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The caretaker option

Published Jul 08, 2012 12:05am


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THEY won’t write the letter to get the court off their backs, they don’t know how to govern to placate an unhappy public, they can’t wrest back space from the military and the religious right to keep the democratic project on track — something’s got to give.

It comes down to this: Asif Zardari wants to get to March; everyone else wants the PPP out now.

Who will win?

For four and a half years, the PPP has survived through a combination of luck and unexpected skill. That story is well known enough.

What’s changed is something else.

For four and a half years, the PPP’s opponents, rivals and enemies — of whom there are legion — have struggled to find a way to topple the government.

They didn’t have the numbers inside parliament, they couldn’t muster the strength on the street, they weren’t getting a clear signal from the army and they didn’t know how to circumvent constitutional constraints in the presence of a court that
defied a dictator.

But an important piece has fallen into place recently. The court has dropped any pretence of being above the political fray, of issuing edicts in line with the letter and spirit of the law and of accepting its role as a watchdog.

This opens up possibilities.

One prime minister down, another on the rack, the journey from here to an ouster of the lot of them is shorter than it’s been
in four and a half years.

It’s not as if the court were acting in concert with the other players. A fight between the government and the judiciary is what got us here.

A fight the government could have avoided had it strategised differently — write the damn letter, the court’s options originally were limited — or used better tactics — appeal Gilani’s conviction to try and buy time like it had done from the
beginning; don’t tweak Malik Riaz to go after the court.

But of such mistakes are born opportunities for others and we’re now in a place where the judicial sword has been unwittingly sharpened and can be brought crashing down on the government itself.

The selection of Raja was another mistake. In political terms it wasn’t an unforced error: a last-second appointment after a less controversial nominee was sidelined, Raja was a poor choice picked in difficult circumstances and with little time left to canvass for better consensus options.

But a mistake it was and it works to the court’s advantage.

Taking out Gilani was a more difficult ask. Yes, he furiously padded the family nest. Yes, the office he occupied was a few sizes too big for him. Yes, he’ll be quickly forgotten by history.

But he was a unanimously elected prime minister in a fairly legitimately elected parliament and he was being chucked out for something that wasn’t his decision to make — that caused unease in less partisan quarters.

Raja Rental is different. His reputation is mud and he hasn’t had a chance to wash some of it off with a constituency victory yet. He symbolises everything that is wrong with this government. Administering the last rites to his premiership will be cheered on from the sidelines by most.

That knowledge will give the court more confidence to strike a second time, as if the court needed any more confidence.

Take two prime ministers out in a matter of weeks and the country will be primed for a bigger upheaval.

Which is why the dog-and-pony show is already doing the rounds of Islamabad and Pindi. The ones who yearn to serve — ostensibly the public but in reality just their masters — are straining at the leash again, hoping both to precipitate a new dispensation and be part of it when it is ushered in.

For now, of all the possible alternatives — to the extent that any are likely and will come to fruition — the military-lite option is the favourite: an extended caretaker set-up of technocrats and ‘clean’ politicians with the explicit backing of the court and the silent backing of the military.

The long-rumoured option has stayed ahead of the alternatives — direct military rule and dissolution of parliament followed immediately by elections being the hard and soft options — precisely because it offers a middle course.

Gen K cannot or may not want to take charge of the mess he’s helped create: cannot because his extension, WikiLeaks and the shocks of 2011 have rendered him a lame duck; may not want to because he perhaps understands that his institution
can’t run the domestic show while simultaneously waging a war internally and fending off the Americans in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the politicians, Mian Sahib in particular, will not accept being shut out of power for another extended period. An extended caretaker set-up, then, would offer an acceptable compromise to the parties with constituencies to protect.

It would knock out the PPP from the race and thus preclude the canny Zardari from winning re-election, while at the same time dangling the prospect of a return to power for the others within a couple of years.

The draw of the middle option — the extended caretaker set-up — is that it would give everyone arrayed against the PPP something, or at least the hope of getting something eventually.

The court would fulfil its desire to give Pakistan a new direction. The army would get a more competent administration fully in line with its national-security paradigm. The politicians would get rid of the PPP and have a shot at contesting power in
the absence of a heavyweight competitor within a couple of years.

At this point, Zardari doesn’t have many options left.

He can either abandon his goal of completing the government’s term or wait and see if his foes eventually get their target.

The real question on which all of this hinges: will CJ Iftikhar sanctify an option that many want but few believe has
constitutional legitimacy? Judicial cover is a necessary condition for an extended caretaker set-up to happen.

Will CJ Iftikhar march to the brink but ultimately blink or will he bring his gavel crashing down with an eye to history and his back to the lessons it has taught others before?

Nobody but CJ Iftikhar knows the answer to that just now.

We — you and me, the public at the mercy of power politics and a squabbling, fractious elite — have less than six months to find out.

The writer is a member of staff.

twitter: @cyalm


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (28) Closed

Engr. Salman Jul 08, 2012 08:17am
Great Job Cyril. Almedia. Superbly comprehended and elegantly described!
farhanshahidkhan Jul 08, 2012 07:56am
Because he is biased against the hated and corrupt PPP. The DAWN readers are not PPP voters, so it obviously feel that whole Pakistan is against PPP. But the vote bank of party is rock solid in its rural base and it has diverted a lot of wealth from cities to rural constituencies in name of support prices and subsidies. I hope that city dwellers get united against PPP and throw them out of power
Muneeb Jul 08, 2012 07:47am
Tragedy of Pakistan is that it has always been harmed by people who somehow wanted to save this nation. Ayub, Bhutto, Zia, Musharaf all of them thought they were saving the country. Now it is the CJ who somehow believes that he is on a mission from God and is trying to save Pakistan. Like the men before him, he will, and is, doing irreparable damage to a sick nation that may not survive his judicial activism. Unfortunately, the masses are behind him, as they were with Ayub, Zia, Bhutto and Musharaf. Pakistanis have to learn that nation building is a collective effort and democracy, the best form of government known to mankind, is very messy and needs checks and balances for it to work. I am really worried. A failed state of Pakistan will inevitably lead to a nuclear holocaust.
Devendra Jul 08, 2012 10:42pm
EXACTLY. Well said.
logic Europe Jul 08, 2012 08:32am
I am sorry you consider chief justice a sane person he is messing up with politics He has not really proved anything so for against PPP except allegations his family is corrupt He is just a judge who is at the verge on the verge of retirement when Bhutto was hanged it was a different people ,this time the majority of people in PPP will not accept judicial coup there will be blood on the street .
Engr. Salman Jul 08, 2012 08:30am
Mr Qasim you are totally misled. you can never associate his son`s deeds with him. every body out there knows this was a cheap tactic by Zardari to let the contractor out for CJ. i am not a biased person, neither for CJ, nor for Z, but CJ has nothing to do with this. this is really some thing predated by the conclusions of a logical thinking.
observer (UK) Jul 08, 2012 08:41am
Good analysis point by point. Sad thing is that Pakistan has not learned lesson from history as it appears, I just do not understand why Pakistanis always look at the military as if they had solution to he problem, The military would be making yet another blunder if it steps in because they have no role whatsoever in civilian government, However, having said that the military unfortunately is an autonomous and wouldn't let it come under the supremacy of the civilian government, The CJP takes notices of everything regarding civilian government but he is unmoved by the actions of the military which are clearly violation of the constitution.
Amir Saeed Jul 08, 2012 01:05pm
Khakis off the hook. And no mention of PTI as an emerging political force.
Devendra Jul 08, 2012 10:53pm
Observer, You are a smart man. You hit it right between the eyes.
observer Jul 08, 2012 10:53am
It is a combination of complex phenomena at work Veekay. The mood about PPP and CJP is different in different provinces of Pakistan. Perception of PPP and corruption is not the same in various socio-economic ranks of Pakistani society. Then media and so-called civil society of Pakistan are still angry at PPP led government for restoring the judges late (making PPP is a convenient target for most of the media). Then, talking with exreme and visible bias is an acceptable thing in Pakistan. Then the present government has been under pressure right from the word go (and still is) and has not been able to deliver so well. Then the propaganda against PPP is on its peak (and will remain so till election time) so that opposition can be helped to a maximum in its election campaign. Finally, most of the present apex court judges are banking too much on support they have in the media and urban Pakistan and are risking their own reputation by taking a political stand against PPP. I hope you get some picture of what I am trying to say.
M.Mansha Sherazi Jul 08, 2012 10:33am
Fantastic Option!! It will definitely serve better and help to placate the angry masses too.
observer Jul 08, 2012 10:33am
The author of this rather one-sided article forgot to discuss the option of elections happening on the scheuled time. This option makes the best sense. If people are not happy with the present government, they will say so in the elections. Who are generals, judges, columnists, and technocrats? Do they own Pakistan any more than the masses? Please come on and let the democracy take its course. It may be a painful thing to tolerate masses of Pakistan but the basic fact is that it is their country. Let them handle their own country. Writ of masses cannot be wrong. However, those who silenced the masses in the past are culprits for so many vices that have visited Pakistan. Simple, isn't it?
shankar Jul 08, 2012 09:38am
Upliftment of the rural poor is a crime is it? Grotesque!
Qasim Jul 08, 2012 07:30am
With all due respect, CJP's home record (Dr. Arsalan) does not provide much comfort to us (pawns in the game) as to the clarity of his vision and goals of his crusades.
NASAH (USA) Jul 08, 2012 12:18pm
"Extended care taker takeover" -- so you're advocating a real judicial coup now -- one prime minister is not enough -- now whole government -- shame on you, Cyril.
Guest62 Jul 08, 2012 07:20am
In my humble opinion , What BRR is saying is the right and correct option for the Country . Every body Crows for the democracy THEN all of a sudden EVERY BODY starts crowing for the so called "Divine Intervention in Pakistani Context ' i.e Military to come and undo it Or Now a Judiciary to Undo it . LET people decide whom they want to Govern them from March 2013 on . Let AAZ present himself for re-election when its due for him . Like it or not ,Curse him if you want YET he is a Consitutionally elected (no matter how fraught it is ) President . SO CROW for Democracy not for any Direct or Indirect Intervention . The nation has AAZ because all who could sop him to get here , Were either Silent in this crime ( his detractors within his party ) watchers or were Hands in Gloves ( Sharifs included ) . He came to Presidency by Securing more than 2 3rd majority of the so called electoral College of the so called Parliment . If you say rubber parliment then Who Gave them the vote .. U & I alike are the assistance in this crime too ...
Amir Saeed Jul 08, 2012 01:12pm
Cyril Almeida looks at political situation from way too cynical, calculating and detached an angle - the utter lack of moral compass in his writings leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Mustafa Razavi Jul 08, 2012 03:39am
Deep state of the status quo is just trying to entice General Kiyani to step in and rescue the corruption establishment from the mess it has created. The corruption establishment is panicking at the sound of approaching Tsunami. They rather run as a "shaheed" in the next elections than loot and plunder for another eight months when there is not much left to plunder.
Amjad Wyne Jul 08, 2012 04:19am
"For four years PPP has survived through a combination of luck and unexpected skill" - May be so. I have a feeling that nobody wants to kick them out for three reasons - One, no one really has solution to the problems faced by the nation, two, the longer you keep such an inept and corrupt government in power, the more dirt you can heap on it and three, the longer it holds on to the office, the more permanent the damage would be to its standing. I think if I were Zardari, I would beg others to make a martyr out of me so I can rise again one day - but that won't happen in this sham democracy.
BRR Jul 08, 2012 04:49am
If the CJ has any vision about what is good for the country, he will hold his horses for 6 more months and let the next elections decide the fate of the country.
S Ali Khan Jul 08, 2012 04:53am
Excellent analysis. Always enjoy it. Keep it coming sir
observer Jul 08, 2012 05:24am
The knives are being sharpened. The reopening of the GLOC seems to be aimed at keeping US mollified and interested in a soft coup.
Tariq K Sami Jul 08, 2012 05:35am
Where are the independent judges? Where are the split verdicts.? To me CJ Iftikhar seems to be running a gang and he is a Don. Also this contempt of court thing is a bogus charge. Say take the case of Babar Awan. What he said was outside the court. The right to free speech should easily override the contempt clause. Every one has the right to free speech and opinion outside the court room. Just a week ago the US supreme court shocked the country by upholding Obamacare. CJ John Roberts a Republican nominee surprised every one when he voted against his conservative collegues and wrote the majority verdict, in the landmark Health Care Bill. In the USA important Supreme Court decision's are usually a 5 to 4 split verdict. I do not see that in Pakistan since this PCO x2 judge was made CJ. My feeling is that CJ will not dare do it twice. Because he has already cost the nation too much grief by his judicial activism. He has paralysed the Goverment. This in itself is high treason.
Rizwan Khan Jul 08, 2012 06:09am
Sweet Cyril really what a reality u have shown to Our present thieves team mean present Rulers Zardari and Sons I 100% agree with u Long live Cyril
Veekay Jul 08, 2012 06:17am
Excellent Analysis, but being a literate citizen with no political attachment I am at loss to understand why everyone is busy praising a biased CJP?
naseem Jul 08, 2012 06:30am
Superb article, but you always let the main culprit, the Khakis off the hook. They are more than equally responsible for the mess Pakistan is in. Why is everybody afraid to take the Khakis to task?
SAROJ Jul 09, 2012 08:19am
I feel both bills are sensible. Does not matter if they are rejected by CJ. Judiciary has not allowed civilians to stablise even for a day and their love for PPP is so obvious. They should have reviewed pending cases and weeded out corrupt judges in the lower courts. On the contrary they have done enormous harm to political, social and economic and judicial fabric of Pakistan. Had it been any other country , impeachment was the only option. This kind of judgments(in Gilani ,Hussain Haqqani ,OBL,Arslan's case. etc etc) has actually exposed that judiciary needs to behave. CJ is trying to gag people. He must pack up and go to avoid further damage to judicial institution. I fully supported CJ when he was sent home by dictator. He is now behaving like dictator. It is very important that no Supreme court judge has given any dissenting note so far under present CJ Ms saroj kapoor
Abdullah K Jul 10, 2012 01:53pm
Cyril : Glad to see someone telling it, as it is- AAZ could have avoided current turmoil but he opted to scarify a mediocre intellect , Gilani. Thanks for your thoughtful commentary.