Change of minds

Daily: The Statesman
Date: 18.05.08

“Politicians are entitled to change their minds. But when they adjust their principles, some
explanation is necessary” – Roy Hattersley, an English Politician.

General Pervaiz Musharraf was not a politician to explain the reasons for changing his mind
on not doffing his uniform by 31 December 2004. Conversely, Asif Ali Zardari is a politician
and is entitled to change his mind after the Bhurban declaration on the judges’ issue. But
when he adjusts his principles, he is supposed to offer some explanation for that: to what
extent the Bhurban declaration was a political gimmick and not a true expression of a
political intent?

The issue of restoration of the deposed judges has attained such a pivotal position that
even the PML-Q, under the leadership of the Chaudhrys, is now obliged to raise voice –
though the PML-Q observed silence on 3 November 2007. It was Chaudhry Pervaiz Illahi,
the then Chief Minister of Punjab, at the behest of whom the police baton charged the
lawyers ruthlessly in the streets and on the premises of the Lahore High Court, when the
lawyers were agitating against the Nov-3 dictatorial act of Musharraf. The electoral episode
on 18 February 2008 brought the PML-Q to its knees. Consequently, now the PML-Q has
been trying to reclaim its political space before the space shrinks further.

Saying ‘no’ to the President Musharraf by the Chaudhrys, when the latter were ‘ordered’ by
the former to vacate the chair of the President of the PML-Q being held by Chaudhry
Shujaat Hussain, is one such attempt for political rehabilitation of the Chaudhrys. The
refusal is an end of the affability fostered between Musharraf and Chaudhrys for the past
eight years – during which the slogans of electing Musharraf as the President of Pakistan
for ten times were raised publicly.

Retrospectively, the Chaudhrys put themselves to the service of Musharraf in the hope that
Musharraf would wave the magic wand to make them win the general elections.
Unfortunately, that could not happen perhaps because the wand had shifted hands.
Chaudhrys have now served the purpose: they are now a used commodity meant for the
bin of history. The morale of their story is that siding with a military dictator yields fruits for
the present but brings humiliation for the future. The Chaudhrys are now struggling to save
the presidency of the PML-Q to head off the forward bloc phenomenon.

To what extent Hamid Nasir Chatta, a nominee by Musharraf for the President of the
forward bloc of the PML-Q, is acceptable to Zardari to forge an alliance is yet to be seen. It
is, however, apparent that the Musharraf camp is pulsating again in the make-and-break
acts in the national political arena. The MQM has been brought closer to the PPP – thanks
to the efforts of Attorney General, Malik Qayyum – to shape an alliance in the Provincial
Assembly of Sind.

Where the Chaudhrys along with Mushahid Hussain are becoming fast disassociated from
the Musharraf camp, the PML-N is getting disjointed from the coalition with the PPP. Some
people see a possibility of proximity appearing between the PML-N and the PML-Q –
naturally. This likelihood of propinquity between the two rivals in Punjab – and who were
formal allies – may compel Zardari to rethink his options on losing the PML-N just for the
sake of disagreement on the modalities on restoration of the judges. At least, political
acumen, if it exists, demands so.

There are voices that the PML-N, by abdicating the coalition with the PPP, has
strengthened the hands of the Musharraf camp. Contrarily, it seems that the Musharraf
camp is more exposed to criticism now. Never before has any political party abandoned the
ministries in the history of Pakistan than now. The positive is the inclusion of the role of
principles in the national political affairs. By resigning from the federal ministries on
principles, the PML-N has jeopardized its government in Punjab and put at risk the
candidature eligibility of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif for the by-elections. The step of
resignation is bound to invite reverence and earn accolade for the PML-N from the public. If
the political sense is something to value, the PML-N has scored all the points and has
outsmarted its competitors – be they friends or foes. Whether or not the judges are
restored, it can be safely said that the PML-N has become a political reality in Pakistan now
to be reckoned with. The PML-N has tried to prove that it considers itself beholden to the
public who voted for it in the general elections for restoration of the judges, the sole
agenda.

Where the PML-N has left the nearness of the PPP, the PML-N has drifted towards the
APDM, a forgotten alliance, which had boycotted the elections. By not resigning from the
assembly seats, the PML-N may become a link between the parties that boycotted the
elections and the National Assembly. In other words, the APDM and the lawyers’ bodies
may get their representation in the assembly through the PML-N.

Efforts are underway to prevent the complete departure of the PML-N from the treasury
benches to the opposition benches. There are ample evidences mirroring a sort of
accommodation still existing between the PPP and the PML-N. Nevertheless, there are
sufficient indicators depicting the PPP the neo PML-Q – by providing a prop to Musharraf
and by maintaining the status quo. In the post-election plight of the PML-Q and in the
recent Musharraf-Chaudhrys confrontation, there are lessons to be learnt for the PPP and
Zardari.

Above all, it seems that the way Zardari has changed his mind on the Bhurban declaration,
the judges’ restoration issue has been pushed back to the streets of Pakistan plunging
country further into crisis.

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