Whichever way to the future, the path is strewn with pitfalls
The inevitable has happened. The prime minister has been cited for contempt by the Supreme Court and summoned on February 13 to frame charges and initiate proceedings. What are the possible options that the prime minister has till the day he appears in court to escape the humiliation and what is the fallout that the PPP government may have to contend with in the coming weeks?
On the legal side, the choices are limited. Now that the prime minister has been indicted, he has two possible options. One, he writes the letter to the Swiss authorities and leaves himself at the mercy of the apex court which, understandably, and as would be a norm in such matters, forgives the transgression and lets him walk away. Second, he holds his ground thus allowing the court to frame the contempt charges and initiate the proceedings that may pave the way for his ultimate removal from the coveted office. As a temporary respite, the prime minister could move a review petition before the apex court – an option that, if taken, may result in delaying the inevitable, but would not avert it.
The plea taken by the prime minister before the apex court that he had not written the letter to the Swiss authorities because he believed that the president had constitutional immunity established a difficult situation for the government attorney as, thereafter, the defence of the accused was irretrievably linked with proving the presidential immunity. Aitzaz Ahsan was found hedging the prospect as, if rejected, that would have opened the Pandora’s Box. So, he was left with asking the court to give the prime minister the benefit of doubt as he had acted in accordance with the advice given to him in conformity with the rules of business.
On the face of it, and true to the avowed proclamations, there appear to be few prospects of the government agreeing to write the dreaded letter. But, a final decision may depend on the extent and level of support that the PPP leadership may be able to garner from its political allies, most notably PML(Q) and MQM. If they remain firm in their support, the prime minister may opt for the ‘martyrdom’ option and try to cash the dividends at the next elections. But, if the allies are found wavering in their support against the judiciary, the government’s options may be further reduced to the inevitability of early elections.
But, there is another possible scenario. If the government were to enhance its belligerence against the judiciary to a level that may imperil the prospect of peaceful co-existence of the state institutions, it may force some form of intervention. We have a precedence of that kind in our recent history. When faced with a situation that may have led to a bloody conflict between the PPP government and those leading the long march for an independent judiciary, the army intervened quietly forcing the government to restore the judges. This intervention may be voluntary as was the case during the judiciary-restoration movement, or it could be called upon by the apex court by invoking article 190 of the constitution which states that “all executive and judicial authorities throughout Pakistan shall act in aid of the Supreme Court”.
For the PPP and its government, it has always been a choice between defending its controversial co-chairperson and the prospect of survival through attaining an acceptable level of governance. The ordeal of defending the president entailed compromising all norms of governance as the huge baggage of cases and an unworthy reputation that he carried to the presidency would be mortally difficult to live with. The NRO did help the PPP-led concoction to ascend the throne, but with an independent judiciary in the saddle, the notorious deal with the dictator did not stand a chance. It was doomed as, indeed, it was when declared void ab initio by the apex court. That was a good two years ago. Instead of chartering a post-NRO course, the PPP launched a vicious onslaught against the judiciary. Its leaders of all hues subjected the apex court to utter ridicule and its adjudications were consigned to the bin as a matter of routine. Ultimately, even the court’s apparently inexhaustible patience waned and the prime minister was put in the dock.
The prime minister has vowed to appear before the court again. Like last time, he would try to exploit the occasion for scoring political points saying that the PPP respected the judiciary. But, respect for the judiciary would not be proved by appearing before it in indictment. It would be by implementing its decisions which the PPP is unwilling to do and is looking increasingly eager to go down fighting. There is no shame in its provocations. Its defence repertoire has been replete with hoarse shouts of conspiracies being hatched. In the memo case which now smells of another putrid compromise, the COAS and the DG-ISI were accused of ‘unconstitutional’ moves and of running a state within a state. When things became too hot to handle, the prime minister retracted his statement, thus giving his government another breather. With this judgement, and barring another NRO which the incumbent mafia would degenerate to any level to securing, the corrupt edifice may finally begin to tumble, leaving behind an unmanageable amount of rubble to contend with.
Through a spate of misadventures, the state has been weakened, its institutions ruined and an environment of rampant corruption holds the country hostage. Whichever way to the future, the path is strewn with pitfalls and salvation comes laden with the prospect of immense pain.
The writer is a political analyst and a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. He can be reached at [email protected]