President Obama has sent his point man on Af-Pak to Islamabad. He is given the task to negotiate the long and short term nitty-gritty of an agreement that would help restore and sustain NATO supplies to Afghanistan. How can he expect a done-deal from a government, however, which is headed by Yousaf Raza Gilani, the prime minister who appears only some hours away from being ‘convicted’ under contempt of court charges? No wonder, after a considerable gap, US diplomats have again begun meeting President Zardari to extract reassuring messages.
Disregarding the ‘big picture,’ though, the PPP and its allies struggled hard to generate the feel of business as usual about their government. In various corners of parliamentary lobbies, nervous legislators were still found scratching the minds of journalists they trust. What will the Supreme Court do on Thursday? That remained the one and only question.
Most journalists continued fuelling their anxiety by sticking to the perception that the hype that our media kept on building regarding the question of writing or not writing a letter to the Swiss government for locating the “hidden millions of Asif Ali Zardari” had now reached cul-de-sac. The apex court would disappoint and frustrate many by not convicting the prime minister, however ‘symbolic’ it may appear. As if hoping against hope, some well-connected legislators preferred to imagine otherwise. They ‘instinctively’ felt that the court could forward the whole issue of convicting the prime minister to full 17-member bench. After exhausting their legal arguments, both the advocate for the prime minister and the Attorney General had come down to pleading for the same on virtually compassionate grounds.
“Sending an elected prime minister to jail for the first time in the history of Pakistan is not a small thing. The apex court has to think twice before setting a precedent for getting a prime minister by extra-parliamentary means,” said an experienced PPP legislator who also savours deep family connections with some renowned lawyers and judges.
A prominent legislator from an allied party implicitly endorsed his view. He claimed that a peculiar group of hawkish ministers had been suggesting to the prime minister that before going to the Supreme Court Thursday, he should seek a “support-resolution, if not a vote of confidence during the Wednesday-sitting of the national assembly.” The prime minister presumably rejected this idea, “almost firmly.” My source claimed that it must be due to some solid reason that Gilani decided to appear as if still reluctant to make it look like a head-on collision between the legislature and the judiciary. I just listened to him without commenting.
Some over-anxious types from among the ruling party legislators were also found desperately trying to spot the person who could replace Gilani, in case of his eventual disqualification. Makhdoom Shahabuddin of Rahim Yar Khan surfaced as the obvious choice for his Seraiki roots. Some journalists and reporters have begun having second thoughts, though.
President Zardari, they underlined, had started pulling and pushing his pieces in Central Punjab of late; apparently with a decisive game in mind. During recent inductions in the federal cabinet, preference was certainly given to that lot of PPP MNAs who had been winning and losing elections on viciously contested seats spread out in cities placed between Lahore and Rawalpindi.
These inductions are compelling many to suspect that Zardari may select someone from Central Punjab for the Prime Minister’s Office in case of Gilani’s disqualification. Keeping his women-friendly political moves in mind, many eyes are switched to Samina Khalid Ghurki, who came to the National Assembly from a directly contested seat of Lahore, ostensibly ‘the citadel of Sharifs’. After double-checking, I can now say that Ahmed Mukhtar will be the person to watch, if Zardari decides to make his pick from Central Punjab. For the moment, though, we have to wait for what happens to Gilani on a historic Thursday of the cruellest month of April 2012.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2012.
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