Mar 26, 2009

Let the games begin?

The heavens have not fallen with Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry back in the Supreme Court. What is now in store for Pakistan? Two things are of positive consequence: the decision of Mian Nawaz Sharif to call off the long march once the objective of restoration of the CJ was achieved and good faith of the Zardari government in not allowing the likes of Salmaan Taseer to derail the reconciliation process by legal complications. Taseer's shenanigans post-March 16 did give rise briefly to some speculation about Zardari's intentions. PM Gilani journeyed to Raiwind to meet the PML-N hierarchy. The positive body language witnessed in the subsequent Press Conference was a significant indicator that reconciliation was in the air. Mian Nawaz Sharif confirmed this in an address to PML-N councillors a day later. With the country facing many critical challenges to its continued wellbeing, this show of political togetherness was good news for Pakistan. Many people seem to think that President Zardari is the big loser. That is not entirely true. He is still comfortable in the Presidency and if he comes to terms with his constitutional role, why deny him his place under the sun as president of Pakistan, not discounting his being co-chairman of what today is the only effective national party in Pakistan? His problems stem from the motley crowd in and around the presidency that calls the shots in his name, with or without his permission. Some may be capable, most have corruption written on their foreheads, their vested interest in resisting change in the present power structure is understandable. Zardari is presently at a crossroads of opportunity. A sense of history will not only ensure continuity as the constitutional head of the country but his mark on Pakistan's destiny. If he defers to the motivated advice of sycophants he will be history, sooner rather than later.PM Gilani has come out looking good. Toeing a political failsafe line, Gilani has to assert himself. While he did not bow before the hawks baying for blood to be spilt in the streets, this crisis could have been headed off by his being more in command. He has the trust of the opposition, and it seems of the Army. He has also to gain the confidence of his own party. The US must also be convinced that he can be the credible democratic leader that they would like to deal with. Despite the best efforts of the PPP leadership in Punjab to self-destruct, the party has for the most part survived the present crisis. The downside has been the exit from the inner circle of the last of the Benazir faithful, Reza Rabbani and Sherry Rehman. One values Farhatullah Babar both as a person and as a friend. His embarrassment at the turn of affairs was very visible. The absolute silence of stalwarts like Mahkdoom Amin Fahim came out very loudly.Mian Nawaz Sharif kept his party together after the dark period in mid-2008 when he was outsmarted lock, stock and barrel by Asif Zardari. He consolidated politically by converting the floundering lawyers' movement into the most political hot potato in town, then courageously leading from the front when the chips were down. The "breakout" from his Model Town home on March 15, 2009, raised the political stakes to an extraordinary height, the media force-multiplying the sheer effect in pulling the masses in their thousands out from their homes and into the streets. The rest is political history. Can he sustain his success by mature initiatives rather than becoming a victim of his own rhetoric as he has a recurring penchant for? Above all, can he get back the confidence of an Army wary of his intentions?The Army, particularly its chief, has come out smelling roses. That is because Kayani was the sole person in the whole crisis visible from the Army, and even he gave no statements. The Army has a role to play but that role must have visible self-restraints, quietly counselling the principal actor/s. Neither the ISI nor MI got involved in the political fracas as they usually did in the past. Their reports were informational and routed through proper channels. During the Zia years the media got access to the military hierarchy, Aslam Beg's glasnost gave it extraordinary access. Media interaction in this globalised village is necessary, but access must be institutional and not personal. There was a perception that having become politically gun shy the Army's influence had been compromised, the nuisance value of the uniform being applied constructively for the good of the nation came through loud and clear on March 15. Barring missteps, the pride in the uniform that this nation had once upon a time is well on its way to being restored. And what of the CJ now that he is a position to do legal good again? Great expectations are vested in his person. Can he assuage the people's aspirations? Rebuilding the stature of the Supreme Court, he can either play to the gallery and follow the path of retribution or take the high road of reconciliation. However, the future is uncertain for judges appointed post-Nov 3, 2007. According to the Al Jihad Trust Case their cases will be subject to individual review. The CJ would be wise in being deliberate. He must work things out positively, consolidating the effectiveness of the judiciary while guiding it towards genuine independence. Some repugnant laws like the NRO must be consigned to the dustbin, sooner rather then later. It is most unfortunate that US foreign policy has been disfigured by the disconnect between fact and fiction, far removed from the high ideals on which the US nation was founded and exists. As the greatest nation on this Earth, sometimes US diplomacy short-changes its measure. This is because of the disparity in the budgets earmarked for the State Department as opposed to multiple times more for the Department of Defence. Why spend lives and money fighting wars when these can be avoided by paying for a better quality of diplomacy? Lobbyists representing foreign nations command lopsided weightage in influencing the structuring of policy. A few dinners and lunches can change the destiny of nations. The US inappropriately finds itself supporting leadership hated by the masses in third world countries. The cocktail circuit does not reflect reality on the ground. How can one blame planners sitting far away in Washington DC opting for the wrong choices? Can the Obama administration take the high moral ground on corruption and propriety at home while rooting for leaders abroad who are seriously out of sync with the masses on this account? In the long run these are counter-productive, producing the very results that the US was trying to avoid in the first place. The US must take calculated risks in supporting the aspirations of the masses instead of opting for narrow short-term compulsions. One can only counsel reason based on logic and the fundamentals of good governance. If these give way to irrationality, let the games begin!By Ikram Sehgal

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