Feb 28, 2009

Khichri in Punjab

Gibran Peshimam"Arey, ay ki ho giya ji?" would have been the overwhelming response to the political turmoil in Punjab. Aside from a host of terrible newspaper headlines there are a host of banal expressions that need to be clarified. Judiciary and democracy are not synonyms. Justice and public opinion are mutually exclusive. And, most importantly, the Sharif brothers were not victimised, per se, by the court.While more can be said of the Supreme Court's verdict regarding their disqualification, the fact is that, at the end of the day, the decision was appropriate and reasonable. We may not like the law, but the law's the law until another law makes that law unlawful.This is not to say that the heartless and evil whisky-drinking enemies of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz did not do their all to ensure the implementation of their nefarious conspiracy to destabilise and oust the upright and upstanding Raiwand-based politicians (Daso, Amir-ul Momineen nal zoolum nai hua?) – just that the end result was not unfair. Nawaz is a convicted felon if we consider his willingness to take up an understanding with the incoming military regime of Musharraf. Yes, the case may have been overplayed and excessive pressure put… but the execution of the understanding and the biting of the bait by Sharif Senior meant that he tacitly owned up to the charges. When the Sharifs successfully returned to Pakistan from Saudi after a couple of earlier thwarted attempts, the spectre of the infamous moahida had not been exorcised just yet. Fast-forward ten years and Ustaad Zardari and his clique got what they wanted in the sidelining of their chief political competition. Just look at the irony of what has happened. The Lahore High Court initially disqualified Nawaz but let Shahbaz continue as chief minister of Punjab. The government (more specifically the prime minister), in its bid to show its (his) concern and earnestness, challenged the verdict even though the Sharifs didn't themselves (something to do with PCO judges) in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court then proceeded not only to uphold the disqualification of Nawaz, but give Shahbaz the boot too. Can't you just picture an embarrassed Gilani saying, "Arey, ay ki ho giya ji?"That strange sound you hear is Ustaad ji chuckling while desperately holding in a burst of laughter. Like him or not, this is yet another instance of him politically out-manoeuvring a far more experienced Mian Saheb.What happens now? While there are chances that the government (Gilani) may challenge the decision yet again, judging by the regressive trend, one can't help but fear that yet another challenge may well lead to the Sharifs being shipped back to Saudi. "Please, Gilani ji, do not do us anymore kindness ji," the Sharifs will be telling the PM over the phone. However, Ustaad ji may not have calculated far ahead enough. Nawaz and Shahbaz will get plenty of shoulders to cry on during the upcoming long march part deux by the lawyers. On the bright side for the lawyers, the second long march, weighed down heavily by faded novelty, has received the sort of shot-in-the-arm that leaves a bruise for a while. The march has been given more meaning.The PML-N can also participate more wholeheartedly in the march without the threat of their government in Punjab being dismissed (since governor's rule has already been imposed). This in turn will build the PML-N's image further and set it up for another 1997-like sweep, come the next elections. Who wants to settle for one province when you can run the entire country? It's basic math, kyun ji? The PML-N need not do anything drastic – such as quit the National Assembly – it just needs to sit back and take things easy and let Ustaad ji have his jittery time in a factious coalition-splintered Parliament whose problems will be accentuated by the fact that it is at loggerheads with Pakistan's political bastion of Punjab. Once the PML-N wins the next elections, they can always storm the judiciary again and browbeat the judges into making them eligible. Tariq Aziz can relive the glory days, although, given the passage of so many years, he may not be able to scale the SC gate quite so easily. Captain Safdar can be given that honour. Given their numerical superiority, the PML-N can also undo the 17th Amendment and its two-tenures cut off.The lawyers can then start another long march against Sharif and continue giving meaning and excitement to their lives. As an off-shoot, Aitzaz Ahsan's long-standing party affiliation-principled stand dilemma will be solved.It's a win-win situation. As revenge, the PML-N can then make Kamran Tessori the governor of PPP-dominated Sindh and then impose governor's rule after declaring Qaim Ali Shah and Ustaad ji ineligible because they are supporting the lawyers. Better yet, they can strike down the PPP-Chacha Moahida that is the NRO. How do you like them?Jera vaahvo, ohi khaavo, kyun ji? Of course, on a serious side, all this becomes a moot point in one particular case – that is if the PPP reinstates Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in the coming days. Ahh. It's far-fetched but not impossible. In fact, it would be the ultimate neutraliser right about now for the PPP. No long march, no support for Sharif. No campaigning for the PML-N. What happens later remains to be seen.Case dismissed. Arey, ay ki ho giya ji?The writer is city editor, The News, Karachi

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