Maulana Fazlur Rehman, hitherto the undisputed king of Pakistani political gymnastics, stands overtaken. Leaving him far behind is Mr Asif Zardari, living proof of the Shakespeare line that while some people are born great, and some become great, on a select few greatness is thrust. Maulana Fazlur Rehman at least, even when executing the most breathtaking somersaults, always retained a twinkle in his eyes. Mr Zardari's lips smile. Indeed, they smile a bit too much, revealing his flashing teeth. But his eyes don't smile. No sign of a twinkle there, which reminds me of the Godfather.
Asif Zardari is not sole master of the nation's destiny, for which Allah be praised, but as head of the largest party in the National Assembly he is the prime force behind the present coalition. He is not the prime minister but Yousaf Raza Gilani who is the prime minister is his nominee and takes his orders from him. And to think that after Pervez Musharraf we get Asif Zardari: shows the luck Pakistan has always had with its leaders. This is not a crisis of leadership. It's more like a crisis of the stars under which this nation was born.
I used to think that nothing ever, not the best PR job in the world, could make Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan look good. He would always remain, and be seen as, a first-rate puppet. But when compared with the drift in our affairs, and the performance of our various leaders, even Karzai begins to look impressive.
Why this lengthy prologue? Only to prepare the ground for suggesting that the godfather crowd running amok in Islamabad and sowing confusion in its wake has turned the judges' issue into a joke. They've drawn it out so much that people now shows signs of weariness when this issue is raised. Their deposed lordships therefore should take a cue from this situation and reconsider their position. After the inconclusive ending of the long march---and not wishing to sprinkle salt on raw wounds let me not say anything more---the lawyers' movement too should be reviewing tactics and strategy. What their lordships have to consider above all is whether a restoration under the terms and conditions being laid down by Zardari House---the ultimate fount of wisdom in luckless Pakistan today---would be worth the effort and pain.
For the terms and conditions being suggested by Zardari House are downright humiliating for the judges, the protesting lawyers and the nation as a whole. In the constitutional package---more a witches' brew---being concocted in Zardari House, My Lord Iftikhar Chaudhry's wings are to be clipped, his tenure reduced, the retirement age of judges enhanced so that My Lord Dogar, the present Chief Justice, becomes CJ again if Iftikhar Chaudhry is restored.
There is a saying in our parts, 'Who has seen tomorrow'? London's weather is less uncertain than Pakistan's politics. Yet the legal wizards of Zardari House are trying to ensure that even if Dogar has to make way for Chaudhry, he (Dogar) should be CJ two or three years from now. Mortals tempt Fate when they try to package the future in such nice detail. Musharraf thought he had his future all sewn up and guaranteed. Look at the straits he is in.
And should My Lord Chaudhry and his fellow judges be a party to the ridiculous expansion of the Supreme Court being envisaged by Zardari House, from 16 to 29 judges? This will no longer be a joke. It will be a farce, the Supreme Court turned into a circus, which is probably the intent of the wizards putting the Zardari constitutional package (for so it must henceforth be known) together.
Iftikhar Chaudhry and the judges who defied Musharraf by refusing to take any unholy oath have proved their mettle. They have been an inspiration to the nation. In an otherwise depressing history, they have written a new chapter of hope and resistance. Must they sully their achievement by accepting the farcical conditions woven into the Zardari package?
Some of the deposed judges may be tired of their heroic role. Some of them may have pressing material needs to fulfil. Those who choose to be restored, regardless of the conditions of restoration, let them be allowed to do so. But Chaudhry, Ramday and the other leading judges should not be part of such a sordid compromise. Better to go down fighting than to settle for such a halfway house. Isn't it pretty obvious that becoming part of an enlarged Supreme Court means accepting the Nov 3 judges? Once you do that it means accepting Musharraf's actions of Nov 3: kicking the Constitution aside and imposing emergency rule.
Isn't the PML-N aware of these implications? If it is, it shouldn't have allowed itself to be strung along by Zardari. Nothing justifies accepting the Nov 3 judges, for to accept them means to negate the PML-N's entire stand on the judges' issue. Indeed, accepting a 29-member Supreme Court and at the same time calling for Musharraf's impeachment are contradictory viewpoints. The judges are being asked to drink from a poisoned chalice and the PML-N is being asked to suspend judgment and pretend that the tainted compromise awaiting it amounts to a vindication of its stand.
Indeed, as misleading things go, the Zardari constitutional package is a greater piece of chicanery than the 17th Amendment which indemnified Musharraf's unconstitutional actions. The 17th Amendment at least had the merit of being open about its purpose. The Zardari constitutional package is an elaborate exercise in deception. It purports to be about the restoration of the judges while its main thrust is altogether different.
It seeks to lay a protective wall around the National Reconciliation Ordinance, Musharraf's gift to Zardari which dry-cleaned Zardari of all corruption charges. And it seeks to indirectly protect Musharraf, not by validating his actions of Nov 3 but by doing, as ex-diplomat Asif Ezdi wrote in these pages a few days ago, "…the next best thing: (entrenching) the court which validated the PCO, Musharraf's 'election' and the NRO."
Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan may threaten a train march or anything else but it should be clear to anyone not wholly divorced from reality that the lawyers' movement which began last year in March has run its course. It will have to think of other options if it is to revive itself. In this respect it should also be useful if Aitzaz were to tone down some of his more fanciful flights of rhetoric. He should also have the modesty to realize that the long march far from forcing the government's hand has complicated matters. After all, it was the ultimate weapon in the lawyers' hand and after its use the government can say that it has seen the worst of what the lawyers could do. We all know that the threat of war is often more effective than actually going to war.
We should be clear about one thing. Zardari has the whip hand on the judges' issue and as he made clear in Lahore the other day he will take "dictation" from no one regarding the timing of the judges' restoration. He and Nawaz Sharif have met again with nothing to show for their efforts. Indeed, another round of talks between the two leaders is getting to be a boring subject because these talks lead nowhere.
So what should be done? Well, if Zardari has the whip hand on the judges' issue, Nawaz Sharif has the whip hand on something else: Zardari's constitutional package. The time may therefore have come to declare openly that if Zardari won't move on the judges' issue, the PML-N, having considered everything, is in no mood to support the constitutional package or suffer the comedy of a 29-member Supreme Court.
Ambush your quarry where he can be caught, or where it hurts. Zardari has taken the nation for a ride on the judges' issue. The time may have come to take him for a ride.
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