Conciliation, not confrontation
After several rounds of near head-on collisions with military institutions, the PPP-led government seems to have finally settled down for its pre-Memogate reconciliatory stance. The battling, it appears, was not by design but a result of haphazard and reactive rhetoric that followed the memo crisis. The ad hoc government responses and ostensibly subtle and, possibly, one-removed army responses along with the actions of the judiciary and the PML(N) culminated in what appeared to be a potentially disastrous power clash.
After the see-saw moves, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani took yet another U-turn on Wednesday signalling that for now the government has opted for fence-mending. This is evidenced by Gilani finally retracting his controversial assertion in an interview to a Chinese online newspaper on January 9 that the military leadership had acted “unconstitutionally”.
He had termed “unconstitutional and unlawful” the manner in which the Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and DG ISI Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha had submitted their replies to the apex court in the Memogate case. But the PM’s contention now, after being warned through an ISPR press release of “very serious ramification” of his statement, is that it was made in a certain context and under particular circumstances which are no longer relevant.
Although the Zardari-Gilani government has been a habitual U-turner that has never hesitated in backtracking particularly on the political fronts, its latest U-turn is certainly a welcome step as it reduces the unnecessary friction between state institutions which was not only counterproductive but also led to uncertainty and negativity all around. While the Memogate scandal still haunts the government, it has managed to create some space for itself by defusing tension with the military leadership.
Not surprising that the PM’s U-turn came a day after his meeting with the army chief and DG ISI and also after President Asif Ali Zardari’s meeting with the army chief earlier during which all major irritants were discussed and the air somewhat cleared. Although the official version was that these meetings focused on “regional situation and the country’s security issues vis-à-vis Afghanistan”, but according to insiders the tension between the political and army leadership and the Memogate issue were major points of discussion.
Apparently, the army chief had sought a public withdrawal of remarks Gilani made while the former was on an official visit to China. So finally the government heeded the advice of saner elements within the ruling party and its coalition partners to take a conciliatory approach rather than be combative to its own disadvantage. Hence, the way was paved for mending fences between the political and military leadership just before both the prime minister and the president embarked on their respective official foreign trips.
The timing of the statement by the PM declaring: “I want to dispel the impression that the military leadership acted unconstitutionally or violated rules,” is significant. The prime minister made this statement prior to his departure for Davos, sending a positive signal to the international community that has been focusing with concern on the war within state institutions of Pakistan and the ensuing political instability. By doing so, the prime minister also spared himself some uneasy and embarrassing questions from the international media gathered at Davos to cover the global event – the World Economic Forum.
Letting better sense prevail, the prime minister, who has been dubbed as a ‘man of peace’, acknowledged on Wednesday that there had been a clash between state institutions but now the tensions were over. Notwithstanding his earlier outbursts starting with his December 22 speech in the National Assembly in which he categorically said that “a state within a state” would not be allowed, Gilani wisely stated on Wednesday that the country could not afford confrontation among institutions and every institution had to work in unison to safeguard Pakistan’s interests. In a clear sign that the days of confrontation are probably over between Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the prime minister sensibly announced: “For national interest, we have to be on the same page.”
In Davos, now he can make the pitch of democracy and not be jeered at. While his detractors like the rising Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf leader Imran Khan, also present in Davos, will recall the failures of governance and the corruption tales, Gilani will be making a credible claim that his government is steering Pakistan through the very difficult and turbulent journey of re-working the terms of inter-institutional engagement while remaining within constitutional parameters.
The writer is a senior journalist and has been a diplomatic correspondent for leading dailies. She was an Alfred Friendly Press Fellow at The Chicago Tribune in the US and a Press Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge, UK. She can be reached via email at [email protected]