By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Pakistan may be the only country in the world where persons involved in heinous crimes including treason not only get away unpunished but also hold top appointments. Whatever little sting the law courts and accountability courts had has been smudged by this government. There is no accountability of the corrupt and criminals since the rulers themselves are NRO cleansed. Those wanting accountability of the wrongdoers are scoffed at, threatened and suppressed. Crossing all limits, the PPP leadership is averse to an open and fair probe on a highly sensitive matter of memo having grave implications for national security and integrity. Likewise, it has flouted Supreme Court’s (SC) ruling given on 16 December 2009 making NRO null and void. It continues to maintain a stubborn stance of defiance even after the SC rejected the review petition on NRO and directed the government to implement its order by 10 January 2012. Countdown will terminate on 16 January and the nation is keeping its fingers crossed.
The government is employing all conceivable tricks and techniques under the sun to wriggle out of memo scandal and to prevent reopening of cases pending against President Zardari in foreign courts. It is creating umpteen hurdles in the way of three-member commission investigating memo case and the bench pursuing implementation of NRO. The PPP is past master in delaying tactics and in playing the theme of victimization. The top guns of the PPP involved in massive corruption managed to prevent law courts from delivering judgments for eleven years. Their tactics couldn’t have succeeded without the connivance of weak-willed and purchasable judges and prosecutors. The culture of higher courts under chief justice Iftikhar has undergone a radical change. The apex courts have ultimately realized that the judiciary in Pakistan has earned a very bad name and people have lost faith in judicial system. For too long the judiciary had played into the hands of military and civilian dictators. The higher judiciary had a big role in validating wrongful acts of the rulers and in validating military rules under the miscued doctrine of necessity.
The judges having gone through a prolonged ordeal of two years under a military dictator Gen Musharraf have decided to restore the image and reputation of the judiciary. They appreciate that without the public pressure the sacked judges could not have been restored in March 2009. They know that the people deprived of justice were overjoyed over their reinstatement and hold high hopes in the liberated judiciary. They want to live up to the high expectations of the people by delivering justice based on fairness and without caring for the high status of the accused. The culture of uprightness, honesty and evenhandedness is however alien to the PPP leaders who believe only in cheating, chicanery, looting, delinquency, nepotism and cronyism. They prefer self over national interests; they neither believe in rule of law nor in system of accountability. PCO judges suited them the most and they had tried very hard to retain Dogar as chief justice but failed.
The law makers and upholders of rule of law and constitution are themselves the biggest violators of law. They keep raising the slogan that parliament is supreme but their personal conduct displayed in the last four years of their rule has been deplorable. Not only they have been bending and breaking laws of the land at will, they have been contemptuously defying the apex court with impunity. Never before any government in Pakistan has defied and insulted the Supreme Court so brazenly. Zardari-Gilani duo has been promoting cronyism and favoritism and destroying public corporate enterprises. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has been made impotent to enable them to shield, protect and promote corrupt and inept officials holding key appointments and to disregard merit. Even those involved in mega scams and convicted by the courts are pardoned by Zardari and reinstated or given better jobs. Adnan Khwaja and Riaz Shiekh are two recent examples. The duo and their loyalists give preference to loyalty to the political party over the state and the constitution. Appointments of Husain Haqqani and Wajid Shams as ambassadors and Rahman Malik as interior minister simply to please Washington give an insight of the outlook of rulers.
Babar Awan with a fake doctor’s degree held the important post of law minister for a long period merely because he maintained a bellicose posture against Sharif brothers. He openly bribed members of Bar Council and lawyers to buy their loyalties and spent millions from exchequer. He has been in the lead to deride and defy the SC. While he mistakenly thinks that his clownish acrobats are cheered by the people, in reality they consider him no more than a court jester pleasing his boss in Presidency. He is principally responsible for putting the ruling party in a blind alley. In his greed to become Punjab Governor or Senate Chairman, he has gone too far and made himself highly vulnerable. The SC sword can fall upon him anytime.
PM Gilani as executive head instead of feeling most concerned about memo affair is least concerned and wants it to be hushed up. He still is of the view that removal of Haqqani from his post should have ended the matter. He got so perturbed over Gen Kayani and Lt Gen Pasha submitting their affidavits to the Supreme Court different to the one submitted by the government that he is not reconciling with it. He had lost his cool on 26 December since he was fed with false intelligence that Gen Kayani was set to overthrow his government. But he cooled down after Gen Kayani issued a statement that he had no intention of launching a coup and toppling a democratic government. He however hastened to add a meaningful sentence in his rejoinder that there will be no compromise on national security.
Seeing that the memo case was taking a dangerous turn and that the two generals were not prepared to take back their affidavits in which it was categorically stated that memo was a reality and must be probed, the PM once again got off balanced on 9 January while giving an interview to Chinese Daily. Fearing that the Army had developed an understanding with the SC, he outlandishly dubbed the depositions of Kayani and Pasha as illegal and unconstitutional on the basis that they had not taken his consent or permission of the Defence Ministry. He thus reignited the fire which had almost died down. His stance was negated by the Attorney General who cleared the mist by saying that replies submitted were very much in accordance with legal procedure.
The five-member SC bench in its sitting on 10 January pronounced President Zardari, PM Gilani, Law Minister Maula Bux Chandio, Babar Awan, Law Secretary Masood Chishti and NAB chief retired Admiral Fasih Bokhari as chief delinquents. It stated that they have consistently been showing naked defiance and apathy towards SC and could be proceeded against on charges of contempt of court. Axes had been honed and raised above shoulders, and heads of the five put on the chopping block, but before bringing down the axes, the accused were given last chance to save their necks from getting chopped. Showing unprecedented restraint in the face of extreme provocation, the SC has dished out six loaded options. The leading option is to disqualify both Zardari and Gilani. However knowing that Jayalas have an old habit of making too much fuss and complaining that they have been indicted unheard, milder options include letting Zardari to appear before the court to plead for immunity; or the PM to resign and hold early elections. The government has to choose one of the options till the next hearing scheduled on 16 January.
As if his harmful interview was not enough, Gilani further upped the ante by sacking Secretary Defence retired Lt Gen Lodhi on charges of misconduct and creating misunderstanding between institutions and gave additional charge of Secretary Defence to his blue eyed Secretary Nargis Sethi. His only fault was that the Personal Secretary of PM had called him in his office and asked him on behalf of PM to sign the affidavit concerning memo case prepared by the government, but he regretted to do so. Lodhi has decided to approach the court and plead his case that he has been unjustly removed from service without giving him show cause notice or carrying out any inquiry.
It was speculated that Gilani’s offensive move had been made to pave the way to sack Army chief and DG ISI. The Army launched a quick riposte in the form of a terse rejoinder which not only clarified that routing of affidavits were strictly in line with laid down legal procedure but also gave a veiled warning that indigestible insinuations would have serious repercussions. Gen Kayani called a conference of his PSOs and corps commanders next morning. Adding to it was the newspapers story about newly posted brigade commander of notorious 111 Brigade. It gave a loud message that the Army would not take the insults lying down.
Despite assurances given by Army Chief that he respects democracy and the Chief Justice who said that the door to martial law has been shut forever, Zardari, Gilani and his confidantes continue to suffer from hallucinations of a military coup. Puppet Gilani whose strings are in the hands of Zardari has become so confused that he is taking somersaults repeatedly and eating his words. There must be something to hide that Haqqani and his guardians are feeling so disturbed and are feeling so edgy. Wittingly or unwittingly, the corrupt and inept government is opening the door for the Army to step in so that it could become a political martyr, but Kayani has no such intentions and would like a change taking place through democratic process.
Finding itself stuck in a blind alley, Gilani in consultation with Zardari called an emergent session on 12th January in his bid to seek vote of confidence and then declare war against the judiciary and Army’s top leadership. But his effort backfired because of lukewarm response of allied parties who didn’t favor policy of confrontation. Seeing that Gilani was heading towards a head on suicidal clash with the judiciary as well as the Army, the three allied parties of PPP got nervy and firmly advised its leadership to avoid collision at all costs and opt for reconciliation.
Nawaz and Imran have warned of launching country wide protest movement if the government tries to defy SC ruling on 16th and doesn’t hold early elections. PML-N is actively contemplating en-block resignations from Assemblies. These fast forward events have taken the wind out of the sails of jingoistic PPP leadership and it is quite likely that from now onwards there will be a visible change in its attitude and things would get back to normal. Holding of Defence Committee meeting on 14 January chaired by PM and attended by CJSC and three services chiefs has been viewed as a positive sign and it seems that ice has begun to melt.
Irrespective of the apparent thaw, one thing is clear that government-Army relations will not be as cordial as they were prior to 2 May. The Army will not support the government in its confrontation with the judiciary. The government will avoid fighting political war on two fronts. In the face of twin threat, Zardari will make concerted efforts to regain confidence of the Army chief. One way is that he uses his discretionary powers to reinstate sacked Secretary Defence. He will also advise Gilani that rather than he getting disqualified, he should voluntarily resign so as to pacify SC and thus ease pressure of judiciary on him and the government. This move will enable the government to buy time, hold Senate elections and be in a stronger position to make preparations for elections by October and also to take some corrective measures to improve its image.
Saner elements however disfavor early elections arguing that no single party will be able to gain simple majority to form a government. A hung parliament with the same lot of politicians in their view will be unable to steer the country out of the mess created by current government. They opine that chief justice backed by Army should be mandated to form a care taker regime for about two years, which should select honest and efficient technocrats capable of clearing the mess. In my view, Imran Khan should head this regime. Once the economy comes out of the woods, institutions become healthy, fresh electoral rolls are prepared by independent Election Commission, fair and free elections could then be held. Or else, people may be asked at the termination of caretaker regime’s tenure whether they would prefer the government of technocrats or parliamentary system. There is lot of weight in this suggestion and may be pondered over.