The News, Tuesday, May 18, 2010
By Shaheen Sehbai
WASHINGTON: Defence Minister Choudhry Ahmad Mukhtar has let the cat out of the bag and the newly visible signs of aggressive confrontation against almost all the badly needed independent institutions in the country by the Zardari-led power dispensation can now be better understood.
The minister has stated on record that Army Chief General Kayani will not be given an extension and he has not sought one, which means Zardari, through his proxy prime minister, will appoint an army general of his choice as the next COAS and Pakistan will become a safe haven for him and the corrupt and the dishonest mostly found in PPP power corridors these days.
Whether the president will be able to use the PM is another matter. According to important people PM Gilani confides in, the PM is very upset, as he has been caught in a trap, whether to become a Farooq Leghari or to respond to his own conscience.
These close circles say Mr Gilani is accepting dictation from Zardari just to prove that he is not another Farooq Laghari but now he has started consulting with close friends. He says he will not ditch the PPP but he may resign.
That will be an honourable way out as he has so far maintained his self-respect despite being caught in the vicious circle of the corrupt PPP leaders.
One example is that he never took any action against state minister for information, Samsam Bukhari, who just days ago said on the Geo TV show of Hamid Mir, that fake degree holders, like Jamshed Dasti, must be banned forever in politics. The PM was asked by Zardari to take action against Bokhari, but he did not respond. Both Gilani and Bokhari belong to the same political region.
But another honourable way for the PM would be not just to resign but to dissolve the National Assembly and let the people elect new leaders, thus finding a constitutional way out of his personal dilemma. He may be accused of stabbing his party in the back but his party colleagues would be more to blame because they are the silent spectators to the rape now going on with Benazir Bhutto’s party and her principles. It is a shame how her murder has been handled by her husband and her party government. By resigning PM Gilani will only end his political career, without the country gaining anything from his sacrifice.
Coming back to the important announcement by Choudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, the minister was reflecting the super-confidence in the Zardari camp and beating the thundering war drums and braying pipes against the judiciary, by categorically stating that the PPP-led government would not write a letter to the Swiss authorities for the reopening of cases against its own president.
But as an afterthought he made another nit-witted statement that there was no confrontation between the government and the judiciary, that the government was not facing any serious problem from the judiciary and that the president could only be removed through impeachment. What could have been more naÔve or misleading cannot be imagined.
These “golden” words of the defence minister have come almost simultaneously as renowned TV anchor and journalist Hamid Mir has disclosed that a PPP, nay Zardari, plan is ready to malign and blackmail the Jang Group, Geo TV and some top journalists working for the Group. Nervous PPP ministers have revealed its outlines, both in private and in public.
President Zardari is said to have given a green signal to launch an attack against the Jang Group and some of its journalists including myself, Ansar Abbasi, Dr Shahid Masood, Kamran Khan, Hamid Mir and some others. Mir disclosed that Dr Shahid Masood might be implicated in some forgery case, obviously manufactured when he had briefly become the chief executive of the PTV.
Hamid Mir has revealed, quoting a minister, that President Zardari, who never allowed any “action” against the Jang Group was now “angry” and the government had collected a lot of material against journalists of the group. What material, has not been disclosed. But what an angry president can do is also not clear.
So now the battle plans are ready on these possible lines: We will have our own army chief soon, so the army will be in our pocket; we will not honour the verdicts of the Supreme court, so everyone who believes in justice can get lost; we will attack the critical sections of the media frontally and coerce them into falling in line, so a few who dare to speak will soon be silenced; we will then decimate the Opposition, if any, so an ineffective Nawaz Sharif can stay in London for good; we will then rule for the rest of our lives and make as much money as we can; and we will crush anyone who wants to confront us. This is arrogance of power and poverty of arrogance at its best, or may be worst.
This Zardari plan, based on his personal thinking, as I can claim knowing him from some close quarters, is what he thinks is going to make the PPP popular, last longer and everybody else will declare him as the best and the most popular politician this country ever had and he will rule as long as he wanted. He thinks he has succeeded in using the Sindh card and has politically blackmailed all others into submission because he thinks he has established that if he was attacked the entire system will collapse.
Many serious questions and issues arise after all this has become public knowledge. The basic issue is whether the Pakistan Army will allow a political leader who has a tainted past, who has a tainted present and whose future is evident from what he is doing, to dictate the terms of reference of how this country will be run and by whom, including the future of the army which has the highest stakes in the country.
General Kayani may not be interested in another extension, but he has been in the middle of all the good or bad transitions that we have seen in recent times and he has so far proved that he would put his weight on the right side of the equation.
His role in the NRO, his soft guard-of-honour to General Musharraf after convincing him that he should leave the country, his decision to keep the army and ISI away from interfering in the 2008 polls, his decisive call to restore the Supreme Court judges on March 15, his intervention to stop the Kerry-Lugar fiasco, his quiet meetings with Choudhry Nisar Ali, Shahbaz Sharif and Aitzaz Ahsan to ward off potentially destructive confrontational scenarios, his focus on the war on terror and his successes, his blunt ‘no’ on several occasions to the Americans, and many other yet unknown interventions, only prove that he has the interest of the country at heart and his decisions have not been motivated by personal interest.
So now when he has decided to retire, as the defence minister claims, leaving the country in the hands of Mr Zardari, it is simply unimaginable to believe that he thinks the president is doing a great job, that he is the right person and he will continue to safeguard the interests of the country, which, by the way, President Zardari has not yet displayed he is capable of doing.
The recent reports leaked by the presidency that a new post of Chief of Defence Staff may be created and that Mr Zardari, as in the past, had secret meetings with a top general to offer him the position of COAS provided he went along, especially against the judges of the Supreme Court, only prove that the scheming mind of the president is working overtime to construct and pre-empt future scenarios and make moves to protect his own skin, his own money and power.
What can be said with utter certainty is that the institution of Pakistan Army knows Mr Zardari inside out and how much they can trust him is all but evident. If the same army, which knows what Mr Zardari is capable of, allows him to demolish the only two vibrant and independent institutions – the restored judges and the free Press – then an obituary of the political system and possibly the country can be written, almost prematurely.
If General Kayani, who went out of his way to ensure that the judges were restored at the last minute and the Long March of Nawaz Sharif was called off, now allows Mr Zardari to demolish the same Supreme Court, just because the corruption-tainted President cannot defend the billions of dollars he made illegally, (one proof of his $60 million was given by the president of the Citibank himself in front of the US Congressional Committee in November 1999) it would be such a disservice to the country that all the good that the General may have done in his entire career may not be able to wash it.
In many circles General Kayani is considered to be too soft who has given a long rope to Zardari as institution after institution has been gobbled up by his friends, cronies and relatives, the bureaucracy, state-owned corporate sector including Pakistan Steel Mills, PIA, PSO, KESC, Wapda and Pakistan Railways, the Federal Shariat Court, and numerous others being obvious examples.
If all this is being allowed in the name of democracy, it may be a logical argument, because people have elected these leaders and voters are to be blamed if they elect dishonest people like Jamshed Dasti again, but what cannot be allowed is that these elected leaders coerce, pressure or beat up the institutions which can keep a check on their nefarious activities.
The judiciary and the media are the best examples. If they are crushed, then no institution will be safe and the Pakistan Army will be the next prime target. This becomes more important because the Opposition is just acting like Nero who was playing the flute while Rome was burning, possibly because the Mian brothers have a much bigger stake in the pie.
What General Kayani can do, before bowing out honourably, is to ensure, like he did playing a subtle behind-the-scene role several times, that no crony of the president is appointed as the next COAS and a transparent procedure is adopted to make that appointment so that the new COAS is not obliged to any person and takes decisions only in the national interests. If Kayani thinks anyone is conspiring behind his back, he can take action now as COAS and stop this conspiracy.
The charges against the Jang Group have been answered in detail and it has been stated clearly on every one of these allegations that the Group has gone to court to seek justice. So the Group is not hiding its case or seeking any concessions. This is what the Zardari camp does not like because the president fears independent judiciary.
As regards the campaign being planned against journalists, including myself, this has been done umpteen times in the past and foolishly so by even Zardari and his PPP. The best that the most vocal crony of Zardari, (Ayatollah) Faisal Raza Abidi, could produce against me in a TV talk show was a fake FIR registered during the Musharraf era when I had started my own web site in late 2002.
That FIR blamed me for stealing a washing machine from the house of a GHQ employee, 18 months after the theft had allegedly taken place. I had supposedly done it when I was the Group Editor of The News then. The people who were involved at that time, later apologised to me in person and confessed they were under pressure. My cousins and relatives, who were arrested and tortured, were honourably acquitted by courts during the Musharraf regime because the prosecution had no case and no evidence. Faisal Raza Abidi was not even born politically then, as he claimed himself in the TV talk show. It was a case like the famous cow theft case registered against Ch Zahoor Elahi, the father of Ch Shujaat Hussain, by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a case which always follows ZAB as his worst acts of vengeance.
Against other journalists like Ansar Abbasi, Hamid Mir or Dr Shahid Masood, who are known critics of the present government, it can be said with full confidence that not one charge can be proved in any court of law by the PPP and Zardari cronies. It is just an offensive, an aggressive tactic to pressure these journalists. They are fully prepared to face these professional hazards and they know the government will face the same humiliation as all others who tried to malign honest and uncompromising journalists in the past. Let them try and taste some dust of their own