ISLAMABAD: As ever, it takes Pervez Musharraf to bring the PPP and the PML-N together.
This time, Premier Yousaf Raza Gilani has convinced PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif to support the government’s call to the Supreme Court to summon former president Musharraf to explain why he issued the National Reconciliation Ordinance. Too bad the decisive course of action decided upon by the two biggest political parties over a London-Islamabad phone call depends on so many what-ifs and what-thens. According to a statement issued by the premier’s media office, Gilani called Sharif in London, where the latter’s wife is under treatment.
“Both leaders called for appearance of the former president before the Supreme Court,” the statement read. Elaborating on the statement, a spokesperson for Gilani told The Express Tribune that the premier specifically asked Sharif whether he supported the government’s call for the court to issue orders to bring Musharraf back. It was, however, not clear whether Sharif had also asked the government to launch an initiative itself in this regard.
The official handout says the two are to hold a meeting to “work out a strategy for strengthening democracy and democratic institutions” but doesn’t specify when. Spokespersons for both leaders say possibly in a week’s time, when Sharif returns to Pakistan. PML-N spokesperson Ahsan Iqbal explains his party’s stance. “Both the Supreme Court verdict on November 3, 2007 regarding the imposition of emergency by Musharraf as well as the recently enacted 18th constitutional amendment have declared the former dictator a ‘national’ culprit and he must be punished for everything he did wrong.
Not only should the government seek an explanation from Musharraf for issuing the NRO, a high treason case should also be lodged against him,” says Ahsan. The point Ahsan seems to be missing is that his party chief has agreed to support the government vis-à-vis the Supreme Court. And he doesn’t explain how the government is to seek an explanation. The Gilani-Sharif agreement comes at a time of growing hostility between the executive and the judiciary over the implementation of the SC’s December 16, 2009 verdict regarding the NRO.
At the core is the government’s extreme reluctance to reopen the Swiss cases against President Zardari, something the court is equally adamant about. Over the weekend, Gilani told the media the Supreme Court ought to call in the architect of the ordinance primarily aimed at abolishing corruption charges against former premier Benazir Bhutto and Zardari, both in Pakistani and international courts. Some think the premier’s initiative to seek support from other political parties can put the Supreme Court in a “difficult” situation. And by demanding the court issue orders for Musharraf’s appearance, the government has thrown the ball in the “court’s court”.
However, most analysts dismiss this reasoning. First, central to this understanding is the hope the court will actually respond to the government’s call, something that looks iffy given the fiercely independent character the apex court seems to have acquired. Second, they say, the SC has comprehensively dealt with the NRO in its judgment and dismissed it as illegal. As such, delving into the whos and whys of authorship as a fig leaf for the public humiliation of Musharraf – particularly in the face of the Establishment’s predictable opposition – is something the SC won’t do. That the agreement coincides with Musharraf’s plans to launch his own political party and return to Pakistan, however, is not giving anyone sleepless nights. “The military doesn’t want Musharraf to return because they’re scared of the precedent a possible trial may set… How can he return?” scoffs one analyst.
However, the more charitable analysts argue that Gilani had little choice in the matter. Just last week, the court summoned law minister to come justify why the government hasn’t written to Swiss officials. Given the more flamboyant statements by those close to the Presidency, the premier had to demonstrate support in some manner. And this, they argue, was the safest move since it seems to shift the onus on to the court, that too, in the ‘democratic diplomacy’ tradition Gilani is becoming famous for.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 19th, 2010.