Now, eyeball to eyeball
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani – usually soft spoken and compromise-seeking – thunderously declaring “there can be no state within a state” has raised alarm bells. Has the military and the civilian setup reached a point of no compromise? An elected prime minister having the audacity of telling an increasingly obtrusive military and the ISI leadership to fall in line has few precedents in our chequered political history.
Has the ‘take no dictation’ moment arrived for Gilani as it did for Nawaz Sharif who took on a meddlesome President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in April 1993 by taking the nation on board in a hard hitting nationally televised speech? Sharif was dismissed the same evening by a president armed with Article 58-2(b) of the Constitution.
Not quite the same thing is bound to happen now. At that time, the military establishment and the president, both tired of Sharif’s shenanigans, were on the same page. Quite the opposite situation now. This time around, contrary to speculations, the president and the prime minister are on the same page regarding the military.
The minus one formula that was being touted in some circles is not going to work. If the war gamers are hoping that the Supreme Court will wash their dirty linen by moving against Zardari and paving the way for his dismissal, it is not going to easily happen.
The PPP, after kowtowing to the military establishment to the point of being accused of obsequiousness, has decided to fight back politically. Babar Awan’s (the official court jester) fulminations against the apex court are part of a bigger game plan. The situation will be clearer on Tuesday when President Zardari is expected to go public at late Benazir Bhutto’s fourth death anniversary at Naudero.
There is no easy way of ousting Zardari and Gilani and keeping the constitution intact. In the good old days, all army chief General Waheed Kakar had to do was to call on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif giving him a polite ultimatum to resign and advising the president to do the same. The matter was resolved within forty eight hours. Both the president and the prime minister sent packing, a new caretaker government under a US citizen was formed and engineered elections heavily loaded against Sharif were held.
Things are no longer that simple. At that time, politics was a zero-sum game with the opposition willing to get rid of the sitting government even if it meant sleeping with the enemy. No longer so.
Zardari is defiant and not quite ready to throw in the towel and go home. He will play the Sindh card if he is forced to. As for Sharif, he does not trust the military, nor is he their favourite horse, as he was once upon a time.
The question which begs an answer however is why did Sharif append his name to a petition in the Supreme Court which is being blatantly used as an instrument to nail the PPP government. Is it another example of the PML(N) supremo never thinking through the consequences of his actions? A PTI leader close to Imran unconvincingly claims that the petition had been lying with them a few days. After their refusal to file it, Nawaz was chosen for the job.
The leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has announced his party’s support for Gilani in the parliament, declaring that the PML(N) would oppose any undemocratic move against the government or the parliament. Sharif will have to decide quickly where does he stand? Whether he is with the democratic forces or against them.
It is obvious that his political interests and that of the military establishment coincide where the Senate elections not being held on PPP’s watch is concerned. These elections, like in the past, have been made into an unnecessary watershed.
The PPP and its coalition partner’s majority in these elections is not assured. Even if it is able to eke out a majority, in this age of a fiercely independent superior judiciary and an intrusive media, the coalition government is in no position to bring about any unilateral change in the constitution.
PML(N) wants early elections before Imran Khan further erodes into its constituency. On the other hand, the PTI chief thinks he is prime minister in waiting. He needs more time to get more electable candidates on board and elections under fresh electoral rolls to co-opt fresh voters.
It is axiomatic that the interest of the mainstream parties lies in maintaining the status quo. None of them would want the apple cart to be upset by an ISI engineered change directly or indirectly. This does not of course include the religious right recently re-launched by the establishment.
With the affidavits placed before the apex court by Generals Kayani and Pasha, it has become amply clear that the military and civilian leadership are not on the same page on the Memo issue. The DG ISI has denied having visited some Arab capitals to pave way for a coup against Zardari. The information is based on a BBM whose author is the same Mansoor Ijaz who claims that Haqqani dictated the memo to him on Zardari’s orders. It is being said that efforts are afoot to turn Haqqani into a Masood Mehmood but that is a far cry from reality. The times are different now and Mr Haqqani is no Masood Mehmood.
Judging by his past record and purely on the basis of his credibility, Mansoor Ijaz’ claims are dubious to say the least. It is for the apex court to decide whether they can withstand legal scrutiny.
The Supreme Court has also to deal with the defence ministry’s written reply in the memo case in which it has stated that it has no operational control over the military or the ISI. As the ultimate interpreter of the constitution, the exalted judges should give a verdict: Who is supreme? The military or the civilian government and the parliament?
Under a democratic dispensation, the answer is (or should be) obvious. But ground realities in Pakistan are different where the military has perennially suffered from a messiah complex bordering on Bonapartism.
As is evident from Memogate, the malaise has become more acute. The memo case has opened a can of worms pitting the military and the civilian dispensation in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation. If not arrested, this will have unpredictable but definitely unfortunate consequences. Perhaps our honourable judges can play an honourable role, a clear break from the past!
The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today