My choice today: Mon 2 June 2008 – Accountability?

Muakhiza ya ta’meer?

Accountability or Reconstruction – By Khurshid Nadeem

Musharraf: Hamid Mir

Dr. Abul Qadeer Khan, Bhutto, Judiciary and Media – By Abbas Ather

Moment of catharsis for Pakistanis?

Moment of catharsis for Pakistanis?

The deposed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Mr Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, reached Peshawar late Saturday night and heard speeches that clearly warmed his heart. It appeared that all bets were off — and so were the gloves — as regional bar representatives made fiery speeches swearing to restore the dismissed judges and kick out President Pervez Musharraf. The message was that the lawyers expected the politicians in power, especially the PPP, to get rid of the president in short order or get ready to face the wrath of the lawyers themselves.

The leader of the lawyers’ movement, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, has always been clear about keeping his movement non-violent, but once references were made to the spilled blood of the lawyers and their suffering in the service of the country, the threat of violence crept in too. The speakers were at pains to express the potential of the movement to become violent, against President Musharraf if he did not leave, and against the ruling coalition (read PPP) if it did not get rid of him through an executive order. Significantly, the media is playing along to provide the ingredients of a “terminal scenario”.

News were flashed about an airplane having landed at Chaklala airport to carry away a “significant” family from Islamabad, and about chairman Senate Mr Muhammadmian Soomro being flown back from his visit abroad to become acting president after the incumbent is hounded out. Ex-army chief General Aslam Beg was pressed into service too, who blithely obliged by saying President Musharraf was already in the “protective custody” of the army. And the journalist, who had connected postings and transfers in the army to the ouster of the president, continues to “stand behind his story”.

The PMLN leader, Mr Nawaz Sharif, who had begun what looked like the final assault by saying that President Musharraf should be prevented from fleeing abroad and should be tried for treason, faced objections to his right to contest the forthcoming by-elections at the Lahore High court elections tribunal only to find the tribunal evenly divided. And his government in Punjab continues to ignore the visiting Punjabi prime minister, Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani, and apparently also continues to show its displeasure at the PPP’s decision to appoint Mr Salmaan Taseer as governor of Punjab “without consulting him”. The alliance with the PPP is clearly under strain.

This became clear when Mr Gilani said in Lahore that Mr Sharif “should not make impractical demands of the government because the coalition wants to settle all issues of national interest without complications”. He then said something that can be construed as the PPP’s answer to the lawyers’ movement too: “The PPP is not against the impeachment of President Musharraf, and parliament is the proper forum to settle the issue”. But who wants impeachment in the absence of the required numbers in parliament? The campaign is to oust him by restoring the judges and then getting the restored Supreme Court judges to declare his tenure as president illegal.

A weak effort was made by some newspapers to balance the “exclusive stories” against the president with comment protesting against this sort of “freedom of expression” by their colleagues, but there was still the front-page editorial “situationers” rebuking Mr Asif Ali Zardari and his “flop-flop” coalition for dilly-dallying and shying away from “what the people demand”. While Mr Sharif was let off lightly, Mr Zardari was roundly reprimanded for “playing too many clever tricks with too many people”. The forecast was that he would soon make a fool of himself and lose his status as leader of the coalition.

This is a moment of anger and catharsis, not pragmatism. The public is being told that since the president can’t be impeached and sent away, he has to be taken by the ear and kicked out. According to the popular analysis, his exit will immediately be followed by stability, even an economic turnaround, as the people turn from the job of getting rid of the president to focusing on problems. The “popular” advice to America is that it should not push Pakistan to the wall by supporting Mr Musharraf. Thus everyone is ignoring the signs of more strife and conflict in the post-Musharraf period as some necessary policies are rolled back and avenues opened for repeating old mistakes.

The 62-point constitutional reform draft has been circulated by the PPP government to its allies and coalition partners. All analyses predict it won’t past muster with the PMLN and might take forever to make its passage through parliament and its various committees. Because the PPP is not willing to restore the judges with an executive order and get rid of the judges now officiating, the whole corpus of reform aimed at making the judiciary really independent is threatened by default. Instability and disturbance of public order, expected to emanate from the economic crisis, is being pressed into service to get rid of one man who, ironically enough, holds the balance of power in the form of the PMLQ and stops the PPP and PMLN from reverting back to their age old enmity to the detriment of the country.