This is no longer about the finer points of the law, if it ever was that. It has turned into a full-blown political tamasha (spectacle) but not quite in the way the doom brigade had imagined. The Zardari dispensation has not collapsed; the PPP has not grovelled, an apology of any sort the last thing on its mind; and the doom pundits, predicting demise and downfall these past three years, have some more frustration to hang on to and live with.
At times not a week but even a day is a long time in politics. The crisis the government faces has not abated but with PM Yousaf Raza Gilani having appeared before the Supreme Court (SC) to answer the contempt summons served on him, and the mountains not having erupted or the heavens fallen, things don’t look quite as apocalyptic as they first did.
To the dismay of the new breed of lawyers who, to all appearances, can’t help themselves. While PPP representatives and their allies kept their cool many lawyers outside seemed to have lost it: shouting slogans against the government and in support of My Lord Chief Justice that were singularly out of place.
The lawyers’ movement did much good. It also encouraged the spread of bad manners (badtameezi) amongst the legal fraternity. What were the lawyers hoping for? That the PM should be summarily executed?
Love or hate Zardari, and we all know his past and his achievements in the realm of high finance, but hand it to him for standing his ground and not buckling under pressure. Judicial tension is enough of a headache. Add military pressure to it and the weight can be imagined. But both Zardari and Gilani have kept their nerve. If only they were half as good in governance and administration there would be some cause for cheer.
For Zardari this is not an unfamiliar role. For the way he faced his long years in prison no less a person than Majid Nizami, undisputed father of what we like to call the ideology of Pakistan, dubbed him Mard-e-Hur (man of freedom). But I think not many people were expecting Gilani to stand firm. As prime minister he has faced many charges but they stand redeemed by his stance in this crisis, the most serious to face his government.
Highest marks for fortitude also to Asfandyar Wali and the ANP. Not for a moment did they falter or lose sight of the democratic principle, that of parliamentary sovereignty, at stake in this politico-military-judicial crisis. It is possible to charge the ANP with many things, poor governance being one of them, but these pale when seen in the light of its present stand. Kudos also is due to the MQM, the JUI-F and the Q League for standing with the government and not being distracted by the signals emanating from Aabpara and General Headquarters.
By our standards and according to our political culture these are unusual happenings. The PPP alone at this juncture would have meant something else. But with its allies on its side this standoff acquires a different character, most (although not all) political forces on one side, non-political forces on the other.
This was evident even in the overwhelming support that came for the pro-democracy resolution in the National Assembly – meant more as a signal to relevant quarters than an affirmation of democracy. Poor administrators the present lot may be but there is no cavilling with their politics. I will even go so far as to say, and please don’t hit the roof, that Zardari while nowhere near Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s ability or many-sided talents is a far better politician than him. Bhutto had a knack for making enemies. Zardari has a knack for making friends and keeping them on his side.
So one thing is clear: this drama is not about to end any time soon. When it drags out what is anyone likely to gain? This is not about the rule of law, much as starry-eyed enthusiasts would like to see it that way. This is a power-play by other means, with some actors out in front and some behind the scenes. And it has got complicated because the PPP’s defiance, and the steadfastness of its allies, did not figure so much in the original script.
We have two cases here, the NRO case which led to the contempt charge against the PM, and the memo affair initiated by someone with a dubious reputation, Mansoor Ijaz, and picked up so enthusiastically, some would say with blind enthusiasm, by the country’s chief ideologue, ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha. The hype generated by the memo affair gave a fresh impetus to the NRO case, setting the stage for My Lord Justice Asif Khosa to wax lyrical about honesty and dishonesty.
In this atmosphere, its luridness heightened initially by Zardari’s departure for Dubai for medical treatment, it seemed only a matter of days before the curtains fell and the actors were made to leave the stage. But to prove once more that a week can be a long time in anything, the temperature has dropped a bit: the contempt charge turning into high-class political theatre and the memo affair, as it drags out in the SC-appointed commission, losing much of its dramatic appeal.
Mansoor Ijaz seemed to be laughing the most when the memo affair got going. After all, it is not every day that a publicity-seeking adventurer gets to take for a ride the entire national security establishment of the world’s only Islamic nuclear power, of which circumstance we never tire of reminding ourselves. Now as the memo affair seems less cut-and-dried than it first appeared, Husain Haqqani may be on the point of having the last laugh.
This should give rise to some relevant questions. If our vaunted knights of national security, our famous eyes-and-ears, can be fooled so comprehensively by a buccaneer such as Mansoor Ijaz, what right do we have to expect anything better of them in, say, the Abbottabad affair when we were caught – oh, the memory rankles – with our pants down?
Food for thought, food for introspection: the deadliest insult is not defeat which is part of life but ridicule. Osama bin Laden ridiculed us by living for more than five years in the shadow of PMA Kakul. The Americans ridiculed us by taking him out without our knights of national security knowing anything about it. And now Mansoor Ijaz has turned us into a global laughingstock by his funny piece of paper, or electronic mail, which alleges not that rape occurred but that rape was intended.
This must be a first in international jurisprudence, a high-level investigation into rape intended. Actual violations – of what, let us not say – such as Abbottabad or the Mehran Base attack leave us relatively unmoved. We take them in our stride and move on. But even if Mansoor Ijaz’s word is taken at face value, transgressions intended – that is, wholly in the realm of the imagination – and nowhere near even a mythical stage of implementation plunge us into turmoil. And chiefs of the army and ISI, with expressions of the utmost seriousness, hold that the issue at hand is grave and needs to be investigated. Allah be praised.
And the doom factories, never a shortage of them here, start working overtime to suggest conspiracy and national betrayal. The virtuous and not-so-virtuous wax indignant, calling down curses upon all things political, and judgments are written which are more a tribute to literature than anything to do with the law. Fantasy and make-believe take over and reality is pushed back...until a week passes and some measure of sanity returns.
Islamabad has no national theatre and no national orchestra. (It has a national library, appropriately enough well hidden from public view.) But what need of stage and orchestra when, in season and out, politics in all its manifestations does bold and sterling service for all the arts?
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