of the world
of the same
A young, articulate and confident Hina Rabbani Khar seems to have all the envious credentials for the foreign minister’s slot
By Adnan Rehmat
There are four positions in Pakistan that can get you almost everything you want. In themselves these positions — the president, the prime minister, the foreign minister and, of course, the army chief — represent the epitome of achievement in the country. While you can’t really plan to become the army chief, erroneously the most powerful office in the country, you can certainly take a shot at a career that can land you one of the other three, if you’re clever and resourceful enough.
Hina Rabbani Khar, by this measure, seems to have really arrived. She’s not just the country’s first female foreign minister but also its youngest. That counts for something considering she never aspired to be so in the first place. In fact she spent her first few weeks after becoming junior foreign minister trying to get back to the economic affairs ministry. While she has yet to prove with some finality her credentials in the art of diplomacy, she really has a head for figures. She already has the distinction of being the country’s first female economic manager as state minister for economic affairs as well as the first female to present the national budget.
The brief for Hina is clear. The nights and days of Pakistan’s top three civilian positions are spent worrying about three principal pursuits: how to keep safe from an easily annoyed military that has an exaggerated sense of entitlement; how to get more money from multilateral lenders such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and Asian Development Bank to keep the country barely solvent; and how to deal with principally America, India, Afghanistan, China and the Gulf monarchies on the foreign front. Hina seems to have the envious credentials of having ties in all three realms key to the power corridors in Pakistan — the generals (having served with the military regime of Pervez Musharraf), the politicos (minister in governments of Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party and Shujaat’s Pakistan Muslim League-Q), and international lenders (having negotiated with IMF, WB, ADB and others for loans under two governments).
Hina, it follows, certainly knows how to operate in the ‘big boys’ club, and at ease — all while being in her 30s. To be sure she has as many detractors as she has those admiring the rise of a woman in the top echelons of power. There are those who say her position is beholden to her feudal father, an influential from Punjab with some sway in the Pakistan People’s Party. But that is too simplistic an explanation — after all Benazir Bhutto and Shahbaz Sharif as well as ‘nexgen’ Bilawal Bhutto and Hamza Shahbaz also have a pedigree in politics that accrued from their relatives having carved out places of distinction in national politics and places them at a distinct advantage. The more important thing is how hereditary politicians translate this into an accomplishment that is all their own through service in public offices. It takes a long time to earn your stripes even in Pakistani politics where a month is more like a year.
In the cruel world of Pakistani politics, however, landing in a position of power does not necessarily mean you are primed to be a messiah and can undertake major reforms and help effect radical shift in policies. This is because the forces of status quo — read the military — have clearly defined spaces in the polity that are off limits in terms of control for political forces. Principally, these are security and foreign affairs.
While Zardari as president and Gilani as prime minister have arguably proven to be clever at adjusting this space in ways that seem to be mystifying the military and which will be much clearer in the shape of the results of next elections, the Foreign Office has continued to be a stubborn corner of this space, managing to defy covert and overt attempts at reform that to the less-than-camouflaged policy control lying in Rawalpindi. Witness the co-option by the Establishment of a once staunch People’s Party leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Hina’s predecessor.
Someone who almost became the inheritor of the mantle of the Bhuttos in being the first prime minister-designate of the party in the absence of an active member of Pakistan’s premier political dynasty, it is remarkable that Qureshi threw away his chances so easily to progress to the next step and eye the office of the prime minister. After all Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had successfully trodden the same route four decades ago — from foreign minister to prime minister.
Hina has, her admirers point out, the same career route. If she succeeds, of course, it will be down to the Establishment whose policies she will articulate rather than the Pakistan People’s Party’s, which puts her new high-profile assignment in perspective really. She was, after all, propelled from the backwaters of dusty Muzaffargarh in feudal Punjab to the file-infested office of the land’s highest finance office by the last military ruler.
Hina’s latest political reincarnation as foreign minister is no accident if you look closely. The PPP’s policy of managing the Foreign Office in a way that cleverly exposed the military control of it at key junctures — such as the nail-biting Raymond Davis saga and the sensational raid that took out Osama Bin Laden — while letting the world see that political and elected government had a policy different from the one articulated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs means Hina’s elevation is a compromise rather a priority.
According to well-placed sources, the military successfully thwarted attempts by the PPP to bring in Sherry Rehman as the foreign minister to replace Qureshi. The military pushed hard for Mushahid Hussain as their choice. Both parties finally settled for Hina. This is hardly a recipe for reform. Or an indication that a foreign policy that will conform to the ruling party’s stated commitment in its manifesto that the civil-military equation will be recalibrated to rationalise it; align without stubborn caveats with the international efforts for a political settlement in Afghanistan; and a new trade-centered engagement with India in a shift from a security-obsessed paradigm will be undertaken.
It certainly helps though that a smart person, which Hina undoubtedly is, at the helm at the Foreign Office can only hold Pakistan in good stead and help beat all the stereotypes associated with the country. A young, articulate, confident woman being the face of Pakistan — it can’t possibly get better than this when it comes to the optics at the international level. The Indian media went gaga over her as her first visit as the face of Pakistan’s security and political establishment noting her glamour, her tasteful accessories (Roberto Cavalli sunglasses, Hermes Birkin bag and classic pearl jewellry) — the fresh-faced Hina contrasting with the dour and ageing SM Krishna who is more than twice her age. When was the last time India was confronted not with Pakistan’s macho posturing but with diplomacy with a feminine face?
However, Hina is anything but a change in Pakistan’s foreign policy. The re-hardening of the foreign policy over the past few months by an increasingly edgy military represented by a confrontationist posture vis-à-vis the United States and testing of India-specific missiles is an articulation at a variance of 180 degrees to what the country’s people and business community want.
Hina was actively promoted by the late Richard Holbrooke as the face of Pakistan’s negotiations with the Friends of Democratic Pakistan groups for assistance with recovery from the devastation of the 2010 floods. Her brief is to be change of face not policy as the military seeks to stick to just softening of the image in its renegotiation of ties with the US and to charm the Indians.
Without taking away from her bona fides as a politician who has stuck out the unpredictable playing pitches of domestic politics, Hina as foreign minister is all about style over substance. She may yet prove her detractors wrong but it’s not going to be any time soon.
A Lyallpuri’s tribute to another Lyallpuri
By Zaman Khan
It was last week when I suggested the name of a professor living in Sweden for an interview for this paper. As I hung up, I realised I ought to have suggested the name of Iftikhar ud din (Ifti Nasim). Living in Chicago, an open Muslim gay of Pakistani origin and a childhood friend, Ifti would have made a good subject. Little did I know that a couple of days later I would be writing about late Ifti.
Ifti used to live in the famous Dhobi Ghat of Lyallpur while our house address was 1-Jinnah Colony. We did not know each other till that one day in 1962. I was going on my Raleigh bicycle when a teenage boy stopped me and said if I did not drop him at his examination centre, he would lose one precious year of his educational career. I don’t know why I gave him a ride and then forgot about it.
That was the beginning of a life-long friendship.
Ifti was the son of Ghulam Rasool (Khalique Qureshi), a great poet and founder editor of a local daily Awam. His witty remarks had become proverbs in Lyallpur. Somebody said, “Qureshi Sahib Aaap Kaa Jigar Kharab Ho gaya Hai.” Qureshi replied:“Mera Jigar Nahien Lakhte Jigar Kharab Ho Gia Hai.”
Wit and satire was the trademark of the family and so were poetry and literature. Khalique Qureshi’s three sons Zahir Qureshi (who succeeded his father as editor Awam), Ifti and Anjum Khalique were all poets. Ifti’s maternal uncle Adeem Hashmi was a great poet in his own right who introduced a new genre “dialogue in Ghazal”. It would be unfair not to mention Aijaz Nasreen, Ifti’s eldest sister, whose short stories used to be published in Shama. In her marriage we lost a great story-teller.
I joined FC College Lahore and Ifti went to Government College Lyallpur where he was one of the co-editors of the handwritten magazine Chandaal Chowkri published at the college canteen. He and Sohail Bazmi would represent their college in intercollegiate Mushairas and would always win the trophy. He also played the role of a girl in a college play.
Ifti was a poet, fiction writer, broadcaster and rights activist. Ifti’s poetry used to be printed in Fanoon when he was just a student. After doing his law, he joined Aitchison College as a teacher but soon left for USA when he was given life threats.
He was not a man who could be easily cowered into submission; such was his commitment to the gay cause that he launched his website to tease his tormentors with his own photo in a guru’s attire. He knew well that he had nothing to lose except his poverty. Once in the States, he did every odd job to survive. By dint of sheer hard work and inimitable wit, he established a name in Chicago to the extent that you only needed to tell a cab wala you wanted to go to Ifti’s house and he would take you.
According to Azra Raza, his friend whom he calls his “soulmate” in a documentary made on him for BBC Urdu by Mazhar Zaidi, Ifti’s house was a sanctuary for gay asylum seekers (Azra has written a wonderful tribute of Ifti that brings him alive for those of us who didn’t know him). Apart from them, leading luminaries of subcontinent, including Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar, used to be his guests.
He had a passion for serving humanity but quietly. Many Pakistanis benefited from his large-heartedness; some would even pass negative remarks afterwards. He once paid a hefty amount to a veteran poet on my request with the promise that I would not disclose his name. Of the many gifts he gave me, I still have a cap which I wear every winter.
Ifti was definitely the first self-declared Muslim and Pakistani gay writer and a pioneer of gay Urdu literature. His book ‘Nirman’ (hermaphrodite) can be called the first book of gay Urdu literature, even though Sufi Urdu poets have used the term Londa in their poetry.
He has half a dozens books to his credit. He wrote poetry in Urdu, English and Punjabi, but later on also published a book of short stories about the lives of expatriate Pakistanis. He dealt in minute detail the difficulties and consequences faced by immigrants in his stories in the tradition of Prem Chand and progressive writers.
It would not be wrong to remember him as a founder of ‘open’ gay cult in Pakistan, even though Illat ul Mashaikh had been prevalent and quietly accepted in this part of the world for centuries.
He was awarded an honorary PhD in the US and was invited to speak in international literary conferences. He was founder of Sangat, an organisation devoted to gays and lesbians of South Asian origin. He instituted an award after his father called Khalique Qureshi Human Rights Award. He was invited by Jawahar Lal Nehru University and was also given Sahir Ludhianvi Award.
Excerpts of an interview with this scribe printed in TFT in 1996 may help the readers understand Ifti better. “I was born in Lyallpur and my date of birth is 15 September 1946; that makes me a product of chaos.
“Even as a young boy I could not express my true feelings to anybody….somehow I knew those feelings were not kosher…
“Asian gays are minority within a minority. The fear of being exposed as a homosexual kills all the potential…
“We established an organisation with the help of a friend Veru Joshi called Sangat...our goal is to give gay people psychological therapy and elevate their self-image and self-respect.”
Ifti described his own ‘coming out’ as a slow, painful process. “When it dawned on me that I am a gay I was totally devastated. I found no reason to live. I was suicidal. But luckily I bumped into Chandar Nath Ahuja, a professional psychologist.”
He told him “No one made me gay. I was born this way. The only thing is I did not lie about it. Many homosexuals hide behind the curtain of so-called marriage…
“Look around you — how many homosexuals are married due to fear of society and family. They made someone’s daughter’s and sister’s life miserable and eventually their children’s lives too. And an unhappy family unit creates a lot of problems in society.
“A person can live without food for fifteen days and without water for twenty days but without hope he cannot survive a day.”
When I received the news that Ifti is in coma, I did not take it seriously. Ifti had told me in the late 1970s that he was so seriously ill that he had got his will drafted. But he came back smiling. I thought this would happen again. But it did not.
He would write a weekly column in Urdu called ‘Ifti Nama’ and email it to friends. His last column on July 14 was on the death of Dr. Zahoor Ahmed Awan. His last sentence was Kaaray Jahan Daraz Hei Ab Mera Intizar Kar.
I would say Saaman Sow Baras Kaa Hei Pal Kee Khabar Nahein.” We will follow you sooner or later, dear Ifti.
By Masud Alam
Multan is one place that is difficult to reach, and just as hard to leave — if one’s mode of transport is airplane, and the plane happens to be a short-haul turboprop.
I have seen more delays and cancellations to and from Multan than any other domestic route on my itinerary. Therefore, when I was told the 7pm flight to Islamabad has been delayed due to bad weather at destination, I wasn’t perturbed at all. I had an advance copy of Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, so I settled down for a couple of hours of reading in the peace and quiet of Multan airport’s lounge, and before that, informed dear wife of the reason for delay.
She seemed anxious. Weather in Islamabad is really bad, she said, low clouds and all. Doesn’t seem likely it’ll clear up in two hours. Instead of waiting at the airport why don’t I take the bus, she suggested. Bus? It’s more than eight hours of back-breaking journey, I reminded her. But she kept insisting road travel was the better option. When I hung up, the Punjabi middle aged husband in me was brimming with suspicion: Why is she suddenly acting like a meteorology expert? Why does she want me to spend the night on the road? Is she planning to watch back-to-back episodes of the Indian soap I absolutely forbid in our home? And invite all the gossiping type neighbours that I can’t stand?
Before I could decide on enlisting the help of a media monitoring company to track the channel selection on our television, I got a call from my mother. ‘Are you coming back tonight? Don’t take the plane, weather isn’t good. Coming by road will take longer, but Daewoo hostesses serve ‘two’ snacks on the way …’ What’s going on here, I was thinking. The two women in my life, who claim to love me more than the other, are both wishing me not to be back home tonight!
The suspense didn’t last long. This being the city of the prime minister, the passenger lounge has more television sets mounted on the walls than the number of passengers who may be potential viewers at any given time of the day. Wherever you sit you find a TV screen staring directly at you. There is one facing me as well. And it’s showing the carnage of Air Blue flight 202 after it hit Margalla Hills overshooting the airport by some 20 kms, apparently because of low clouds. We are approaching the first anniversary of this tragic incident that took the lives of all 152 people aboard.
People sitting in their homes watching TV are reminded of it if they lost a loved one or they have a loved one trying to catch a plane to Islamabad in similar weather conditions prevailing tonight. Their concern seems juvenile: there’s not much in the aviation history to suspect that a plane crash is more likely on the anniversary of an earlier crash. But they have a valid reason to be worried every time there is bad weather in Islamabad and a plane is scheduled to land. It is because those who run our airlines, those who watch over them, and the top government functionaries who oversee all those mentioned above, are all utterly incapable of learning. The learning process involves acknowledging, investigating, apportioning and accepting blame, and making amends. Our decision makers start with denials and cover-ups.
Those who were not directly affected by the July 28, 2010 crash and those who don’t have a dear one travelling by air while the television is re-running these ghastly scenes, may not even remember the incident, and their memory won’t be at fault. The deadliest air crash in Pakistan’s recent history could only get two days’ attention of mass media. It is a measure of the ineptness of journalism practiced here that the media can only be obsessed with one subject at a time. The big story in those days was Atta Abad lake. The crash ended that story midway, and the worst floods in Pakistan’s history drowned out the air crash story.
Till the filing of this piece, we don’t know the cause of the crash. We don’t know if airlines and CAA have made any preventive changes to their procedures. We don’t know if all the bereaved families have been compensated. This piece was filed before the anniversary. I hope and wish that by the time it reaches you, we’ve been given some of the answers. If not, perhaps the best way of staying out of the harm’s way is to stay at home when the weather turns nasty.
Summer woes of working moms
Mothers today are under a lot of pressure. Add to it the pressure that your prized possession, a continuation of yourself, your baby, your little one has now reached that most dreaded and talked-about of ages — the teens. So if your kid, or kids, are anywhere between 13 and 19 years of age, you know what I am talking about. Your little cherub is now at an age where he or she thinks they know it all. The door banging, the arguments, the “my friends are my life” zone, the attitude….part and parcel of teen years. Also, the laughter, the humour, the developing sense of self, the warmth, the care and the awareness your teenage growingly exhibits — it makes it all rewarding.
But the emotional roller-coasters are not all. If you are a teenager’s mom, most of your year has been spent figuring out which tuitions are the best for her, how are her grades at school doing, which subjects should she opt for, how to prepare her for the upcoming O level or A level exams. But by July, all that is past you, at least for now. And the day your child’s exams are over, a question which is larger than life stares at you in the face: “What is she going to do in the summer vacations”. Yes, now we’re talking!
The day exams are over, a silent dark cloud of pressure looms over all mothers of teenagers — how to help them kill their time in the most productive manner, without making them realise that you are planning it out for them in a clandestine manner? If you are lucky, and if your teenager is a highly driven, Type A personality child, chances are that she has already mapped out the summers — an internship or preparation for upcoming SATS or IELTS.
But no matter how focused the child is, rest assured, certain things are inevitable. That kids will go to sleep in the wee hours of the morning and get up late. That you will see them mostly in PJs and tees. That you will see their friends dropping in unexpectedly at every odd hour or see your kid going out to see them ever so often. Pakistani kids have a milder version of what is called “senioritis” — a severe reaction of the pressure of their exams and studies all year round. On top of it, if any of your siblings are visiting in summers like my sister does with her children who are also teenagers, the cousins will dwell in a world all their own for weeks.
A good idea, though painstaking, is to streamline your child’s thoughts and talk over with them what do they intend doing……something that they enjoy doing and would also be a productive activity. Physical activities like horse-riding, golfing or swimming can help activate their bodies and minds, but it’s important that your kid likes doing what you want her to do. Summer reading should be encouraged, and if your kid is an avid reader, then half your problem is solved.
If your teenager has not thought of an internship or a volunteer activity himself, guide him. Loads of organisations, especially in the development sector or media industry, are willing to try out internees or helpers. An editorial assistant’s job for example teaches a young adult so much and can hone the writing skills. In addition, freelance work can also be picked up. Creating a blog, writing letters to the editor and commenting on blogs and write-ups is a good use of time. But this will not just depend on the writing skills of the teenager but also on how much have the parents made it a part of dinner conversation to talk about social awareness issues, advocacy, and the concept of giving back to the community.
When it comes to giving back to the community, a very easy way is for the child to look around in the neighbourhood for the children of any domestic helpers, and give them tuitions or literacy lessons. That can be a truly rewarding and productive exercise and paves way for the spirit of volunteerism in the years to come.
Without being sexist and gender-biased, classes for cookery and baking can be a fun activity for both boys and girls. Practice of cooking and baking at home is a messy proposition, but an important one. It’s also a great mother and child bonding activity. If your young adult does not know driving yet but is of legal age to learn it, perhaps it is time to teach it to them. But make sure not to give a car to an alone, unsupervised, excited teenager that may not be good for the safety of others as well as himself.
While all of these things are important, let us not undermine the importance of a few things which we forget. Spending time with family, especially grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, should be an important part of spending vacation time well. And instead of being on their case, letting kids be is also a good idea. Unruffled, seemingly aimless time is often a great creative exercise and will guard your child against possible burnout. So on and off, just let your child be. And yourself.
bestselling News of The World
By Murtaza Ali Shah
At a gala dinner in the honour of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani during his recent visit to the UK, Britain’s first Muslim Member of Parliament Muhammad Sarwar shared his joy with guests over the closure of the News of The World.
The Pakistani born politician was entrapped by the paper which led to his suspension from the party and the office for two years until he was acquitted on bribery and fraud charges in 1999 and the suspension was lifted. “My wife used to tell me that the God rules the skies and Rupert Murdoch rules the planet and there will be no justice for us,” Sarwar said, adding how joyous he was that the most powerful man, the chair of the News Corporation and the News International, of the media industry was “humbled” before the world public.
Rupert Murdoch talked power to the people and the ruling elite in the west, especially in the UK, the USA and Australia, through his powerful media outlets. In Britain, the Australian-born media mogul made and broke politicians, businessmen — and anyone he and his media despised — through News International, owners of The Sun, News of the World, Sky and The Sunday Times.
Sexy, sensational, scandalous, captivating and bestselling, it was the News of The World that shone above all in its historic 168-year history, publishing first from the Fleet Street and then moving to the News Corp’s Wapping Headquarters, after the media mogul beat the unions and moved out from the Fleet Street. The Sunday paper was going strong and making profits of millions every year, but its previously unavailable mogul was forced into bringing the shutter down on the title after it became too obvious that subterfuge, blackmail, voicemail interception was so rife that thousands, including war veterans, children and dead, were targeted for good headlines.
The “hacking scandal” involved unethical practices that the senior News Corp management robustly denied for years. But the drip-drip revelations in newspapers, led by the Guardian, didn’t let the bad news bury and finally swirled the News Corp to such an extent that the heads rolled at the top, including the end of the “world’s greatest” title.
The demise of the weekly paper leaves a gaping hole in the lives of the British public who had become so used to reading — or not failing to take a glance every Sunday on the news stands — the often sensational front page headlines delving into the world of crime, sex, and corruption.
The paper broke some of the biggest stories of recent times and set the agenda in many ways, like no other paper did. It often rocked the entire premises of the subject it chose and shook everyone around. It knew how to steal and grab headlines and how to get the show going hot all the time.
Whether it is the expose of the Pakistani cricket team national players, allegedly involved in taking bribes, or the arrest and conviction of hundreds of people, many of them from the South Asian background, the paper kept publishing the stories on ethnic minorities regularly.
The star reporter of the paper was Mazhar Mahmood, affectionately known as Maz and the Fake Sheikh, who is of Pakistani descent and speaks fluent Urdu and Punjabi. Maz, the son of Sultan Mahmood, a former Jang newspaper journalist, made good use of his language skills and in many cases delivered the whole lorry loads of illegal immigrants from India and Pakistan to the immigration authorities after posing as an Asian contractor looking for cheap labour but driving straight into the police stations. He filed many stories from Pakistan and India and almost all of them involved scandal: smuggling, immigration fraud, drugs dealing, call centre frauds, plotting of terror attacks.
The paper, which changed from broadsheet to the tabloid format in 1984, started on October 1, 1843 with noble ambitions and published stories relating to the ordinary working classes. But it found fame and comfort in the shock element of the story starting in the late 1890s. Its circulation then stood at around 12,000 a week but gradually increased to two million by 1912; reaching to more than 4 million by 1939 but becoming the biggest-selling newspaper in the world with more than nine million copies sold every week in 1950.
The paper became very comfortable with publishing sordid stories about sex, replete with intimate details, leaving nothing to imagination and that’s when it started to be known as ‘The News of the Screws’.
Some of the most recent shocking revelations of the paper were the exposure of Pakistan cricket scandal; Prince Harry calling a fellow soldier a P**I (a derogatory racist word to describe Pakistanis and other Asians) and dressing in Nazi uniform for a fancy dress party; the F1 chief Max Mosley’s depraved orgies with prostitutes; Sarah Ferguson’s remarks on the Royal Family and her offer to charge for facilitating contact with Prince Andrew; footballer Ryan Giggs’s affair with his brother’s wife.
The paper won one after another title in the press awards and most of the paper’s award-winning investigations were led by Mazhar Mahmood, who, it has been said, has undergone face surgery many times to hide his identity from his subjects as well as the criminal underworld he has worked with to extract stories. But many of his big stories collapsed and the paper was rebuked for not checking the stories before publishing; being economical with the truth and indeed, in some cases, setting traps.
The world’s most ruthless media mogul loved his Sunday title and spoke to the editor regularly to find what Sunday dish was going to be served to millions of British readers. But in the end the paper became too controversial and an impossible project when the entire British public — and most importantly, the advertisers — unanimously came out against the paper’s hacking practices and left its owner with no choice but to bring down his beloved child, to save his son James Murdoch and other most trusted lieutenants, including Rebekah Brooks, who once edited it and who has since resigned.
As it stands today, this is only the beginning. The world of the most feared media don is falling around him and the humiliation he has been subjected to is the most unprecedented. This was all unthinkable only a few weeks ago but the unthinkable has happened dramatically.
The writer works for GEO TV and Jang Group of Newspapers from London. email: email@example.com
Sharif, the losses for not
By Adnan Adil
The PPP government’s persistent defiant posture towards the Supreme Court (SC) regarding the high-profile corruption cases could be yet another anxious moment in national politics. The PPP leadership is in the bind: if it acts on the Supreme Court orders, it risks losing its government; if the federal government violates the apex court’s orders, it comes into clash with the superior judiciary.
The multi-billion rupee NICL scam involves Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, the son of Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, as one of the main accused. If the federal government allows a fair investigation into the scam as per the Supreme Court directions, it risks losing its crucial coalition partner — the PML-Q. Compliance with the court orders also implies opening the floodgates of investigations into myriad financial scandals involving the ruling coalition’s top guns.
On the other hand, the judiciary has two options: (a) it soft-pedals on the corruption cases, which will defuse the tension between the government and the superior judiciary; or (b) it uses its powers under the contempt of court’s jurisdiction and brings the government high-ups, including Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, into the dock.
The present Supreme Court has been quite assertive because the present judges have been restored through a political struggle and feel obliged to fulfill people’s wishes though it might have political implications. The logical outcome of the Supreme Court’s contempt proceedings could be that some federal ministers and the prime minister may be convicted and thus lose their positions in the assembly and the cabinet. If this happens, the National Assembly would have to elect a new prime minister.
The PPP-PML-Q alliance has a comfortable majority in the National Assembly and can elect some other member as the prime minister. The only problem in the plan is that some of the 50 PML-Q MNAs may defect to form their own faction and join the PML-N-JUI-F alliance thus paving the way for an in-house change. Nawaz Sharif has recently appealed to the ruling coalition MNAs not to side with the government in its defiance of the Supreme Court orders.
The Supreme Court can announce a verdict, but it is dependent upon the executive authority to get its orders implemented. If the federal government keeps defying its directions, it may seek army’s support which it may or may not receive as in the past Army Chief Jahangir Karamat had refused to come to its rescue.
Another option could be that the Supreme Court asks the Punjab government to enforce its decisions against the federal government’s wishes. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has already indicated that his party would back the apex court if it sought armed forces’ help for getting its decisions implemented. In this scenario, the federal government and the Punjab government would be on a collision course and may result in military intervention. One scenario could be that the Pakistan Army and the PML-N decide not to back the judiciary, and Supreme Court’s orders go unimplemented. The chances of this to happen seem to be dim as the Sharif brothers have publicly committed to put their weight behind the judiciary.
The dilemma for the PML-N is that if it does not publicly support the Supreme Court, it risks losing its support in the Punjab’s middle class, and if it does act the entire political system would be at risk.
At present, the PML-N seems to be high on rhetoric and low on actions. Shahbaz Sharif has said that his party is ready to even sacrifice the Punjab government for the respect of the judiciary. Although Shahbaz Sharif has also announced ‘direct action’ against the federal government, he did not specify what it exactly meant. The next one month of Ramazan would be relatively quiet on the political front.
The PML-N has another option; that is to bring down the PPP-led government and force early general elections by dissolving the Punjab Assembly or en masse resignations by the PML-N members in the Punjab Assembly and the National Assembly along with MNAs of the allied parties, the JUIF and possibly the MQM.
In this event, the PPP-PML-Q alliance would have the advantage of favourable caretaker governments, which would be installed by President Asif Zardari. It ill suits Nawaz Sharif to go into an election against the united front of the PPP and the PML-Q that would have the administrative support of the caretaker governments. Thus, Nawaz Sharif would like to ensure Zardari is chucked out of the Presidency before using this extreme option. In any case, for Nawaz Sharif, the possible losses for not acting against the PPP-led government are greater than taking on it.