Given the amount of meetings Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has held since he flew into Saudi Arabia, he probably needed all of the 231 crates of gift mangoes he carried on his flight. The trip was said to be a personal one, with time to be spent in prayer and with family.
Yet it seems anything but.
To date, he has already first met Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz – that is, the Crown Prince – and then later Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz (the special envoy to the king – basically the man who you could say ‘handles’ everything Pakistan-related) at least thrice in the last week alone. It should probably be mentioned here that Prince Muqrin is also a good friend of former president Pervez Musharraf.
Then, on Friday, the prime minister visited King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud. Aside from the Princes Salman and Muqrin, Intelligence Chief Prince Khalid bin Bandar was among others in attendance.
And amidst an increasingly acerbic political climate back home, a lot of people will be taking note.
Meanwhile, Asif Ali Zardari is in the US creating some foreign visit buzz of his own. The former president met with US Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday. The Pakistan Peoples Party is not commenting on the meeting, which took place at an Iftar dinner, or said anything tangible about the trip. Off the record, PPP leaders say that, though he was originally scheduled to spend Eid in Pakistan, he will now remain in the US and is scheduled to hold a few more meetings.
The Saudi and US meetings make for interesting reading in the context of a certain ‘deal’ that has suddenly become the talk of the town over the last two weeks – the one involving indemnity for former president Musharraf, apparently struck with the US, Saudi, UK and the then chiefs of the Army and ISI as guarantors.
Another supposed aspect of this deal surfaced recently when PPP’s Shehla Raza ‘revealed’ yet another ‘secret clause’: an assurance that there would be no military intervention for ‘three civilian tenures.’ Strange that Ms Raza would have been privy to such a deal and would choose to expose it at a time Mr Musharraf is being tried and there are murmurs of upheaval in the air. These ‘revelations’ are not arbitrary.
Back home, the jostling over Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s 14th August march on Islamabad is getting more urgent by the week.
The week saw the government roll out its plans for Independence Day celebrations (which many feel were meant solely to stymie PTI’s rally in the heart of the capital). Initially, the government plotted to hold a military parade on Independence Day in the very area PTI wanted to assemble. According to rumours, the military communicated to the government that they would do no such thing. This ‘rumour’ seems to have played out: The 30-day schedule released by Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafique on Thursday does show a military march- and fly-past, but, rather strangely, on the night of the 13th. The word in the corridors is that the government may now cancel its plans entirely.
On the same day of the government’s announcement, the PTI also came out with details of its plans for the 14th August rally through its Punjab chapter president Ejaz Chaudhary. The PTI leader said that they would invite all parties to join in.
But before we get to 14th August, Imran has a deadline of his own to think about now.
Completing a heavy-news Thursday, former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry officially sent a defamation notice worth Rs20 billion to the PTI chief, who has repeatedly accused the former top judge of involvement in rigging during the 2013 election. Mr Chaudhry however said he’d withdraw the claim if Imran tenders an unconditional apology. The PTI chief has 14 days to decide on the matter.
Let’s agree that Imran is not going to apologise. So we’re looking at court battles between the two.
The former top judge has a case and, more importantly, the clout to make this a serious matter. Some lawyers feel that he might file the suit in Islamabad High Court, where most of the judges were appointed during his term.
Here’s a question: Recall that former PPP Senator Faisal Raza Abidi had also levelled similar allegations against him, and in fact more frequently and rabidly, and even when he was the chief justice – why was no such action against him? That’s enough to raise a few eyebrows regarding motives.
What this suit can do is bring out in court, officially, that there is no real evidence against Mr Chaudhry (which there currently isn’t) and that will work towards discrediting Imran’s overall claims against the government.
The effort to stop the PTI march is coming elsewhere. On Friday, the government announced the invoking of Article 245 in Islamabad from August 1 – that is, calling in the Army to support the civilian administration to maintain law and order. Whether or not the Army acts on it, 245 means that any sort of mishap in the area will be their responsibility – and that’s a pretty big responsibility with hundreds of thousands of protestors on the streets.
There is another interpretation of this move: Remember, a certain legal immunity applies to all government actions and orders in an area under 245. That’s a pretty big threat recalling the way the government handled Dr Qadri’s protesting supporters in June in Lahore’s Model Town.
Here’s some food for thought over the Eid holidays: Many of 245’s clauses were introduced by an embattled former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 in the face of massive opposition protests over – yes, that’s right – election rigging.
We all know how that worked out.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2014.
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