by Shaheryar Azhar, moderator, The Forum
There we go again….The seeds of this impending implosion were laid in the very victory of democratic forces on February 18, 2008 when a free and fair elections brought eight-years of General Musharraf’s illegitimate rule to an end. The seeds lay in the split in Pakistan’s civil society and democratic forces that took place at the very moment of their victory. These seeds were:
1. Inability of large part of the ‘lawyers movement’ to realize that a credible election just took place despite their call for its boycott. That the basis of this election was none other than the ‘political deal’ hammered out between PPP and General Musharraf that they had vociferously decried. Instead of realizing this new political reality and reaching out to the other side for hammering a bargain, they opted for continuation of their confrontational politics as if they were still battling General Musharraf.
2. Inability of the leadership of PPP, particularly President Zardari, and its coalition partners (MQM and ANP) to fully appreciate that ‘the deal’ itself was made possible by the struggle of the lawyers movement and other democratic forces and they also needed to reach out to them and somehow bring them in the fold.
For each to have accommodated the other, it was imperative that the NRO and ‘the deal’ itself should have been accepted on one hand and the judiciary, including Chief Justice Chaudhry restored on the other.
Of such short-sightedness are political blunders made. All those who have supported one position or the other, instead of the compromise, are also guilty. This is a collective failure on our part, not just of the political players.
Pakistan is straight heading for a train wreck and the biggest losers will be the (divided) civil society and democratic forces notwithstanding their heroic 60-year struggle. There is still time for both sides to pull back. Relevant questions each will ask are following:
1. Could President Zardari be isolated from a good portion of its leadership and thus the divide between the democratic forces bridged this way?
2. If not, would the lawyers movement (with help from political opponents of Zardari) pull back its threatened ‘march and sit-in’ and offer some kind of a compromise?
3. Is there a possibility of ‘cooler heads’ in both camps to prevail on each other and a middle ground found?
4. Would the army see in this confrontation a chance to enter the corridors of power illegally and thus destroy the remaining Pakistan?
I would plead that each of us work for Option # 3 and avoid the zero-sum game that the infantile Pakistani establishment and political forces inevitably cannot stop from playing.
Pakistani Court Bars Former Leader From Office
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Supreme Court barred the former prime minister and opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, from elected office Wednesday in a decision that is likely to plunge Pakistan into deeper political turmoil as it grapples with an escalating insurgency.
The court made its ruling on the grounds that Mr. Sharif had been convicted of a crime. But Mr. Sharif’s lawyer immediately denounced the decision, asserting it was a political decision ordered by President Asif Ali Zardari.
The court also disqualified Mr. Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif, from continuing in office as the chief minister of the Punjab, the most important province in Pakistan, and the only one not controlled by Mr. Zardari.
Animosity between the former prime minister and Mr. Zardari stems from the collapse of their coalition last year but it has worsened in recent weeks as the Supreme Court decisions on the brothers neared.
Mr. Sharif, who was prime minister twice in the 1990s, has also pledged to join protesting lawyers in a long march from Lahore to Islamabad next month, and to take part in a planned sit-in in the capital. The lawyers’ are campaigning to restore Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who was dismissed nearly two years ago by former President Pervez Musharraf.
Such a move by Mr. Sharif could raise political passions on the street. With Pakistanis suffering economically and security concerns paramount, Mr. Sharif had the potential of causing grief for the unpopular civilian government, political analysts said.
“By raising unnecessary expectations, he may just push the country to another phase of chaos and anarchy,” Zaffar Abbas, a prominent journalist, wrote of the former prime minister in Dawn, an English-language newspaper.
The ruling against the Sharif brothers came as the chief of the Pakistani army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was in Washington to confer with the Obama administration on how Pakistan can better deal with the Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgency.
The possibility of political turmoil just as Washington is trying to concentrate the Pakistani leadership on reversing the rapid gains of the militants is likely to be viewed with dismay by the Obama administration. After his recent trip to Pakistan, President Obama’s special envoy to the region, Richard C. Holbrooke, praised Mr. Zardari for what he called his understanding of the urgency of dealing with the insurgency, but seemed to question his ability to influence the powerful Pakistani Army.
Mr. Holbrooke also met with Nawaz Sharif during his visit.
In its ruling Wednesday, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal against a ruling by a lower court that disqualified Nawaz Sharif from running for office on the grounds that he had been convicted of a crime. When Mr. Sharif was prime minister, he tried to stop the ouster of his government by General Musharraf in October 1999 by ordering an aircraft carrying the general back to Pakistan from Sri Lanka not to land.
After General Musharraf overthrew Mr. Sharif, he prosecuted him on hijacking charges, and sent him into exile in Saudi Arabia.
The Supreme Court also upheld a challenge to the election of Shahbaz Sharif to the provincial assembly in the Punjab. That decision means Mr. Sharif can no longer serve as chief minister, and that the assembly in the Punjab will be dissolved.
The lawyer representing the Sharif brothers, Akram Sheikh, said the Supreme Court “did not decide the cases on merit.” Mr. Zardari controlled the Supreme Court and “ordered” the decision, he said.
It was likely, political analysts said, that the governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer, a leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party and an appointee of Mr. Zardari’s, would take over the provincial government. The provincial governor would seek to form a new coalition dominated by the president’s party, and if successful, Mr. Zardari would consolidate his power by gaining control over the most important province.