Punjab Khappy

Daily: Pakistan Observer
Date: 17.10.08

Before democracy dictatorship comes and after a spell of democracy comes another
dictatorship is what the fait accompli of Pakistan so far. One can only hope that the next
turn of dictatorship will never visit the country: this time democracy will not be a sandwich-
like episode between two bouts of dictatorship. But who knows?

Pakistan has not only experienced the two extremes – dictatorship and democracy – but
many things in between attached to the word ‘quasi-,’ be it quasi-dictatorship or its flip side,
quasi-democracy. The other day, someone was kidding that the Pakistanis were no more
inclined to be the extremists: neither do they like one extreme called dictatorship nor do
they like the other extreme called democracy. The Pakistanis are disposed of to be
contented with the ‘quasi-’ formula – apparently a cure for all that ails Pakistan ranging from
assertiveness of the establishment to meekness of the politicians.

The era of the ex-President General Musharraf fell safely in the category of a quasi-
dictatorship period, wherein Musharraf was acting as an umbrella under the shadow of
which the likes of the PML-Q and the PPP-Patriot burgeoned to project a façade of
democracy to Musharraf’s dictatorship. By symptoms, now-a-days is prevailing a period of
quasi-democracy under the tutelage of Asif Ali Zardari, the President of Pakistan, where a
fairly elected Parliament is in place but the policies of Musharraf are continued in effect –
as if Musharraf were governing by proxy.

If a political party comes into power after making secret compromises with foreign and local
power hubs, the party will do the same what the PPP of today has been doing. After getting
the ‘take’ is now time to materialize the ‘give’ in order to balance the equation. Of course,
the foreign and local supporters may be required in the future to enter again into the
corridors of power.

Many may agree that the NRO is a problem of Asif and not of the PPP. The party is being
dragged along as it has no other choice at the moment. One of the reasons may be that
Asif has been successful to keep the party realizing that the NRO is a done matter. The
presence of de facto Chief Justice in the Supreme Court is one such guarantee The NRO is
still in need of a constitutional cover for which another amendment is required. The NRO
has died of its own death in February 2008 after having been issued on October 5, 2007,
as the NRO was not made law by the Parliament within four months of its issuance by the
President in light of Article 89 of the Constitution. The NRO can only be validated if the
decision of the de facto Supreme Court to that effect is validated through a constitutional
amendment. In this way, survival of the incumbent Supreme Court waiting for its legitimacy
is a millstone round the neck of the incumbent President of Pakistan.

Nevertheless, it seems that the crunch time is not far off. The issue of eligibility of the Sharif
brothers to contest elections is yet undecided. The stance of the Sharif brothers that they
do not acknowledge the incumbent Supreme Court as a valid court is a major challenge to
the de facto Supreme Court directly and to the NRO indirectly. So the immediate challenge
for the government of the PPP is to handle eligibility issue of the Sharif brothers. If the past
is any guide, the government of the PPP may try to make the court postpone the eligibility
decision to let the issue linger on yet remain smouldered to be used as a bargaining chip
whenever the time is ripe. In this regard, one of the remote possibilities is that the moment
the PML-Q – including the core of the party comprising Chaudhry brothers – joins hands
with the PPP and there is a guarantee of getting sufficient number of seats in the Senate in
March 2009 elections, the de facto Supreme Court will decide that the Sharif brothers are
ineligible to contest the elections. Thereafter, one can imagine appearance of a tug of war
in Punjab between the PPP and the PML-N.

One thing is sure. This time the PPP will not let Punjab go untouched. The PPP requires
Punjab desperately to re-synthesize its electoral base there. ‘Punjab Khappay’ may be the
next slogan coming into play very soon. In the recent past, after his release from jail, Asif
tried to establish himself in Punjab. There was news that a house was bought on the Badian
road, Lahore. Asif said publicly that the workers should start preparations for the next –
midterm – elections. Asif also tried to hold a political gathering at Liaqat Bagh, Rawalpindi,
but could not succeed. Before Asif could become more active, he was resisted by the
Chaudhrys of Punjab who somehow managed to compel Asif to go into exile.

Now, there are no more Chaudhrys around on the commanding horizon of Punjab but there
are the Sharif brothers to resist a role of the PPP politicians from taking over Punjab.
During the expected five long year rule of the PPP in the centre, if the PPP does not get
hold of Punjab, these years will go waste; the PPP may not let this opportunity squander.
Thus, a battle for Punjab is inevitable and perhaps imminent. The point is not ‘if’ but ‘when’
the battle ensues.

One can still argue that the issues surrounding the NRO need to be handled deftly.
Otherwise, there may arise several voices from within the ranks of the PPP to discredit the
NRO. If an issue can divide the PPP, it is NRO. It can divide the PPP into pro-NRO and anti-
NRO groups. Above all, it seems that the issue of the NRO and the battle for Punjab are
staring at each other.

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