Mar 17, 2009

Did Zardari get the last laugh?

Zahid F Ebrahim
There is much talk of an embattled and defeated man in the Presidency. The chief justice has been restored. The Zardari government has surrendered, it is claimed. So why has Zardari's smile gotten wider?As night fell on March 15, the long march was making history. The people of Pakistan refused to be cowed by lathis or unending tear gas. Senior police officials refused to obey orders from Salmaan Taseer's government to use deadly force against unarmed citizens. Every hurdle on the road to Islamabad was simply melting away in face of the Black Coats' revolution. However, on announcement of the restoration of Iftikhar Chaudhry as chief justice, the revolution has retreated. The Long March and dharna have been called off by lawyers and politicians. President Zardari's government is taking credit for fulfilling the promise of Benazir Bhutto.Prime Minister Gillani's announced on state television that Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry will be restored as chief justice on March 21, only after the retirement of the incumbent chief justice, Abdul Hameed Dogar. He reiterated that Mr Zardari had been unable to fulfil the promise of restoration because Abdul Hameed Dogar was already chief justice and that there could not be two chief justices. Prime Minister Gillani also committed that all other deposed judges will stand restored, but notably there was no mention of restoring the Nov 2, 2007, judiciary. In fact, Gillani clearly stated that the restoration of Iftikhar Chaudhry was fulfilment of President Zardari's pledge that the term of any existing judge will not be disturbed. Musharraf's abettor in the Nov 3 assault on the judiciary, Abdul Hameed Dogar, will get an honourable exit. The judges appointed by Musharraf after Nov 3 will continue in office. Those who took oath under the PCO, despite the clear Order of the Supreme Court on Nov 3, 2007, not to do so, will continue "undisturbed," as will the recently appointed judges, loyalists with which President Zardari has packed the superior courts.Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Justice Ramday in the Supreme Court, Justice Sharif in the Lahore High Court and Justice Mushir Alam in the Sindh High Court, even if one includes those honourable judges who were deposed on Nov 3 and reinstated after repeating their oath under the Constitution, will be a minority in the superior courts of Pakistan and thus rendered ineffective. The illegal actions of Nov 3 will continue to be recognised as validated according to the decision of Abdul Hameed Dogar in the Tikka Mohammed Iqbal case. According to Senate chairman Farooq Naek, Article 270 AAA, the product of the signature of a dictator, stays. This is also the argument of Malik Muhammad Qayyum, the last attorney general, who claims that the illegal acts of Nov 3 continue to be protected by Article 270 AAA because it has been validated by the PCO Judiciary. Thus the guarantees given by President Zardari not to touch General Musharraf or his illegal actions of Nov 3 will remain undisturbed.The president's powers under the 17th Amendment will remain. The presidential form of government introduced by General Musharraf suits the present incumbent fine. Any move opposing it can be referred to the dustbin of high powered committees. Zardari's real political adversary, the PML-N may be the biggest loser. Duped thrice before, they have once again fallen for an impotent promise. They were on the road to vindication, but decided to make a u-turn. The two Sharifs will remain at the mercy of a decision in a review by the same PCO Bench which disqualified them. Even if the PML-N government is restored in Punjab, without Shahbaz Sharif, it will have a tough time coping with a belligerent Salmaan Taseer. Therefore, standing tall in the presidential palace on March 21 after hosting a farewell banquet for Abdul Hameed Dogar, President Zardari can confidently say that had the last laugh. The lawyers of Pakistan will be left in a position no better than Saadat Hasan Manto's Ustaad Mangu. "The constables took Ustad Mangu to the police station. On the way and at the police station, he kept yelling, The new constitution…the new constitution. But no one understood what he was referring to. What are you shouting about…what new laws and rights are you shouting about…the laws are the same old ones… And Ustad Mangu was locked up in a cell." (Saadat Hasan Manto, New Constitution).

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