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A three-member bench of the Supreme Court could have taken care of the dead sparrow that was the NRO. But aware of the possible implications of this case, my lord the CJ constituted the largest bench in our history, all 17 of their lordships.
So the tempest was brewing and now it has struck, leaving the Presidency bare – naked to laughter (a phrase out of Shelley) and the elements. The Presidency or its occupant are not mentioned at all in the short judgment. But in this Hamlet we all know who is the Prince.
When the Supreme Court directs the government to write to the Swiss authorities that the money-laundering cases (SGS Cotecna, etc) should be revived, we all know who is involved in those cases. Even today when a billion dollars is of little account, sixty million US dollars stashed away in Swiss vaults is not small change. To whom does this treasure belong? How was it amassed?
So if the money-laundering and bribery cases – for that is what they are – stand revived against one Asif Ali Zardari, what becomes of His Excellency Asif Ali Zardari, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Supreme Commander of its Armed Forces?
This is a fine mess we are in. The dignity of the Republic! We shall have to redefine the term.
The NRO was the dry-cleaning laundry set up by Pervez Musharraf (of how many of humiliations must he be the source?). With it gone, cases stand revived against all of its beneficiaries. Their number runs into the thousands, the majority relating to criminal charges against workers and leaders of the MQM. That’s a separate matter. There are important figures in the government who will now have to appear in court – among them the Secretary General to the President, Salman Farooqi, and my friend Rehman Malik.
The president may enjoy immunity from criminal proceedings and from appearing in any court. But what becomes of the authority that he is supposed to command? His position was already diminished. It stands further eroded after this judgment.
He won’t quit or step down. Of that we can be sure. He steps down and he will either become a fugitive from justice (decamping abroad) or he will be running from one court to another. If for nothing else, to secure himself from this fate he will stick to the Presidency, invoking Article 248 of the Constitution – of which we are already hearing so much – which grants him immunity. But this doesn’t leave him with much of a shine, does it?
I almost said it doesn’t leave him with much moral authority but any invocation of morality is almost calculated to stick in one’s throat. Moral authority? When was the last time we saw such a thing in the Islamic Republic? A few days ago General Ashfaq Kayani, the army commander, was saying Pakistan was a bastion of Islam. Hmm. Isn’t it time we left this fortress-of-Islam business to one side and got on with life? In our hands Islam could do with a little less of preaching and more of action.
Senior military commanders (let no names be taken) already look at Zardari with a certain look in their eyes. It is a distant look, or call it a look with the eyes slightly screwed up. This look is not going to improve after this devastation visited upon the NRO and its beneficiaries. For who is the biggest beneficiary of them all? The Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Not a pretty picture for the Republic or its armed forces.
In many respects, although certainly not all, Zardari has led a charmed life. So far he has stayed one step ahead of his past. Now finally it has caught up with him. If there was ever an Emperor without his clothes, we are witness to the spectacle now, part entertainment, part bitter tragedy. It takes guts to stick to the throne in such circumstances. But a certain kind of guts –we have to hand it to the man – Zardari has always had.
It is our luck that down the years Pakistan has been led or ruled – although, in all honesty, the proper word is screwed – by a bizarre set of characters: Ghulam Muhammad, Iskander Mirza, Ayub Khan, Yahya, Zia, Musharraf. After Musharraf we deserved something better. What do we get? Zardari. There’s a Shakespearean classic waiting to be written here.
We can cry ourselves hoarse that these are the workings of democracy. Zardari is elected president, which he is. But consider the malevolence of fate. The wheels of democracy turn and what do they throw up? The spectacle we are seeing. Why is our chalice half-laced with such deadly poison?
But life goes on. The president’s companions hit by the NRO judgment will twist in the wind. Will they quit while this exquisite form of Chinese torture goes through its various progressions? My guess is, they won’t. We are dealing with a tough breed of characters here. Salman Farooqi and my friend Rehman Malik didn’t get to where they are by being over-scrupulous about things. Qualms of conscience? Leave that to the angels.
My friend Dr Babar Awan – as a colleague in Parliament he is a friend – holds a doctorate from Montecello University, a university whose existence even the keenest geographers have had a hard time discovering. Still the doctor insists his doctorate – no doubt in higher jurisprudence – is genuine.
It has now been revealed in a deposition before the Supreme Court by the principal defendant in the Haris Steel Mills case that Dr Babar Awan received four crore rupees, from any angle not a piddling sum, half in legal fees and half on the assurance that the Dogar Supreme Court – alas, no more – would deliver a favourable verdict. Instead of denying the allegation, or explaining it in some other way, as lesser morals might have done, Dr Babar Awan says this is all a Qadiani conspiracy against him because he is such a champion of the Khatam-e-Nabuwat movement.
This is a breathtaking defence but it just goes to show that it is not a squeamish lot we are dealing with. It takes a tough man to be a doctor from Montecello University. Dr Babar Awan is a confidant of the president’s and is considered close to him. If this is the state of affairs with him, we get an idea of how it is going to be with the others. The art of the brazen con (ask my friend Ambassador Hussain Haqqani about it): there should be a doctorate for this too.
Who fills the breach opened up by the SC verdict? By rights it should be Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. But does he have it in him? He’s a nice guy but niceness alone has its limitations. It won’t get us very far in these circumstances. For weeks, if not months, the word has been out that Gilani was resolved to reshuffle his oversized and under-performing cabinet. But if it was a Stalinist purge we needed what we have seen are a few ministers shifted here and there. If this is Gilani’s idea of decisiveness we have a good deal of homework before us.
From now on, if the NRO beneficiaries are on trial, so is Gilani. Can he emerge from the shadows and be his own man? Somewhere in The Possessed Dostoyevsky says that the second half of a man’s life is a repetition, or replaying, of the first half. The challenge Gilani faces is to prove this dictum wrong.
Tailpiece: Before the Defence Committee of the National Assembly is the Defence Housing Authority Ordinance 2005, issued by – you’ve guessed it – Gen Musharraf. The Defence Ministry wants this ordinance to be turned into an act of parliament. What on earth for? DHA Islamabad is a housing society which has entered into a partnership with Malik Riaz of Bahria Town. Most of the land is his. The DHA will only be lending its logo in return for a certain sum of money and an unspecified number of five-marla plots. Fine. But why should a private housing scheme, which Bahria Town is, get sovereign parliamentary status? National Security is not involved. The defence of the Republic is not at stake. So it scarcely makes any sense for the army’s name to be dragged in the dust, and the collective intelligence of Parliament (if there is such a thing) insulted, for the sake of an individual.
Email: winlust @ yahoo.com