There is no change in the basics in Pakistan

There is no change in the basics in Pakistan
by HK Dua

CONGRATULATIONS will certainly be in order for the lawyers and the civil society of Pakistan for winning a major victory that has seen the restoration of a Chief Justice and the dilution of the unconstitutional powers President Asif Ali Zardari had inherited from his predecessor, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

It has taken the lawyers two years to fight for Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry returning to his job that had been snatched away by General Musharraf, who was afraid of losing presidentship with the judge at the helm of the Supreme Court.

The lawyers can rightly celebrate the success of their struggle which will be a part of the annals of democracy’s march in a country which has not seen much of it in 61 years of its career.

However, it will be a mistake to think that the restoration of Justice Chaudhry as Chief Justice marks the dawn of a new era in Pakistan, where people’s will and the rule of law will come to prevail.

Last one week’s momentous events have not really changed the basics of the situation in Pakistan. The exuberance of the moment has to be tempered with the realisation that the road ahead is long, rough, and full of pitfalls for Pakistan.

The negotiated settlement reached in Islamabad on Justice Chaudhry averted a looming crisis where the authority of the Zardari regime and also of the Army was at stake. But it was ultimately resolved with the help of the Pakistan Army as well as of the US activism in Islamabad. Both the Army and the United States continue to remain major factors in Pakistan’s politics. Both the Army and the Americans, who were clearly acting in concert, must have come to believe that the “long march” would create a messy situation, that might go out of hand if a settlement was not brought about fast.

The US was keen to ensure that Pakistan did not slip into what could be chaos, particularly when it is engaged in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and in the tribal areas in Pakistan’s north-west.

The Pakistan Army has always enjoyed watching the political parties fight among themselves and often in the past created situations to intervene and grab power. Apparently, it did not exploit an opportunity that in other times it would have gladly used to its advantage.

This was bit of a small mercy dictated more by necessity than its forsaking its usual tendency to intervene. Influential Americans were there in Islamabad to ensure that the Army did not again become adventurous and stage a coup, setting the clock back.

The Army and the Americans indeed remain a part of the basic situation in Pakistan — at times working together, at times at cross purposes. Their worries are, however, different. For the Americans, the Army’s help is crucial for winning its fight in Afghanistan and in the border areas. Also Washington believes that the nuclear weapons in Pakistan’s possession are safer under the control of the Army which alone could keep these away from an ambitious terrorist outfit.

Throughout the agitation, Mr Nawaz Sharif has been active and aligning his moves with those of the lawyers. He has been politically and personally benefited from the restoration of Justice Chaudhry and his party’s right to be back in power in Punjab.

The fundamentalist, militant and terrorist groups have watched the proceedings going on in Islamabad from the sidelines. Even if they did not do anything seriously untoward during the last few days, it is not because of a lack of interest or potential for mischief. Such elements choose their own time to strike, surprise being their familiar weapon.

To think that the Army has gone really back to barracks and the terrorist groups to their hideouts will be unrealistic. The two forces standing between the people and democracy remain formidable.

The net loser in the last week’s events is President Zardari who has had to swallow the restoration of the Chief Justice whose return was blocked by him all these days because of the fear that the judge might undo the amnesty given to him by President Musharraf. At the end of the day, President Zardari found himself too isolated to resist the pressure of the Army and the Americans and willy-nilly agreed to give in.

President Zardari is cutting a sorry figure now. The Pakistan People’s Party he inherited from his wife Benazir Bhutto is getting divided on him, and even in his home province, Sind. Prime Minister Gilani seems to be getting closer to the Army Chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, who last week ignored the President but chose to shoot off a letter wanting the President to sort out the political mess early.

The letter must have signalled a new power equation between the Supreme Commander and the Army Chief. The import of the message may not have got lost on Mr Zardari.

Increasingly, Mr Asif Ali Zardari is becoming friendless in his country, lonely and without any reliable crutch to lean on. He may have to just watch his role diminish further despite the enormous powers vested in his office by his predecessor. He simply cannot use these powers.

The crisis has only been defused. It is not the end of the Pakistan story.