Long March Hijacked

By Col. Riaz Jafri (Retd)

Monday, 1 Feb 2009.


RAWALPINDI, Pakistan—Big fish eat the small fish. Looks like the PML (N) is all set to swallow the tasty and ripe Black Coats.

PML (N) couldn’t find a better opportunity than the ensuing Long March to strike with full might. Ever since the return of the exiles from Jeddah, the brothers have been playing their cards astutely. They have kept their eyes fixed on whoever is in power in Islamabad.

Had Benazir Bhutto been alive today, the Sharif brothers would have played the NRO and the ‘deal’ cards to the hilt to harass her government. However, her assassination influenced the emotionally charged voters into favoring the PPPP. But even her brutal death could not guarantee her party a decisive lead over PML (N). The PPPP secured a marginal lead but not enough to form an independent government of their own. Hence the coalition was needed, but coalition with whom? Sharif brothers shrewdly extended the arm, ostensibly in a good gesture of burying the hatchet and making up the numbers for the required two third majority in the parliament for undoing the 17th Amendment and 58-2B etc., but in reality for keeping the lesser parties out and making the PPP dependent upon the Sharif Brothers and, in the bargain, getting a hold on Punjab – the real power base for any political party under the existing political system.

“We will give you all the support to form the government but wouldn’t be the part of the cabinet”, was a perplexing logic they confronted Zardari with from day one. Mian Nawaz Sharif (MNS) knew that the PPP will not be able to deliver on the tall promises of Roti, Kapra aur Makan, energy crisis, inflation, unemployment and a horde of other problems. The Sharif Brothers wanted to cash on PPP’s inefficiency by staying out of the government. AAZ, however, got them onboard by offering some of the most lucrative and important portfolios at the center and the Chief Minister-ship of the Punjab in a reciprocal coalition there. But Nawaz shrewdly got his men out of the federal government at the first opportunity and went on to take the role of the Opposition, and yet assured Mr. Zardari of their full support to the PPPP government.

The PPPP was left to look for alternate allies. And there is no dearth of opportunists in our politics. Soon the cabinet swelled to 52 ministers and then to 62 with the scope and capacity to increase still further if required. Governor Taseer also started looking around while at the same time indulging in pinpricks with the PML (N) coalition government in Punjab.

But the minor skirmishes between PPPP and the PML (N) are turning into a full fledged war and the day doesn’t seem to be far when the two most powerful political parties will resort to open hostilities.

MNS & Co. seem to have placed the 17th amendment and the 58-2B on the back burner and taken the strategy of direct approach – reinstatement of Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry as the first and foremost demand. On the face of it, this looks to be a principled stand for the restoration of the pre-November 3, 2007 Judiciary and the annulment of the government acts carried out under the emergency imposed by General Musharraf.

However, when examined under the microscopic legal and constitutional lens the matter, Nawaz & Co.’s stance reeks of opportunism and hides other motives. It creates a legal problem for the entire State. All legal decisions taken by the present CJP and other judges of the Supreme Court and other higher courts, sworn under the PCO, become questionable. Can those all of those decision be undone? It will be extremely chaotic. Sharif brothers have a definite interest of their own in annulling the emergency and removing the judges sworn under the PCO. They expect that all charges brought against them and being heard by the PCO sworn judges will automatically be dropped.

But that’s not all.

They also expect that Justice Iftikhar, if and when restored as the Chief Justice of Pakistan, will resume the hearing of the NRO case which he was doing at the time of his removal. And, if the NRO ‘Pandora’s box’ is opened, who knows what could happen. Zardari will be hit the hardest, and hence, the hijacking of the lawyers’ movement and the long march by the PML (N), not exactly for having an independent judiciary in the country but more for the ‘restoration’ of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry back in his seat so that Zardari could be targeted.

What If Long March Fails

Should the long march and the dharna somehow fail to produce the required result of restoring the deposed Chief Justice, MNS is exploring alternate plans to destabilize the government. The other most effective course open to him is the constitutional floor of the parliament. In the coming month of March 2009 a total of 50 senators will retire – 11 from each province, 2 from Islamabad and 4 from FATA. So will the Chairman Senate Mohammedmian Soomro. Both PPP and PML (N) will desperately try to grab as many seats as possible. So will other parties, particularly PML (Q) which is in a big bargaining position at present and is being wooed both by Zardari as well as MNS. According to a reliable ‘rumor’, MNS has flown to UK – ostensibly to see his son there but actually to have a one to one meeting with Ch. Shujaat of the PML (Q). Should all the branches of the Muslim League reunite, they can arrange the coveted 2/3rd majority among themselves to incorporate any constitutional amendments they like, including tabling the no confidence motion against the PPP government.

The dice is heavily loaded and the coming weeks could be monumental for the future historians writing the history of Pakistan. Let’s wait and see.

Col. Riaz Jafri (Retd) is based in Rawalpindi. His commentary is appears frequently in several national Pakistani dailies. He can be reached at jafri@rifiela.com


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