by Shaheen Sehbai –
DUBAI: With April 11 set by the Supreme Court for hearing of the NRO review petition and appointment of judges cases, the PPP strategy to go for an open, full-scale confrontation with the apex court is now a declared policy. The stage has been set for the final showdown, a path the PPP bigwigs have, hopefully, chosen after careful thinking and deliberations.
This strategy could become a make-or-break decision for the current PPP leadership and appears to be a desperate move. But one thing is certain: the Supreme Court has been pushed into this battle and it has no option but to win as the survival of the whole judicial system has been put at stake besides the honour, integrity and even survival of the judges themselves.
If the PPP thinks, or succeeds, in pressuring, bulldozing, defying or subjugating the current independent judiciary, the country will roll back into the era of the Dogar and ZA Bhutto courts. Who suffered at the hands of those spineless men of straw sitting in what were wrongfully called “Supreme” Courts is a part of history but what is obvious is that their main targets were democracy, the political process and politicians.
So why the PPP has chosen to go back to that era is a million dollar question. When popularly elected leadership decides that it does not need, or want, or tolerate an independent judiciary, who can stop gun-totting adventurers from using pliant cowards sitting on the SC benches to once again uproot, maim and disrupt democracy?
One answer can be that this time the PPP thinks it will defeat the court and use a subjugated bench to first save its top leaders and then manipulate the judicial process to its advantage, as the Dogar court before Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was doing, first to serve General Musharraf and then the PPP. This may be a misguided belief in some over-zealous or over-confident minds.
Another plausible explanation can be that given its tentative coalition situation and sensing that it is unable to carry on its agenda in parliament, the PPP has started preparing for a mid-term election. But it needs a soft political target and someone to blame for the massive failures in governance and giving a visionary leadership, which may have strengthened the democratic process.
Because it has over-stretched the reconciliation mantra for too long, the party also needs an immediate cause, and an enemy to stir up the Sindh Card and activate its support base. Instead of targeting the political rivals, it has also picked up the Supreme Court mainly for the over-riding reason that the judges have put the personal survival of the party’s top leadership at stake through the NRO case, the Swiss bank cases, the dual office issue and involvement of near and dear ones of the prime minister in mega scandals.
The PPP is attacking the SC from many sides, knowing well that the judges have no guns to pay them back in the same coin. (Those who have, the PPP concedes to every demand they make). A massive show of strength, possibly to intimidate the judges, was orchestrated under the leadership of Zulfikar Mirza in Islamabad in the case against Taj Haider and Sharjeel Memon on Friday. High voltage statements were issued. Besides a physical show of the Sindhi ajrak and topi, Mr Mirza surprisingly said Sindhis were being treated like Bengalis. How and when? He also threatened that if Taj Haider and Sharjeel were jailed, the entire PPP leadership will go to jail. What did he mean?
All these belligerent outbursts against the court and the judges were mixed rather sheepishly with the oft-repeated mantra of “We do and will respect the judiciary”.
The opening salvo of the PPP strategy was the call for Sindh-wide protests on the sacking of NAB chief Deedar Shah. Reopening the ZA Bhutto case is another calculated googly to play psy-games with the SC judges. Zulfikar Mirza was blunt when he spoke outside the SC on Friday, attacking Justice Nasim Hasan Shah because his picture was on the wall of the SC among other chief justices.
All this has been planned while non-implementation of key SC judgments continues. Delaying tactics are to be employed to get full mileage out of the Sindh Card, declaring the PPP once again as “Martyrs-R-Us”. The demand for a 60-day extension for Taj Haider and Sharjeel to prepare their statements was deliberate.
The irony is that the SC judges, the political parties, the Establishment and the media, all can see through this PPP strategy, understanding full well what is being done to achieve what purpose. The court did not accept the 60-day demand and gave the PPP Jialas only a couple of weeks. Not without reason, the SC also suspended the other hotwire case of appointment of judges till April 11 when a full bench will start hearing the NRO case. So mid-April has thus been set as the timeline for this marathon PPP-SC encounter.
On the macro level, grave concerns have arisen because of this confrontation. This situation has come to the present deadlock because of just one fly in the ointment — the Swiss cases of money laundering and the dual office case of PPP co-chairman. As the largest political party of the country, the collective leadership of the PPP has failed miserably and has been manipulated cleverly by a small group of people to protect the interests and assets of just one man.
Whereas this elected leadership should have joined hands with others to address the monumental social, economic and security issues crushing the nation, the miseries of the masses have been brushed aside by these confrontational policies diverting attention from the everyday bombings on the street, the dacoities in the name of price hikes, super-inflation unleashed by massive borrowing from local and international banks and the political turmoil being caused within the coalition ranks.
This chaos at the national scene cannot be sustained and the Supreme Court has done the right thing by clubbing and addressing all these critical issues together in the next couple of weeks. It is now time that the bluff of the Sindh Card be called, the judicial proceedings in all these high voltage cases be ended and clear, unambiguous and courageous judgments be given.
Let then the chips fall where they may. Let then the country’s permanent establishment decide on which side they want to stand. Let everyone who has to make this country run share the credit, or the blame, if things come to a grinding halt. This has to be done quickly because the deadly Middle East virus now gripping monarchies, sultanates, dictatorships and republics is already looking menacingly at Pakistan.
The poor and the deprived, depraved masses are already on the streets every day protesting one injustice or the other. Political leaders who are part of the problem keep shouting about a revolution, probably against themselves. The security apparatus is thinly stretched to fight many unnecessary wars. Only two beacons of light, the judiciary and the media, provide some hope but those trying to protect their own ill-gotten riches are bent upon destroying both these institutions.
If they succeed, what would be left to prevent a total free fall? And who will gain from it? Everyone must think hard now. Extremists, secessionists, gunrunners, terrorists, warlords? Please make up your own list!