A crisis in the offing

Daily: Cutting Edge (weekly)
Date: 21.01.10

Is the point of survival of the incumbent government approaching? At least the frenzy and
frantic efforts being made by the ruling party, the PPP, to accentuate its strength invites the
question.

The utterances made by the President Asif Ali Zardari in his speech delivered on December
27, 2009, in Nau Daro, Sind, was not a faux pas but a deliberate attempt to preclude any
move by any quarters – read here ‘the military’ – to oust Zardari in case the forthcoming
detailed judgement issued by the Supreme Court is interpreted against the presence of
Zardari in the presidency.

The point will not only be whether Zardari enjoys constitutional immunity or not but the point
will also be whether Zardari holds moral authority to continue or not. For the political
adversaries of the PPP both the points would be cash-worthy; for the PPP both the points
would be the devastating blows. That is how the future of the PPP – or at least its credibility
– for a few coming years may hang in balance.

The PPP is sensitive to the matter of eligibility (and credibility) of Zardari owing to two
reasons: first, Zardari is currently party’s co-chairperson and secondly after Zardari’s falling
into trouble there is no alternative leadership available immediately – at least from the
Benazir Bhutto hierarchy. Bilawal Zardari Bhutto is too young to hold any leading national
political position. Hence in disqualification of Zardari lies the risk of obliteration of the PPP,
besides flagging appeal of the PPP to the masses.

Retrospectively, it seems that the political system erected in March 2008 through elections
is carrying along the seeds of trouble – if not of destruction – in the shape of the NRO.
Since that time, the most of the energies of the incumbent government have been spent on
saving itself from being crumbled – under its own weight even – than building the political
institution. The self-serving efforts of the PPP are about to enter the third year since the
time the party held the reins of power.

The second tier of the PPP leadership is displaying strength of the party in having the Sind
Card on hand but not using it as a gesture of goodwill to the federation. Bilawal is in
Pakistan because there might be a semester break in the educational institute concerned in
the UK but it seems that his help has been sought to disseminate the message of the PPP
in society. Bilawal is busy in making the people enrolled on the list of the PPP workers to
enhance the membership of the party, but then presence of Bilawal is also significant for
the PPP in the sense that the PPP workers can be prevailed on to be ready to respond to
the troubles Zardari is apprehensive of in sequel to the pronouncement of the detailed
judgement on the NRO. Further, presence of Bilawal around is also important to keep the
ranks and files of the PPP united in case a worse case scenario props up.

As the political signs indicate, Zardari thinks that if someone can make him step down from
the presidency, it is the army. Somehow, this is the feeling in the PPP circles that the
judiciary is working at the behest of the army and may call army to implement its decisions
especially on the NRO. Consequently, what Zardari is yearning for is to tear down the
expected nexus between the military and the judiciary before any eventuality visits him.
Sometimes it seems that Zardari is over conscious of his future and has been trying to
overkill the expected threat to his presidential tenure. In a way, however, Zardari is right in
his harried efforts because the point is not only if he stays in presidency anymore or not but
also how to justify (by delinking himself from) the Swiss cases filed against him on the
charges of embezzlement to the tune of approximately US $ 65 million. In short, both fruits
of the NRO, enjoying immunity and salvaging ill-gotten wealth, are in jeopardy almost
simultaneously.

The political signs also point out that Zardari is holding a carte blanche: to say and act as
he deems fit. The second tier of leadership including Farhatullah Babar, Qamar Zaman
Kaira, Babar Awan, Firdous Ashiq Awan and Fauzia Wahab are apparently assigned with
the task of interpretation – rather reinterpretation – of the golden sayings of Zardari. All of
them endeavour to extract some semblance of sense from every utterance made by
Zardari. Perhaps, performance and loyalty of the second tier is judged on the touchstone of
their being vocal in favour of Zardari, come what may. The trend is reminiscent of the later
years of General Pervaiz Musharraf. As hardly can anyone be named who could give a
piece of advice to Musharraf, there is no one in the ranks of the PPP who has privilege to
make Zardari listen to. That was how Mushrraf carved out the path of self-destruction and
that is how Zardari is replicating the experience of Musharraf. In a way, in order to hide (or
justify) one mistake, several mistakes are committed. Conceivably, that is why a school of
thought predicts that another March 9 is in the making. But then what is in the offing in
response is yet to be seen.

The political signs also signify that Zardari’s Nau Dero speech has potential to haunt
Zardari for quite some time despite the fact that the term ‘undemocratic forces’ was
swapped with ‘non-state actors’ later on in his speech in Karachi to attenuate the vigour of
bitterness but the damage had been done. That is why it is said that Zardari possesses an
uncanny knack of turning a favourable situation against him. Just after the general
elections, the second major political party, the PML-N, was siding with Zardari’s party, the
PPP, but Zardari ‘tried his best’ to keep the PML-N out of government benches. The PPP is
relying now on the smaller parties like the MQM, the ANP, and the JUI-F who tend to
blackmail the PPP on one issue or another. The way the MQM brought embarrassment to
the PPP on the NRO resolution on the floor of the house (by withdrawing its support at the
eleventh hour), the PPP needs to learn a lesson. But who cares when egocentrism takes
precedence over all other democratic norms!

A few days ago, Zardari visited Lahore and a sort of Darbar was staged making a mockery
of democracy. It is not yet known when the longing for becoming a king will be done away
with and when an elected representative will stop considering himself a monarch. Anyway,
the second interesting point is that the upper tier of the ‘friendly opposition’, the PML-N, left
Lahore to keep the PPP unchallenged. In that way, enough political space and opportunity
was offered to the PPP to do its homework in case the PPP thinks its future in Islamabad is
at stake. That is the spirit of bonhomie which is still prevailing between the two main parties
– thanks to the document called the CoD.

Practically speaking, the government is stuck up between the short decision of the
Supreme Court on the NRO and its implementation. Sharif brothers seems to have decided
to stay out of the battleground which is going to be and bound to be laid between the
Zardari circle of the PPP and the Supreme Court.

Even the external stakeholder, Richard Holbrooke, has realized gravity of the situation and
paid a visit to Pakistan showing solidarity with the people against the undemocratic forces –
include this time the judiciary and the media in the list as well.

As apparent, the next constitutional crisis is not far in terms of time. Existence of an
independent judiciary is one thing but its role is another. The question is what the limits of
the independent judiciary are: just to interpret the constitution and leaving it up to the
parties to decide between themselves or to enforce its decision along with (and after)
interpretation? But then the next question is who is entitled constitutionally to enforce the
decisions of the Supreme Court?

Back to columns in 2010