At last, one step forward
THE denouement was suitably dramatic, capped by a prime ministerial address to the nation shortly before the crack of dawn on Monday. The timing was unprecedented, but any further delay would have cost the nation dearly. Keeping an eye on the events that led up to Yousuf Raza Gilani’s conciliatory speech was an experience comparable to watching a train wreck in slow motion. You kept hoping someone would have the good sense to pull the chain in time.
And someone did, albeit not without a great deal of assistance. The crucial tug seems to have been delivered by a foreign hand. In the circumstances, even those of us wary of external interference in domestic affairs ought to be grateful.
There isn’t much cause for pride in the fact that Hillary Clinton, David Milliband and their representatives in
No one could have missed the significance of the fact that it was Gilani rather than Asif Zardari who made the crucial announcement. The prime minister was able to convey the impression that he was comfortable with the decision to restore Iftikhar Chaudhry and all other judges deposed by
Although Gilani was hand-picked by Zardari, and was considered relatively powerless long before the latter owned up to his presidential ambitions, there have lately been reports of increasingly tense relations between the two of them. Among many other things, it remains to be seen whether this week’s events will significantly shift the balance of power.
Following his inauguration last year, Zardari made a big deal of his avowed intention to clip his own wings by curbing presidential powers. He has not so far been witnessed wielding a pair of shears - which is of a piece with his by now well established reputation for making promises he has no intention of keeping. However, even before Monday’s climbdown, there was growing evidence of his authority being undermined.
Raza Rabbani, a senior member of the Pakistan People’s Party, resigned from his cabinet post after being overlooked for the coveted post of Senate chairman. Sherry Rehman’s exit last week was even more significant: she quit as information minister after the government, without bothering to consult her, attempted to block the private Geo News television channel, evidently on account of its live coverage of the lawyers’ movement. Rehman appears to be an instinctive liberal who has occasionally given the impression of being something of a misfit in an authoritarian environment. Her action, ostensibly on a matter of principle - although personal dignity must surely also have been a consideration - establishes a healthy precedent.
The fiasco in
The extent to which the despicable terrorist attack targeting the Sri Lankan cricket team in
Chances of the Shahbaz administration’s restoration have brightened in the light of the federal government’s declared pursuit of a judicial review - a promise that will be difficult, in the circumstances, to breach. In the interim, as a goodwill gesture, it would be wise to appoint a less adversarial governor (Aitzaz Ahsan would be an excellent choice). In fact, Zardari would be doing the nation a considerable favour were he to relegate not only Taseer but also Rehman Malik - whose technically advisory post barely disguises the breadth of his influence - to posts where their capacity to do harm is severely constrained.
The scenes of jubilation on the streets of
A reality check is also advisable for those who, enthused by Nawaz Sharif’s success in hitching his wagon to the lawyers’ movement, are beginning to perceive him as some sort of saviour. It is all very well for him to decry Zardari’s “democratic dictatorship” and to champion the cause of judicial independence, but his political antecedents and past conduct ought not to be overlooked.
He is not a democrat by birth: as a political entity, he emerged fully formed from the bowels of Pakistan’s most toxic military dictatorship. On at least one infamous occasion, his party goons displayed considerable disrespect towards the Supreme Court. And he demonstrated an alarming level of autocracy during his second stint in power, while flirting openly with Islamists of the Sharia-wielding variety. In the absence of a clear-cut and comprehensive mea culpa, there is no assurance that, given the opportunity, he won’t repeat his follies.
At the moment, there are no palatable alternatives to compromise and political accommodation. It may well be possible eventually to look back on this week’s developments as a crucial turning point. But it’s too soon to make that judgement. It’s undoubtedly a victory, but what good will come from it only time shall tell.