Party far from over?

05 Jul 2020

Email

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

THE rot runs deep in the republic and insiders are crawling out of the woodwork to cause embarrassment to the current dispensation and its backers, but, contrary to the belief of many analysts, this does not necessary mean a ‘change’ is round the corner.

Sohail Warraich is one of the most well-known political reporters, interviewers who, having spent a lifetime in print, took to television like a duck to water. For any political writer venturing into the murky world of Punjab politics, Mr Warraich used to be the first point of contact for his insights.

His knowledge of Punjab’s political families, clans (biradaris) and their common denominators was simply encyclopaedic. Outside of another veteran journalist, Nusrat Javed, perhaps, for years, nobody else knew the ins and outs of the intricate web of Punjab politics as did Sohail Warraich.

Then a few years ago, in a Jang column titled ‘The party’s over’, Sohail Warraich wrote that powerful quarters had decided to bring to an end the Nawaz Sharif era. When this column appeared in print, Prime Minister Sharif may have seemed vulnerable but didn’t appear close to being dethroned.

It is to the credit of Sohail Warraich’s journalistic skills that he has extracted interesting revelations.

The events that followed reinforced what the columnist had predicted and it dawned on his readers such as me that in addition to his encyclopaedic knowledge of Punjab politics, he had solid sources at the heart of the country’s all-powerful military establishment.

Also that his sense of timing is so impeccable that he is the envy of so many of us. It was against this backdrop that I watched his interview with Minister for Science & Technology Fawad Chaudhry last month in which the latter was open about the PTI’s failures since it assumed power.

Mr Chaudhry attributed these failures to the friction upon coming to power among three top leaders of the party – Jahangir Khan Tareen, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Asad Umar – and said this infighting had edged out the political class from decision-making and facilitated the entry of technocrats bereft of political vision.

“The public had not elected us or the prime minister to fix nuts and bolts but to reform the system,” the minister lamented, even as he paid glowing tributes to Imran Khan and claimed there was no leader such as the latter in the Muslim world.

As one would have expected, this interview generated shockwaves with news of a cabinet row between those who he blamed for infighting and the PTI loose cannon Faisal Vawda on the one side, and on the other the minister stoutly defending his VoA interview.

Mr Chaudhry’s views again forced one to cast an eye on his incredible political journey over the past decade and a half that has taken him from being a close aide to Gen Musharraf to being an adviser to the PPP’s prime minister to his current avatar as a PTI minister.

The only constant in his views has been his admiration for the military, which he believes has held the country together through so many crises. And, I suspect, if his affection for the institution has blindsided him towards many of its failings, he does not appear to care.

Barely a week later, Sohail Warraich had again set the cat among the pigeons when he interviewed retired Supreme Court Justice Ijaz Chaudhry who described the Supreme Court Panama Papers verdict disqualifying Nawaz Sharif as controversial.

He said when earlier Javed Hashmi claimed at a meeting in Islamabad that Nawaz Sharif would be removed via the Supreme Court, he could not understand what he meant. But it all became clear when the apex court verdict was announced against Mr Sharif as it ranked alongside the one against Z.A. Bhutto that “people question to this day”.

But this was not all. The retired justice dropped another bombshell. He said when, as chief justice of the Lahore High Court, he was filling vacant positions of LHC judges, he received a phone call from an “ISI general asking for a particular person to be appointed as judge”.

He said he asked the officer if his institution would appoint someone as lieutenant-general at the former’s request. The officer said that was not possible. So, he said: “To kiya hum yahan rewarriyan bech rahey hein?”, basically telling the officer his request could not be accommodated.

These were tough words coming from someone who started as a special prosecutor (from 1977 to 1979) during the military rule of Gen Ziaul Haq and remained additional advocate general, Punjab, from 1999 to 2001 before his elevation as a high court judge during military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf’s initial years in office in 2001.

Justice Chaudhry has not been an icon of liberal values either, as his LHC judgements in the appeal of those convicted in Mukhtaran Mai’s case, in a blasphemy prosecution, and finally in banning Facebook in Pakistan (2010) because of content deemed blasphemous, show.

In the interview, the judge was open about his right-wing leanings as he recalled that he and Javed Hashmi were together in the ‘Bangladesh na-manzoor’ movement against Pakistan’s recognition of its erstwhile eastern wing after the 1971 debacle.

But Justice Chaudhry was on the right side of history as he refused to take oath under Gen Musharraf’s PCO and took part in the lawyers’ movement.

It is to the credit of Sohail Warraich’s journalistic skills and nous that he has prised these interesting revelations from personalities who are or were close to the power centres and brought them out in the public domain with impeccable timing.

You can make what you wish of the timing. I would not say it suggests change is imminent. What is clear to me is that there is some disagreement on the way forward among powerful decision-makers. But I’d still shy away from reading much more into it than that.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2020