A: ‘Today I have everything… government, power (?), backing of the global masters (??). You…What do you have?’
B: ‘I have the people.’
If it weren’t for the solemnity that a still fresh Supreme Court verdict is required to be met with, we would be laughing all the way to Lahore’s Charing Cross. Governor rule has been imposed on Punjab. Get ready to celebrate the basant spring festival, we are living in the kingdom of Salman Taseer.
A and B have swapped roles one more time. Circumstances have placed the fate of the Sharif brothers in the hands of President Asif Zardari. Mian Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif are dependent on Zardari for their ‘re-entry’ into politics — dependent on the issuance of a Provisional Constitutional Order to get into the assemblies and getting the slots of the prime mister and chief minister for a third time? Unless they decide to bank on the people to gatecrash on their behalf.
Legal experts say the disqualified duo, or their ‘proposers’ and ‘seconders’, can ask for a review of Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision that has shaken the country but they do not expect a reprieve. If any kind of relief is to come to the Sharifs in the present set-up, it will have to accrue from the presidency or the parliament where Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party is in a majority. Even hopes of some kind of engagement within the parliament were dashed the moment Nawaz Sharif came up with his reaction to the Supreme Court verdict. He is in no mood to connect to the president whom he accuses of stabbing him in the back. He does not want charity. He wants war and can do with lawyers while judges rule against him.
The Sharifs pointedly blame Zardari (and significantly not his party) for bringing this on the country. They say the president, who sports a far from perfect image in public, had offered them a deal which they turned down. At the press conference on Wednesday, Nawaz Sharif also questioned the wisdom of the people who advise Zardari these days, basing his comment on the premise that the president has influenced the court in giving the verdict against him and his brother. That is open to inquiry. What doesn’t require a genius to figure out is that the decision will have calamitous effects on the affairs of the Punjab province.
The first part of this article was written in September 2008 in the wake of the presidential election. This today is the other side of the story. The September bit focussed on how the presidential election had isolated the biggest province from the three smaller units in the federation as the Pakistan Muslim League-N insisted on fielding its own candidate against Asif Zardari, a consensus candidate of Sindh, Balochistan and NWFP. It was argued that the PML-N achieved nothing by running counter to the wishes of the smaller provinces other than adding to the sense of acrimony that existed in the smaller federating units against Punjab’s alleged hegemony. If the PML-N wanted to reconfirm its support in Punjab, it could easily have done so by abstaining from the presidential poll, thereby symbolically showing its willingness to tag along the other three provinces.
The PML-N thus chastened, the belief among some circles in Lahore was that, contrary to some statements, the presidential poll was no epitaph for the PML-Q, that it only reasserted the importance of the League group led by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. There was also a word of caution for the PPP that the time for it to lay a claim on ruling Punjab at the head of a coalition had long passed. Now the Supreme Court’s decision in the disqualification case may have been taken on merit; politically, it’s clear that the warnings sounded from time to time since the general election in February 2008 have gone unheeded.
The PPP (or more significantly the president) now seeks to control Punjab through the governor – disregarding the mandate the people had given to the PML-N in the election. The imposition of the governor’s rule denies the PML-N an opportunity to immediately replace the disqualified chief minister Shahbaz Sharif with another man from within the party. The PML-Q stands resurrected, if it was ever dead, as its 80-odd members hold the balance if and when the governor rule is lifted and assembly members, the true representatives of the people of the province, are allowed to resume their term. Above all, the federal government is guilty of isolating Punjab, of naively thinking that it can go along wielding power merrily without stability in Punjab, amid powerful voices from NWFP and Balochistan that condemn the supposed sidelining of the Sharifs. The governor’s rule, the whole situation that has emerged following Wednesday’s court ruling, defies all logic. The Sharifs may have lost in the court, but publicly they seem to have stolen a march on a president bent upon jeopardising his existence. The indecisive period is over. Reconciliation is no more.