STAND-OFF PAVES WAY FOR ELECTIONS
January 20, 2012
Executive-Judiciary & Executive-Army stand-off created a situation rife for rumours, conjectures and speculations of all sorts.
By the time people start to get the feel that the situation is returning to normal, the country is pushed to the brink once again. The game of ‘pushing it to the brink’ and ‘pulling it back from the edge of the precipice’ has been continuing for some time now. The moves of stakeholders often generate intense heat; while at other times these create extreme chill. But in both situations, people remain engrossed in a nail-biting suspense, wondering about the direction the events would take. However, in either case, the environment becomes rife for rumours, conjectures and speculations of all sorts.
The tension between PPP-led political government and the powerful establishment had mounted after Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said, in an interview to the People’s Daily Online of China, that affidavits submitted to the Supreme Court by Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI Director General Lt. General Ahmad Shuja Pasha on the memo issue were “unconstitutional and illegal.” Understandingly, the prime minister’s statement did not amuse the troops, who publicly retaliated, saying that the allegation had “serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country.” A public response of this nature is inconceivable in mature democracies and would have invited reprisals, but not so in quasi-democracies like Pakistan.
Army Chief General Kayani reportedly complained to President Asif Ali Zardri, on January 14, about the Prime Minister’s statements, wanting these to be either clarified or withdrawn. Reuter quoted a senior military source as having said: ‘Such statements were divisive and made the country more vulnerable’ by exposing a struggle between the government and the military. The council of senior military commanders, it added, was ‘more angry’ than General Kayani himself. Prime Minister Gilani rejected the Reuter report, saying the army chief had not asked for a retraction so it was not necessary to provide one. He said: The Presidency had already denied the ‘speculations’ published in the Reuters report. Since the Prime Minister is answerable only to the Parliament, “I will not answer to a person.”
Earlier, following the corps commanders meeting, The Times (London) quoted a military officer as having told its correspondents – Francis Elliot and Aoun Sahi – that the generals “would only step in if asked by the most senior judge in Pakistan. There is no chance of a coup in Pakistan right now. The military is not going to allow the PPP to become political martyrs...We will consider helping implement (the) court’s decision if civil authorities fail to implement it” and the army was asked, under Article 190, to help implement SC judgments.
It may be recalled that the Supreme Court had declared, in December 2009, the US-brokered National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which was issued by General Musharraf to allow Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan and work in partnership with Musharraf, to be unconstitutional and void ab initio (from the beginning). Since NRO had consequences for the reopening of Swiss cases against Asif Zardari, the PPP-led government decided to file a review petition although earlier it had not defended the NRO before the court. The Supreme Court dismissed the review petition, but in defiance of court orders, the PPP government did not write to the Swiss authorities to reopen money-laundering cases against Zardari. Finally, the SC constituted a bench under Justice Khosa to dwell on implementation of its rulings. Contrary to the general impression that the court has offered six options to Gilani-led PPP administration, Khosa-led bench has, in fact, made these recommendations to the SC for deciding the matter.
Meanwhile, ISPR’s press release on January 11 and three notifications by the federal government that followed it unleashed a wave of speculations. One notification pertained to the posting of a brigadier to command 111 Brigade and the other pertained to the sacking of defence secretary Lt. General (R) Naeem Khalid Lodhi and appointment of Prime Minister’s trusted aide Nargis Sethi as Defence Secretary. In keeping with ‘once bitten, twice shy’ syndrome, the development provided enough fodder to the rumour mills, especially when it signaled the possibility of a serious rupture between the army and the civilian government. Historically, 111 Brigade has been used to secure Islamabad when the army swings into action to pack-up the political setup. Most probably, to forestall such a move, US military chief General Martin Dempsey telephoned General Kiyani. While confirming the contact between the two army chiefs, the Pentagon clarified, on January 11, 2012, that the United Sates neither sought nor received any assurance from the Pakistani military that it would not stage a coup.
Some observers contended that Nargis Sethi has been appointed as Defence Secretary to block any possible move by the apex court to seek army’s aid for the implementation of court orders that the political administration has been publicly mocking so far. They argued that if the court wished to seek the aid of the army for the implementation of its orders, it has to approach the Defence Secretary. If the incumbent Secretary’s loyalties tilted more towards the Head of the Government than the Constitution, the Secretary could scuttle such a move on one pretext or the other. Some people thought that Sethi has been positioned as Defence Secretary to promptly notify the possible retirement of the army chief and DG ISI upon receipt of a nod from the political administration. If the position was held by retired Lt. General Lodhi, who was a confidant of the army chief, he would have been the last man to issue such a notification. However, any move of this nature was impregnated with consequences like the one that the country experienced when in October 1999 Mian Nawaz Sharif sacked General Musharraf and appointed General Zia-ud-din Butt as the new army chief. Consequently, Mushraff-led coup placed the country under martial law for nine long years.
In view of the stand-off between PPP-led government and the judiciary on implementation of court decisions and circulation of reports about growing tense relations between the two pillars of the State, Islamabad High Court Bar Association, Lahore High Court Bar Association and Peshawar High Court Bar Association felt impelled to express their resolve, on January 12, 2012, to resist the government’s moves to mock the decisions of the superior judiciary. Taking a stock of the situation, Tehrik-e-Insaf Chairman, Imran Khan also warned the executive government against launching an assault on the judiciary. He said PTI would take to streets if the government launched an assault on the independent judiciary, which was the main hurdle in the way of the corruption of the present regime.
Meanwhile, PPP leadership remains engaged in efforts to defuse the tension between the government and the armed forces. On January 13, 2012, Prime Minister Gilani himself tried to defuse the tension when he stated on the Floor of the National Assembly that democracy should not suffer for the mistakes of politicians. He said: “We did not come to the parliament to seek support for the NRO against the army. We did not come here to become martyrs. If we feel there is some trouble for us, we will go to the people instead of begging to stay in government... We respect all institutions and are not against any of them.”
To deflect pressure on the president and regain the moral ground for Zardari-led PPP government, however, some observers predicted that the Prime Minister Gilani, who brought stability to the system on numerous occasions in the past but is no longer the non-controversial, consensus-building figure, might resign as part of a move. Meanwhile, convinced that there was no solution to the problems faced by the country other than early election, leaders of opposition parties in the Parliament (NA and Senate) have decided to form a grand alliance and exert pressure upon the government to announce fresh elections. If orders of the apex court to the Election Commission of Pakistan to prepare authentic voters’ lists before the end of February this year, is an indicator, the next general elections appear to be at hand.