June 2008

Vol 7 - No. 12
 

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Guest Editorial | June 2008

 


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Managing a Coalition  

BY ISHTIAQ AHMED (IDN) *

The coalition government of Yousaf Raza Gilani has suffered a major setback after the PML-N decided to withdraw from it. The Feb 18 elections in which the people roundly rejected the authoritarianism of President Musharraf and the two former rivals, the PPP and PML-N, closed ranks to establish a national government was undoubtedly an event of great historical dimensions. 

Such a development was the consummation of several months of political agitation and legal contestation between the establishment and the spontaneous movement for constitutionalism, the rule of law and democracy, that had emerged in the wake of the March 9, 2007 virtual dismissal of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry by President Musharraf. The democratic forces won the day and many of us began to believe that Pakistan has finally made a decisive break with its directionless politics.

 

It is important to figure out who is responsible for the current crisis. I don't think there should be any doubt that the PPP-PML-N alliance was based on a principled commitment to restore all the judges that had been deposed when Musharraf imposed the emergency on Nov 3, 2007. Of course, Nawaz Sharif was crystal clear on this matter while many from the PPP also came out categorically in favour of the restitution of the deposed judges, but Zardari remained circumspect and spoke in vague terms about it.

 

His conduct in general since Ms Bhutto's tragic death has been most intriguing. As soon as he took over the helm of affairs a whole bunch of sycophants began to sing his praise as a great healer, visionary and statesman.

 

We will never know exactly what was agreed between Zardari and Nawaz Sharif but the Murree Declaration did include an explicit commitment to restore all the deposed judges back to their positions. Since then rounds and rounds of negotiations have led nowhere on evolving a mechanism to realise this commitment.

 

Zardari's objection to restoring the judges is that when he was imprisoned they never considered his prayers about his innocence and also did not grant his request to attend the funeral of a nephew. Therefore, he does not have any reason to put his faith in such judges. Now, this is a perfectly valid standpoint if it is consist with his stand on related issues.

 

How come he has been so keen to seek rapprochement with the MQM and its fugitive leader Altaf Husain? The judges may be guilty of not looking upon his case with sympathy but anybody who knows Pakistan even superficially would be aware of the fact that the MQM was created by the ISI with a specific purpose to weaken the PPP. The violence that ravaged Karachi and other places in Sindh during the 1990s is all too well known and does not need elaboration. And many have accused that party of also being directly involved in the violence of May 12, 2007.

 

It is obvious that Zardari practices selective reconciliation and adjustment in his political moves. There was absolutely no reason ever to believe that he was not buried neck-deep in massive corruption and irregularities. That President Musharraf let him get off the hook by dropping all charges against him through presidential fiat, all for the sake of stability and consolidation of democracy, is an argument that can make sense only to the Bush administration.

 

However, to be very honest the deal had originally been brokered by the United States between Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf. However, one can really question if after her assassination such a deal is relevant any more. Already before her death Ms Bhutto had identified three men in Musharraf's close circle allegedly planning her murder. When that actually transpired, the same view was expressed by some of her party stalwarts. They rejected the government's story that Taliban leader Baitullah Mahsud had ordered her assassination. They even asked for a UN investigation of her assassination.

 

Till such time that Zardari makes an unequivocal statement to the effect that he no longer doubts the establishment's theory of the Taliban being the culprits in her murder there can be no moral basis for getting cosy with Musharraf. It is totally callous and immoral to be bound by a deal that has become meaningless after Ms Bhutto's assassination. To most of us it was very clear that during his long detention in Pakistan Zardari had entered into some deal with the establishment that would benefit him as long as he toed their line when the occasion demanded.

 

It is not possible that all the corruption charges against him were false or inculpating evidence could not be found to prove him guilty. Had the government really wanted to punish him they would have invented evidence as they have done in other cases too. After all, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's trial and subsequent execution was carried out on very questionable grounds and evidence, which now even one of the judges who took part in it, admits.

 

On the other hand, one cannot help noticing that Nawaz Sharif has shown greater political sagacity by deciding to withdraw from the coalition, but not to bring it down. The PML-N will continue to support it from the outside. In the longer run Sharif will stand to gain from holding his ground. However, a future elected government formed entirely by Sharif can be a disaster of another sort. He has the guts and pugnacity to assume a defiant posture vis--vis the military establishment, but in the past has also abused his parliamentary majority to try to impose an undemocratic regime founded on dogmas.

 

A PPP-PML-N coalition government would have been the best guarantee against extremism of one sort or another, but now that hope has been dashed. It is another sad day in Pakistan's long history of sad days. But in the most immediate period, the thing to worry about is that the rumour that Zardari is planning to get himself elected to the National Assembly through a bye-election with a view to becoming prime minister no longer seems far-fetched.

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* This article was first published in the News International . The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National University of Singapore on leave from the University of Stockholm. Email: isasia@nus.edu.sg.

  

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