Beyond the headlines

June 23, 2012


WE have a new prime minister. The vacuum left by the guillotining of Yousuf Raza Gilani will now be filled till the judicial blade comes swishing down again to decapitate his replacement.

And come down it will. But what is really significant is the scenario being discussed by informed commentators. Call it a conspiracy theory if you will but what they say does seem to carry weight. Their scenario goes thus:

There is consensus among the powers that matter that the country’s economic and security mess needs to be sorted out and a democratic set-up, in particular one headed by an ‘inept/corrupt’ PPP, isn’t best placed to deliver it.

So, a caretaker set-up comprising ‘competent technocrats of integrity’ be brought in and given time and space to tackle issues a political administration can’t or won’t. But even if the current parliament ceases to be, isn’t it the president’s prerogative to name the caretakers?

Well, recent constitutional amendments, they maintain, stipulate that the president is bound to decide in consultation with the leader of the opposition. In case of disagreement, the burden of naming the caretakers falls on the chief election commissioner.

The chief election commissioner’s office itself can only be filled by the president after the prime minister’s consultation with the leader of the opposition. If there is a deadlock, the current acting arrangement could continue, which means the chief justice’s nominee may well hold the key to who forms the caretakers.

Even this scenario can be faulted on the ground that for it to be realised opposition PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif has to be on board. However, given his experience with the president and the PPP, wouldn’t he have more faith if he feels the judiciary is calling the shots?

Yes. But will he not be worried about not being in control? After all, despite all his reservations about the PPP-led government, his party found it impossible to ask its legislators to resign in order to mount the pressure for fresh elections. They attach a certain premium to power.

So, he’d have to weigh one factor very carefully. If the deadlock on the appointment of the CEC continues, the PML-N may not only have to live with the acting CEC’s set-up, it may have to address another possible scenario.

What happens if someone, perhaps the caretaker set-up itself, approaches the apex court and seeks a polls postponement on the grounds of an emergency-like situation in the country for up to a year, even more? An uncomfortable, unsavoury prospect for all major parties.

Now only constitutional experts can say whether this scenario, including all its assumption, is legally tenable even if it passes the plausibility test. One feels handicapped being unable to make sense of a murky political scene, leading to a murkier scenario.

But let me list what I can see with clarity. These are mostly issues that have fallen out of the headlines or haven’t received the attention they merited. Where does one start?

What’s the point of delving into issues from the past year into the security failures which allowed the US SEALs to strike deep into the heart of Pakistan with impunity, eliminate their target and also make a clean getaway?

We still don’t seem to have an idea whether it was complicity at any level or merely intelligence lapses that the world’s most wanted man was able to occupy a comfortable home under our very nose and live undetected for several years.

When we have most needed honest introspection and analysis of our mostly self-defeating policy of relying on zealots as a second line of defence and as a tool of attaining our national security objectives, we have silently led society slide deeper into the extremist abyss.

And I wouldn’t even mention the fiasco our relations with the United States are beginning to represent because I might have to point the finger of blame at the ‘senior’ partner in the decision-making process. Of course, the civilian government ought to be ashamed for conceding ground.

Have we paused to consider why there is discomfort even if expressed with dignity over the recent court ruling among such champions of constitutional rule as Tariq Mahmood and Athar Minallah? Have we lent an ear to the staunch defenders of the judiciary like Munir Malik and Ali Ahmad Kurd?

When the so-called Familygate scandal broke, there was speculation that it could be the handiwork of either the military agencies angered at the vigour with which the chief justice has pursued the cases of ‘missing’ or a government harried by a relentless barrage of corruption cases.

But with the warrants of arrest popping up as if by magic for the PPP’s favourite nominee for the prime minister’s office issued by the army-staffed and dominated Anti-Narcotics Force, what should we think is happening?

And then you hear that the ANF operation is being run by a commando-brigadier who is taking extra-keen interest in pursuing elected representatives amid reports witnesses are being pursued with enthusiasm to give ‘evidence’.

Finally, was the damning leaked video of those telltale breaks in that famous Dunya News interview aimed at cutting to size an aggressive media alone or was it to serve a greater purpose: remember the phone call received by Arsalan Iftikhar’s accuser from one Bunny (Gilani)?

Allow me to quote Mian Nawaz Sharif from his Swat rally this week. “…Iss hukumat nein jajon ke saath jo sulook kiya, us ka nateeja bhugat liya. Yousuf Raza Gilani ko ghar jana para (the government mistreated judges and had to reap what it sowed. Yousuf Raza Gilani had to go home).”

As for me, I am certain the court ruled solely on points of law. Even then all these issues bundled together will make one buy the wildest of conspiracy theories. It would be so much simpler to let the electorate vote out the PPP as it has failed to deliver on many of its promises, people’s aspirations.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.