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Political tsunami brewing across Pakistan

A political tsunami has been sweeping Pakistan since the Supreme Court on Tuesday gave the federal government six options to implement its various rulings, particularly those that directly relate to President Asif Ali Zardari and some of his close associates, Imtiaz Gul reports.

world Updated: Jan 12, 2012 00:40 IST
Imtiaz Gul
Imtiaz Gul
Hindustan Times

A political tsunami has been sweeping Pakistan since the Supreme Court on Tuesday gave the federal government six options to implement its various rulings, particularly those that directly relate to President Asif Ali Zardari and some of his close associates.

The government reacted to the Court's verdict on Wednesday by removing the defense secretary, retired Lt Gen Khalid Naeem Lodhi, and handing over charge to a party loyalist Ms Nargis Sethi. The military establishment, too, responded with an emergency meeting of the brass, and issued a stern statement, decrying prime minister Yousuf Reza Gilani's allegations against the chief of army staff General Ashfaq Kayani and the head of the ISI, Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha. In an interview to a Chinese newspaper, Gilani had claimed that recent depositions by Kayani and Pasha before the Supreme
Court by were illegal. The depositions were submitted in the Memogate case.

In a probably unrelated but extremely significant development, the General Headquarter (GHQ) appointed a new commander to the 111 Brigade - the brigade that has been instrumental in all previous military take-overs, triggering fears of yet another military intervention. On all previous occasions, the 111 brigade, located at Rawalpindi, was used to demobilize the civilian government.

The storm unleashed by an ascendent Supreme Court must be viewed in the context of two intricately-linked issues; the Memogate and the NRO. The Memogate involves a Pakistani American Mansoor Ijaz and former ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani both of whom allegedly prepared a document for cooperation with the United States on conditions that the Army top brass construes as an "assault on Pakistan's security interests." Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif himself petitioned the Supreme Court to investigate the matter. The other issue revolves around the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), crafted in October 2007, under former president Pervez Musharraf to facilitate the return of Benazir Bhutto later that month. Although Bhutto was assassinated on Dec 27 that year, her spouse Zardari and several friends as well as dozens of others including leaders of the ethnic Muttahida Qaumi Movement became direct beneficiaries of the NRO essentially an amnesty decree.

The Supreme Court threw out the amnesty in December 2009, saying it was unconstitutional. It had ordered the re-opening of corruption cases, with Zardari, Bhutto's widower, the biggest target. In an unusually long propagandist interview with Geo TV last week, a visibly stoic and indifferent Zardari had contemptuously dismissed the NRO cases as "history," and thus indicated those wont be opened or pursued. On Tuesday, the court found the government in willful default as far as implementation of its ruling on NRO was concerned, and thus gave six options to premier Gilani for compliance. It also quoted Zardari's Geo TV interview.

"It is quite clear to us now that the federal government and the National Accountability Bureau are not serious in the matter at all and those concerned are only interested in delaying and prolonging the matter on one pretext or another," the five-judge Supreme Court bench wrote in its order.

On Dec 16, Gilani, while responding to a question, had said that statements that Pasha and Kayani had submitted with the Supreme Court, were in line with the rules of business. And this is what has surprised most observers. "There seems to be a plan behind the prime minister's turn-around," commented analyst Hassan Askari Riazvi, when asked as to why Gilani threw the gauntlet at the military. Also, opined others, the Zardari camp almost believes that the Supreme Court is acting on the behest of the mighty military and thus has decided to embark on a path which it thinks might earn the PPP "political martyrdom." They presume that if kicked out of the government, masses may fall behind them for support against the army and the Supreme Court.

That is why Ms Sethi was moved into the defense ministry in what appeared to be a move to blunt any attempt by the Supreme Court to ask the army for help in implementing its rulings under the federal constitution's Articel 190.

Although tempers flew high till late Wednesday, yet those familiar with the PPP leadership and the military, opined that if the government decided to back down, bend to some of the conditions imposed by the Supreme Court and amended its posturing vis a vis the military establishment, it could ide out of the crisis - for the time being though. It however cannot hope to emerge out of the current crisis unscathed by adopting a middle ground; leaders such as Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan , other Muslim Leaguers and Fazlurrehman are all talking of the need for a fresh mandate. And it is quite evident that Pakistan is heading into fresh elections, much earlier than the stipulated date of March 2013.

Fireworks, however, are likely to continue in the coming days, particularly when the Supreme Court resumes on Jan 16 to hear the government response to its rulings on the NRO. Will the Court seek army's support for enforcing its rulings such as disqualification of prime miniser and the president? Will allies still stand by Zardari now that he has emerged as the largest source of tension between the government, the judiciary and the military?

First Published: Jan 12, 2012 00:38 IST