offers indemnity, even if limited, to many of the controversial provisions of the Nov 3 Provisional Constitution Order promulgated under a presidential decree imposing emergency rule. There is little chance that the PML-N, which the establishment sees as the only spoilsport in parliament, will be able to convince the rest of the coalition partners to help it settle scores with President Musharraf by impeaching him. If nothing else, the PML-N’s avowed commitment to the judges’ reinstatement is likely to consume its energies before it can get on to other matters.

It is ironic and sad in equal measure that at a time when the country is caught in a cobweb of so many pressing issues, politicians should find it hard to come to grips with their own and the people’s democratic aspirations. Runaway inflation, the energy crisis, the threat posed by extremism and terrorism and the fear of economic instability are factors that affect everyone, everyday; these must surely be addressed first and foremost. This is not to say that the concerns expressed by those who wish to see the back of the president sooner than later, for reasons all too obvious, are any less worthy of the government’s attention. Unless Mr Musharraf’s poise and calm, as seen on TV only yesterday, is a big bluff, he does not seem under pressure to go away in a hurry. (Editorial, Daily Dawn).

‘Peace deals’ and suicide-attacks

A massive amount of explosives packed in three vehicles was seized in Rawalpindi and Islamabad on Friday. The police also arrested six people possessing 1,000 kg of explosives along with bullets, ball bearings, metal scraps and broken pieces of mirror. Religious literature justifying their action was also seized from the suspected terrorists. They have confessed that they were planning to target the President’s Camp Office and offices of several law-enforcement agencies.

In view of the blast that killed four in DI Khan, one can ask what use are “peace talks” if terrorism doesn’t let up? Some experts think that the talks should be given a chance because Pakistan has the upper hand these days. The Taliban-Al Qaeda warlord Baitullah Mehsud is said to be willing to talk because of pressure from his tribe after undergoing the traumatic punishment meted out in Operation “Zalzala” in the Mehsud areas of Spinkai, Raghzai and Kotkai. But this too will soon be revealed for what it really was as days pass and more suicide attacks are launched. (Editorial, Daily Times).

Our great redeemers

Ardeshir Cowasjee

IN any country of this world whenever a ‘reconciliation’ is engineered it is twinned with the word ‘truth’ — there is never a separation between reconciliation and confessing to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, for there can be no reconciliation unless and until the truth of the past deeds involving reconciliation is fully revealed.

Not so in this great republic of ours, with our allies breathing down its neck. Truth does not form part of the national ethos and has no place in the national mindset. This being so, the form of ‘reconciliation’ imposed upon the people, bereft of a linkage with the truth, is bogus and a grand lie.

Teeth may have been capped, heads anointed with implants, dye amply applied, body language may display some acquired sophistication, English elocution lessons may have improved speech delivery, designer emporiums may have provided trendy bodily coverings — but the fact remains that the collective mindset has not changed, nor have the basic character traits with which we are so familiar and which have been, in the naughty 1990s, the unravelling of the republic that is Pakistan.

Two great redeemers of the redeemed lot may well bluff themselves into believing that they were, in the past, victimised and have now in one way or another been dry-cleaned, hung out and displayed as squeaky clean, but by their actions and utterances it is clear that, yes, they have bluffed themselves but not the people — who are justifiably now growing restless and impatient with the cover of the judiciary issue with which both are obsessed, with obsessions opposed to each other — one vengeful, the other self-preservative.

One bluff the people cannot accept and just laugh at is the stated love of the independence of the judiciary. Neither redeemer can suffer nor sustain for even a minute a truly independent judiciary.

A reading of former chief justice of Pakistan, Sajjad Ali Shah’s autobiography, Law Courts in a Glass House tells an interesting tale of the present Pakistani sole superpower.

One day in late 1993 or early 1994, when Justice Shah was sitting on the Supreme Court Lahore Bench, Benazir Bhutto’s second government having just come into being, he received a message telling him that Asif Zardari wished to call on him. It was agreed this would happen the following evening. Zardari arrived at the judges’ rest house, with Aitzaz Ahsan in tow. Sajjad was told that Benazir wished to appoint him as chief justice of Pakistan. This was a surprise, for Sajjad had three judges senior to him who were in line for the chief justice’s position.

He demurred, saying it would not be proper to appoint him out of line and that he would be quite happy to be appointed chief justice of the Sindh High Court. Zardari, aided by Ahsan’s input, informed Sajjad that Abdul Hafeez Memon was being considered for that post.

Thereafter, things took their natural course, the chief justice of Pakistan retired and was replaced by the most senior judge. Sajjad is vague about timings, but he writes that he “kept receiving messages from the prime minister, mostly through Asif Zardari. I even met him a few times and our discussions would revert to the question of the appointment of the chief justice of Pakistan … two or three meetings took place between Zardari and myself at Bakhtawar House in Islamabad. One evening over dinner, where Agha Rafiq Ahmad was also present, Zardari finally came out openly with the proposal that the prime minister was prepared to appoint me as the chief justice of Pakistan on the condition that I give my written resignation in advance which would be used if I failed to oblige her.”

Sajjad explained to Zardari that he was neither a politician nor an elected representative to whom such tactics applied — he was a judge. He could enter into no agreement nor did he wish to be shot up out of turn.

Later, Sajjad, whilst in Karachi, was rung up in the middle of the night and told to be on the 0700 hours flight to Islamabad to see the prime minister. Reluctant to go, he made no effort to take the flight and informed Islamabad accordingly. He flew up on the 1500 hour flight, met Benazir and was told that he ‘had missed the boat’ as arrangements had been made to swear him in that morning. It was now not possible as the president was leaving on a foreign tour. (End of story: on June 5, 1994, Sajjad was finally sworn in as chief justice of Pakistan, superseding three judges.)

Mian formerly of Model Town now of Raiwind Nawaz Sharif’s record is no better (rumour has it that he is vying with Zardari as to who ultimately will move into the presidential palace). Gohar Ayub Khan, in his book Glimpses into the Corridors of Power, relates how sometime early in Nov 1997 “The PM [Nawaz Sharif] asked me to accompany him to the PM House. In the car the PM put his hand on my knee and said, ‘Gohar Sahib, show me a way to arrest the Chief Justice [Sajjad Ali Shah] and keep him in jail for a night.’ ‘For heaven’s sake, do not even consider doing anything of the sort. The whole system will collapse,’ I told him.”

Nawaz held his horses, but not for long. On Nov 28, 1997, he struck. The Supreme Court had brought a contempt case against him for certain injudicious remarks he had made about the chief justice and his court. Nawaz was summoned. But rather than going there himself he and his party organised the physical storming of the Supreme Court by the PML ‘storm troopers’. This disgraceful and shaming incident is so well known that it needs no elaboration here. (I have written 11 columns on the incident and its follow-up when the matter was taken up by the Supreme Court at my instigation. These columns, in case anyone is interested, can by found on the Internet in the archives section of Dawn. They are dated Dec 7, Dec 14 and Dec 21, 1997; March 29, April 5, April 12, April 26, May 10, May 24 1998; Oct 31, Nov 21, Nov 28, 1999; Oct 1 and Oct 8, 2000.)

Aitzaz Ahsan and his lawyers have organised a ‘long march’ (a not so long drive) due to take off this week. As officers of the courts they must see to it and ensure that as a consequence no citizen is killed or maimed, and that no property is damaged. (Dawn)