Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Judging the court

July 15, 2012

SO now we know.

The moderates in the Supreme Court will go by the book, the hardliners will press for an early outcome, the prime minister will eventually go and the PPP will elect yet another one.

What’s the point to this farce?

Unhappily, that may be beside the point now.

The court can and should back off. But it seems to come down to this: in hounding the government to write the Swiss letter, it wants a PPP prime minister to implicitly state that the PPP boss is a corrupt man.

Letter written, legal repercussions or not, it will be there for all time to come on the historical record.

Surely there must be more?

It doesn’t really matter. Asif Zardari knows that this is about humiliating him and he’s called the court’s bluff. One prime minister, two prime ministers, 10 prime ministers — he’ll throw PMs at the court faster than it can knock them down.

Much has been made about the government’s stubbornness. Write the damn letter, everyone says. But let’s look at it from Zardari’s perspective.

Everyone’s corrupt here. Everyone’s heard the rumours about everyone, politicians, generals, bureaucrats and yes, even judges.

Every constituency politician by definition is corrupt here. Sustaining your base and milking it for votes come election time is an expensive business. Running a party with a national vote bank is infinitely more expensive.

Zardari just happens to be better at corruption than most. In his mind, why is that his fault?

Since he’s come to power he hasn’t done anything to any of the other players. He hasn’t chucked anyone in jail, hasn’t had cases registered against his opponents, hasn’t set NAB or the IB or the tax collectors on his political rivals.

There was the misjudgment with governor’s rule in Punjab in ’09 but the PML-N has landed more punches than it’s suffered.

As for the allies of convenience, the ANP in KP, the MQM in Karachi, the PML-Q in Punjab and Islamabad, each has raked it in as much as circumstances have allowed.

Nothing has been done to the court. The judges wanted a hermetically sealed judiciary in which they alone decide who can or cannot become a judge. So Zardari gave them a constitutional amendment, even though it meant overriding his crowning constitutional achievement, the 18th Amendment.

Malik Riaz was tweaked by the presidency when the going threatened to get really rough but then the ouster of the PM was quickly accepted. To try and save the next PM, all the government has done is pass a new law.

There are no jiyalas stationed outside the Supreme Court. There is no Sindh card or Seraiki card being flaunted around Sindh or southern Punjab.

The attorney general has an axe to grind with Court of Chaudhry but pot shots taken here and there don’t amount to much. The chief justice has claimed parliament isn’t supreme, but no one has stood up in parliament to shut down the chief justice.

What is Zardari’s goal?

Get his government past the finish line and fight for re-election in a fractured, polarised polity. The aim isn’t noble but neither is it wanton or destructive.

Here is a man who’s mocked, ridiculed, derided, spat on, abused, threatened and worse. For much of his adult life he lived in the shadow of a woman who was one of the most famous politicians in the world.

When his chance came, he didn’t aim high. He knows his limitations and set his sights accordingly.

In the rough and tumble world of Pakistani politics he has a skin thick enough to shrug off the attacks and a mind sharp enough to know everyone has a price.

So he could deliver something that no one before him could: a full-term government.

We — you and me, the unfortunate everymen in this blighted land — don’t get to pick what happens to us. But surely we can call it out for what it is.

The question is simple, why should the court bring an early end to this government?

Who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s good, who’s bad, who’s to blame less or more, set all of that aside for a minute.

The thing I like best about Zardari is that he can’t stick around for a day more than the people permit and he just doesn’t have the power to ever, ever take that right away from the people.

A judge may endorse an extended caretaker set-up or anoint yet another would-be saviour. A general may use the threat of the gun to do as he sees fit with this country.

But come September 2013, Zardari will have to face an election. And come March 2013, his government will have to face an election.

I, like many, am terrified at the prospect of another five years for Zardari.

If he can rule as incompetently and disastrously as he has and yet drag the PPP and himself to another electoral victory, it is truly frightening to imagine what he’d do the next five years.

But there is no certainty that will happen. In fact, in their heart of hearts, the PPP is worried about the verdict the electorate may deliver and increasingly concerned about their ability to manipulate that verdict.

Why should the court deny us the opportunity to find out?

Because it can? Because it wants to? Because it believes it knows better about what’s good for Pakistan? That simply isn’t good enough.

You and I may not be able to stop the court from doing what it has decided must be done. But we can certainly judge it.

And the court should know, that judgment isn’t very pleasant right now.

The writer is a member of staff. twitter: @cyalm