The Politics of Uncertainty
By amicus • Dec 27th, 2011 • Category: Lead Story •
On 25th December, the nation celebrates the 135th Birth anniversary of Quid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan was, “There is no doubt that the future of our state will and must greatly depend upon the type of education and way in which we bring up our children as the future servants of Pakistan…What we have to do is mobilise our people and build up the character of our future generations…”.
President Zardari said today in his message, “it will not allow any change through “force and intimidation and respect the power of ballot as an instrument of change.” He goes on to say; “The Quaid believed that any change must be brought about by ballot and reject change by bullet”.
Very true Mr President; let us bring change through ballot before it is too late.
Let us first take a look at the State of Affairs in Jinnah’s Pakistan.
Early October 2011, the Pakistan People’s Party-led coalition government appeared set to complete its term and there were indications that, if no spanner was thrown, the PPP might secure majority in the Senate as a result of elections in March 2012 and, if the coalition partners made seat adjustments, even emerge as the largest party in the National Assembly in the general elections likely to be held in March 2013.
All of a sudden the situation changed after Mansoor Ijaz, an influential American citizen of Pakistani ancestry, disclosed in an article published in The Financial Times on October10, 2011 that about a week after the Abbottabad Operation of May 2, 2011, in which Osama Bin Laden was hunted down, “a senior Pakistani diplomat” contacted him in the name of President Asif Ali Zardari, to send a message to the White House national security officials, seeking US assistance to prevent military takeover in Pakistan and offering to appoint a new national security team that would eliminate Section ‘S’ of the ISI, which maintained relations with the Taliban, Haqqani network and other militants.
According to Ijaz, a memo to the effect was duly drafted and sent to Admiral Mullen on May 10, 2011. Later on, former US National Security Advisor James L. Jones disclosed that the memo was sent through him.
After Foreign Policy magazine published the full text of the alleged memo, it became known that the memo contained provisions of far serious implications for Pakistan’s defence establishment and national security interests, including its nuclear programme, than what had been initially stated by Ijaz.
In quick developments subsequent to the publication of Ijaz’s Financial Times article, DG ISI General Ahmed Shuja Pasha met Ijaz in London to seek more details and then briefed Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani about the memo; General Kayani conveyed his concern to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani about the alleged role of Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani in the memo affair; Gilani summoned Haqqani to Islamabad to clarify his position; Haqqani denied the charges that he had anything to do with the memo; Ijaz publicly maintained that Haqqani was the senior diplomat who had approached him for sending the memo and produced some ‘evidences’ in the form of Blackberry data and messages which he had exchanged with Haqqani; after initial rejection, Mullen’s spokesman confirmed that he had received the memo but had ignored it; Gilani obtained resignation from Haqqani and announced to hold inquiry into the whole affair. The inquiry was to be conducted by a parliamentary committee.
However, not satisfied with Gilani’s announcement, on November 23, 2011 Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the principal opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League (N) and many others, took the matter to the Supreme Court, praying that the “dreadful conspiracy to demonise, ridicule, malign and consequently demoralise and terrorise and resultantly to destroy the invaluable and valiant Armed Forces of Pakistan; to trade away the sovereignty of Pakistan and to barter away the very existence and the future of Pakistan which also amounts to waging a war against Pakistan, should be unearthed.”
Lead Petitioner Sharif arrayed Zardari, Haqqani, Ijaz, General Kayani, and General Pasha, Foreign Secretary and Interior Secretary and others as respondents to explain the “detestable, despicable and treacherous memorandum.”
The proceedings in the Supreme Court, where more petitions were filed, exposed many things, including some intriguing aspects of relationship between the civilian and military leadership, although, in the meantime, the attention was partly diverted to the dastardly blatant ISAF / NATO attack on Pakistani posts in the tribal area near Afghanistan’s border in which 24 soldiers were killed and many more seriously wounded.
December 1, 2011 the Supreme Court ordered the formation of a one-man inquiry commission, directed Haqqani not to leave the country and asked Zardari, General Pasha and General Kayani to explain their position.
The same day the PPP reacted with much venom.
In a hurriedly called press conference addressed by the PPP leaders, Babar Awan lashed out: “This time the PML (N) leaders have chosen strong shoulders to play their game, which I call the first act of the Bangladesh model.”
He referred to Sharif’s petition as a conspiracy to pitch state institutions against each other to come to power through back door. He contended that under the Constitution only the executive had the authority to set up a commission and wrongly complained that the Supreme Court did not allow the federation to present its argument on the subject. He also criticised restrictions imposed on Haqqani without hearing him.
The PPP leaders’ tone in the press conference was very harsh and sarcastic. Awan played the old game: “The judicial history of the country is witness to the fact that PPP was never given justice, but at the same it has also become a known reality now that rulers of the Punjab have always got relief from the courts.” Awan’s outburst indicated that the PPP intended to use Sindh card and pose as an innocent victim of highhandedness if collision between institutions could not be averted.
On December 3, 2011 Newsweek published another article by Ijaz on a website in which Ijaz claimed that Haqqani had prior knowledge of the US “stealth mission to eliminate bin Laden that would violate Pakistan’s sovereignty.” Haqqani denied having any prior information of the Abbottabad Operation.
In another development, on December 4, 2011 President Zardari’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar announced that the president would address the joint session of the parliament after Ashura, which was falling on December 6.
It was understood that Zardari intended to speak about the proceedings subjudice before the Supreme Court on the controversial memo and the ISAF / NATO attack on Pakistani border posts, which had strained relations with the United States. Significantly the announcement of President Zardari’s address referred to him also as the Co-Chairman of the PPP and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. This was unusual.
In a surprising development that created breath-taking suspense, on the day of Ashura (December 6) President Zardari suddenly left for Dubai. The statements of the PPP leaders about his departure compounded the confusion and confounded the nation.
The presidential spokesman stated that Zardari had gone to Dubai to visit his children and also to undergo some tests. Another PPP source stated the president needed “some time off from this madness.”
Late night reports said that Zardari had been admitted to hospital after he had a heart attack. A blog story claimed that the president was incoherent while speaking with President Barrack Obama on Sunday (December 4) because he felt that the noose was tightening around his neck.
In this back drop, the speculation became rife that he had left under some kind of deal offering safe passage and would submit his resignation soon. However, when asked about a possibility of soft coup in Pakistan, the US State Department said: “We have no concerns; we think it is health-related.”
In an emergency meeting of the PPP leaders in Islamabad on December 8 jointly chaired by Prime Minister Gilani and chairman of the party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the PPP leaders decided to close their ranks in the face of growing challenges for the party. It seemed something critical was in the offing.
The next day, Zardari called Gilani and some journalists from hospital in Dubai. Reportedly he was his usual self. He stated that he left for Dubai because he did not trust hospitals in Pakistan and would be back soon. He dispelled the idea that he would resign. Now the questions that bothered the people were: Why did Zardari not trust hospitals in Pakistan? Was there any threat to his life and from whom? Was the military establishment or any of its agencies after him?
The same day (December 9) in his reply to the Supreme Court Haqqani, inter alia, submitted that Nawaz Sharif’s petition was not maintainable because it failed to highlight any violation of (his) fundamental rights and was based on allegations made by a dubious individual.
He also challenged the Supreme Court’s Order dated December 1. His petition challenging the Supreme Court Order was returned by the Registrar Supreme Court’s Office with some objections. Haqqani challenged the Registrar Supreme Court’s decision the following day.
In an interview with BBC on December 10, Gilani denied that Zardari had suffered from any stroke or that he had written a letter of resignation. He also dismissed speculation about any quiet coup.
Within 72 hours, things again appeared uncertain. This time it was a meeting on December 13 between Prime Minister Gilani and Chairman Senate Farooq H. Naek who was serving as acting president. The official press release said that they discussed the memo scandal.
On December 14 Gilani told the Senate that there had been a threat to President’s life if he had gone to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences when his father was admitted there and, therefore, the president was persuaded to go to Dubai [instead of PIMS].
In the same speech Prime Minister stated: “Parliament, and not the government and the prime minister, should complete the term. It does not make any difference if I sit on opposition benches.”
Glani claimed that he had two-third majority in the National Assembly and if he resigned the opposition would not be in a position to form the government. He added: “In that case both of us will have to go and there will be no elections in our life time.” Gilani further said that there was a procedure in the Constitution to impeach the president and that the Constitution should be followed to keep the country intact.
Gilani again called the memo controversy a conspiracy against the parliament. He stated: “What is the purpose of taking to the court an incredible document authored by a person having a history of writing articles against Pakistan, its government and establishment.”
On December 14, Independent, a British newspaper published an article titled “Pakistan’s memo gate: was there ever going to be a coup?” by Omar Warriach based on Mansoor Ijaz’s, alleged, claim that General Pasha had visited Arab countries for discussion on a possible coup in Pakistan.
In the blog posted on Independent newspaper’s website Ijaz was quoted as having explained the following Blackberry message which he claimed to have sent to Haqqani: “I was just informed by senior US Intel that GD – SII [DG ISI] Mr. P asked for, and received permission, from senior Arab leaders a few days ago to sack Z.”
In the message, Intel stood for Intelligence Officer, P for Pasha and Z for Zardari. Reportedly Pasha had gone on a secret foreign trip on May 6, 2011.
December 15, 2011 was the last date for submission of reply to the Supreme Court in the memo case. The Supreme Court received the replies of all respondents except President Zardari.
In its reply the federal government requested the Supreme Court to dismiss Nawaz Sharif’s petition. It said that it was essential that the Parliamentary Committee on National Security should proceed with the probe to determine the issue and give its recommendations.
The reply stated: “It is the stance of the federation that the federal government (including the constitutional head of the state, the constitutional chief executive of the country or any other component of the federal government) has neither conceptualised nor initiated or, in manner, has anything to do with the alleged memo or the allegations or views expressed therein.”
Intriguingly, the federation’s reply attached a downloaded copy of Omar Warraich’s article published in Independent of December 14. This was an indication that the PPP government was prepared to counter attack the military establishment.
In his somewhat circumspect reply General Kayani stated: “There may be a need to fully examine the facts and circumstances leading to conception and issuance of the memo.” He also said that the matter had an impact on national security and the morale of Pakistan Army.
General Pasha in his reply called for a thorough investigation and stated that “access to unadulterated truth and justice” was the right of the people of Pakistan, “the real sovereign masters of this country.”
Both, the Army Chief and DG ISI, initially, held Haqqani responsible for the controversial memo.
In his submission spread over 81 pages, Mansoor Ijaz gave his version of the events since he was first time allegedly contacted by Haqqani for the drafting and communication of the memo.
On December 16, Jones came in support of Haqqani stating that he had no reason to believe that Haqqani had any role in the preparation of the memo. He did not elaborate what was the basis of his belief vindicating HH, and did not spell out the reasons for such vindication, when the matter is subjudice before the apex Court in Pakistan.
The same day Gilani and Kayani met and, according to the statement issued by the prime minister’s office, agreed that their replies to the Supreme Court should not be misconstrued as “a standoff between the army and the government.”
It was reported that during the meeting Gilani received a phone call of Zardari and Kayani also talked to the president. Next day prime minister was upbeat and told the media that both army and judiciary were with democracy and they would not derail the system.
In the early hours of December 19 President Zardari landed in Karachi.
It appeared that the tense moments were over.
But the optimism was quite short-lived. The Supreme Court took up the memo issue in the morning and at the outset of the hearing the Chief Justice, after referring to the press conference of the PPP leaders held on December 1, observed: “If the prime minister is of the opinion (that whatever uttered was not the stand of the government) he should tell what action he has taken knowing well that the matter is pending before the court.”
The Supreme Court noted that Zardari had not submitted his reply and told the attorney general that when allegations were not rebutted, these were normally considered to be true. The Supreme Court also sought para-wise comments from the respondents on petitions and replies.
The same day (December 19) Inter Services Public Relations issued a statement to dispel the impression that there had been any deal between Zardari and Kayani. The statement clarified that the President and the Army Chief talked for about a minute. “Hence, attributing anything more to this conversation is unfounded and unnecessary.”
Temperature in Islamabad rose again.
On December 20, the Ministry of Defence submitted to the Supreme Court that it exercised only administrative control and no operational control over the armed forces of Pakistan as well as the ISI.
The sign of friction between the civilian set-up and the military establishment became more evident.
In an important development on December 21, the ISPR denied that the DG ISI had met any Arab leader between May 1 and 9 and that stated that visits to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates prior and after these dates were of routine nature. This had become imperative because a petition had been filed in the Supreme Court seeking removal of Pasha as ISI Chief.
When others were complying with the directive of the Supreme Court, the PPP leaders held a meeting on December 21 to deliberate if Zardari should submit his reply or not. The PPP appeared to be on collision path.
December 22 was the worst day of the crisis.
While addressing at a function to commemorate the birth anniversary of the Quaid-i-Azam, Prime Minister Gilani stated that a conspiracy against his government was being hatched. He said that “a state within state” would not be tolerated and added: “all institutions, including the ministry of defence, should be answerable to parliament and the chief executive, who is the prime minister.” Obviously he was upset with the reply submitted by the Secretary of Defence to the Supreme Court and wanted to assert the authority of the civilian arm of the government over the military.
Later in the day he spoke in the National Assembly and pointedly said that he had set up a commission to know about those who were responsible for allowing Osama bin Laden to live in Abbottabad for six years. He repeated: “All institutions of the country are answerable to parliament and nobody is above law.”
It was a full-blown crisis. It seemed the point of no-return had been reached and the military may act any moment to wind up the civilian set-up.
At this juncture some western diplomats became active to defuse the crisis.
Next day the things settled down to a considerable extent.
Quite unusually, Chief of the Army Staff during his visit to forward posts in Mohmand and Kurram agencies stated: “Pakistan Army has and will continue to support democratic process in the country.” But he accused the government of diverting attention from the memo affair by raising alarm of coup. “Irrespective of all other considerations, there can be no compromise on national security,” he clarified.
During a hearing in the Supreme Court, Chief justice Chaudhry also made it clear that unlike in the past, there would be no validation of military takeover. “The (amended) code of conduct demands the judges to preserve and protect the Constitution at all cost. The system will run according to what the Constitution commands,” he stated.
This was not the first time that uncertainty gripped the country.
On a number of occasions since the PPP came to power it appeared that the civilian and military leaderships were on a collision course or the executive and the judiciary were on a war path. Every time the PPP played on the front foot, directly or indirectly, accusing the army and judiciary of hatching conspiracy against democracy and the civilian set-up.
The truth is that all these three institutions have failed to fulfil their responsibilities within the parameters of the Constitution in varying degrees. The executive has not fully complied with the orders and directives of the Supreme Court issued in different cases. Although on several occasions the prime minister has assured the nation that the orders of the Supreme Court would be implemented in letter and spirit, the facts do not substantiate his claim. Often it appeared that the executive was dodging the Supreme Court or playing hide and seek with it.
On its part, the superior judiciary has also given the impression that it has been a bit selective in taking up cases. There is the petition of Asghar Khan concerning the distribution of money by secret agencies to political rivals of the PPP.
There is the case questioning the legitimacy of Shabaz Sharif as Chief Minister of Punjab. There are a large number of cases against the leaders and workers of the MQM for committing violence, including murders, which should have been reopened or restored after the NRO was declared null and void.
There is the case against the MQM for creating mayhem in Karachi on May 12, 2007 in which at least 40 people were killed. When Sindh High Court tried to take up the matter of May 12 the MQM workers threateningly surrounded the Sindh High Court. The High Court was brow-beaten by the MQM thugs but the Supreme Court did nothing.
It is also a truth that the military establishment and its agencies – Military Intelligence or Inter-Services Intelligence – have to live with lot of past baggage. In every general election, the military establishment historically resorts to pre-poll, polling day and post-poll manipulations.
It jealously and exclusively controls the defence and foreign policies of the country. At time people get the impression that the armed forces have monopolised patriotism and do not consider the civilians trustworthy.
Having said all this, one should take it as a good omen that the Supreme Court has made it clear that it would not bestow legitimacy to any extra-constitutional act of taking over the government and the military establishment has given assurance that it does not intend to derail the democratic process.
Pakistan Muslim League (N) has shown great maturity by declaring that it will oppose any military intervention. Almost all important political parties have supported the democratic process. Same is the stand taken by the media in general and representatives of the civil society in particular.
But then this leads us to the question: what next?
For the PPP leadership it is the time for introspection and soul-searching. It needs to reform itself and become more responsive to people’s demands and aspirations. No one can challenge the authority of the government if it is able to command popular trust and respect.
Obviously the best course for the ruling coalition is to address the grievances of the people and focus on improving the quality of governance. It should address the complaints of corruption, favouritism, nepotism, breakdown in law and order, energy crisis, mismanagement in state corporations, inflation, economic meltdown and other issues. It also has to show that it respects the other institutions of the state as “as it desires to be respected.
If the present slide continues, the people may get completely tired and ultimately become fed up of the civilian rule. The fatigue is already visible. To be frank, it is largely due to the Imran Khan factor that a considerable segment of masses has retained some hope in democratic process.
The PPP should understand that, despite all proclamations in the favour of democracy, there is a thresh hold of tolerance and the army or the Supreme Court may perforce decide to wind up the system in national interests if there is a further deterioration in governance and if the government continues on the collision course.
The possibility of such an eventuality is highly pronounced, despite the clear and forth right announcement by both the institutions, given the propensity of the incumbent Zardari-Gilani dispensation to provoke confrontation with these state institutions.
Such an eventuality will be a reality if they were to indulge in any ill-conceived adventurism against the Army and Judiciary. They ought to take a leaf from the contemporary instances of such adventurism by Nawaz Sharif in 1993 and again by Nawaz Sharif in October 1999.
For the government the best course would be to resign and go to the people for a fresh mandate, but it is a tall order for the incumbent government, although the entire dispensation is crying hoarse thatit believes in the power of ballot.
Hence, given the prevailing environment, for the opposition, the best course available is to resign from the assemblies and force the government to go for the fresh polls.
After the resignations the opposition should simultaneously press for having an independent Election Commission, preparation of fool proof voters’ list as directed by the Supreme Court and peaceful conduct of polling on the day of elections.
It should not insist on resignation or removal of President Zardari as a prerequisite for transparent and fair general elections. Any such demand would be unconstitutional and would set a bad example. As for the President, let the cases before the Supreme Court run its course and the President should honour, abide and bow before the outcome of those cases.
As far as the controversial memo is concerned, let there be an inquiry commission by the Supreme Court and let it submit its report to the Supreme Court and let the Supreme Court decide the future line of action and if anyone is found responsible, the laws should take its own course, may it be Haqqani or even the President.
The army has already got over stretched. Its primary responsibility is to defend the country against foreign aggression and internal insurgencies. It should not offer an opportunity to the PPP leaders to go down as martyrs. Any reckless adventurism will bring bad name to the army and it would be thoroughly discredited in a short span.
It is not in the interest of the country to upset the applecart when elections are possible constitutionally and that is the only democratic way to go forward.
There’s certainly a lot of legitimate debate about what exactly government is supposed to be expected to do, and what is the best way to go about doing it. Perhaps you in fact think it appropriate to take some people’s money at gunpoint to give to poor folks (like YOU, no doubt). But recognize this is what you are doing, and don’t kid yourself that it’s something truly different than if you just walked into the bank with a gun — other than you’re getting someone else to do your dirty work. The stick-up artist is just cutting out the middleman. As HL Mencken memorably put it, “Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.”
That said, Mr President and Mr Prime Minister, seize the moment and go to the people, your government has run out of steam. Live up to what you preach and let the change come through the ballot, the power of the ballot is what we need in sheer defence; else what shall save us from a second slavery?
However, do not misunderstand and think that ballots are the opposite of bullets. They are not. They are just a substitute for muting direct violence, not the elimination of violence.