Friday, May 9, 2008

The Establishment's B team: The PPP

By Samad Khurram and Aqil Sajjad

PPP sympathisers complain about the mysterious "Establishment" and their alleged role in destroying democracy in Pakistan for decades now. The Establishment, as defined by them, is a collection of dark, mystifying hands that apparently have many vested interests in upholding the status quo. This inexplicable group comprises rich army officers, the intelligence agencies and foreign hands who scheme together for their own economic and geo-strategic interests. To support this argument, examples of the Mullah-Military Alliance from the 1980s are repeated. The Establishment supposedly destroys institutions, murders politicians, blackmails judges and leaders, and sustains the Military Inc.

One major threat to the Establishment's hold would be an independent judiciary – a judiciary that will not bow down to pressure, sticks or carrots. Historically, many verdicts of our courts were not independent but extorted by threats and intimidation. Judges had regularly fallen victim to blackmail and "sex tapes" and received dictations from the Establishment. Judges who were bold enough not to obey the whims of the Establishment were conveniently removed.

Things changed considerably when Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry took charge and reoriented the judiciary's direction in favour of the people. He was becoming increasingly independent and was beginning to check the excesses of the establishment. Among the most noted examples in this regard were the attempted loot privatisation of the Steel Mills well below their real worth and the case of the missing people illegally abducted and detained by the intelligence agencies.

As he became a growing threat to the Establishment, Iftikhar Chaudhry was summoned to General Musharraf's camp office in the presence of serving military officers and the infamous Brig (r) Ejaz Shah on March 9, 2007. When he refused to resign, the nation stood up in his defence. This was unprecedented in the history of Pakistan and soon Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry became a national hero, arguably the most popular Pakistani alive today.

After his reinstatement with the support of lawyers, students and civil society the judiciary was able to exercise its powers with increasing independence. Naturally, the Establishment could not allow such a judiciary to flourish, as their dirty games could now be brought to justice before an independent tribunal.

Pervez Musharraf struck back with his Nov 3 martial law and 60 judges refused to recognise it as legitimate. New cronies were appointed in the place of those who refused to bow down and the judiciary was tamed once again.

The results of the Feb 18 elections, however, have presented the PPP and PML-N with a golden opportunity to undo the illegal actions of Nov 3 and restore the real judiciary. Unfortunately, while the PML-N has maintained a clear stance in favour of restoring the judiciary, the PPP has been acting as the "B team" of the Establishment.

It is commonly believed that the NRO prevented the PPP from including the widely popular demand for restoration of the judges in its manifesto. The IRI polls of November suggested that an overwhelming majority (73 per cent) of Pakistanis opposed the PCO judges and Musharraf's re-election (72 per cent). In addition, 61 per cent of Pakistanis and more than half of PPP voters opposed a Musharraf-Bhutto deal in November 2007. By going against popular opinion and supporting an unconstitutional and widely hated president, the PPP was starting its political decline.

Public sentiment swayed towards the PPP after the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto. IRI's January polls suggested that 50 per cent of Pakistan would vote for the PPP in the elections, up from 30 per cent in November. When the PPP refused to take a clear position for the restoration of the judiciary, its success was reduced to 31 per cent of the total votes in the country and 35 per cent of National Assembly seats. Many people still voted for the PPP in the hope that the absence of an unequivocal stance was only a reflection of different priorities and not as part of the Musharraf-Bhutto deal. The PML-N, on the other hand, gained 5 per cent more seats than earlier calculated -- a reward from the people of Pakistan for clearly declaring a no-compromise policy on the restoration of the heroes of Pakistan.

The stance for the restoration of the judges is not only popular but also in the greater interests of Pakistan. By restoring all judges who refused to take oath under the Nov 3 PCO, the judiciary would be cleared of those who could be bought or blackmailed. The judges would only be those who had refused to obey the Establishment's instructions and stood for principles over positions or money. If the PPP plans to bring to justice the killers of Benazir Bhutto, this independent judiciary will be its best hope for the punishment of the culprits.

Unfortunately, instead of standing up for such a judiciary, the PPP is deliberately confusing a straightforward issue when all that is needed is to provide administrative support to Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the other deposed judges so that they can go to their chambers and resume their duties. Legally, they are still the real judges since the Nov 3 action was a clear violation of the Constitution.

In the same way, the judges who agreed to collaborate with Pervez Musharraf in this conspiracy can and should be made dysfunctional and tried by a supreme judicial council in light of the last order by the real Supreme Court on Nov 3 barring any judge from taking oath under the new PCO. This is the constitutional position and there is no need to deliberately find excuses for retaining these PCO judges, as the PPP is doing.

The PPP's delaying tactics and the minus-one, minus-two formulas are seriously undermining its credibility among the people of Pakistan. This is not only threatening its vote bank and creating rifts within the party, it also suggests that the PPP of today is no longer the party of Zulfikar Bhutto – a party that promised justice to all. And worse, by not purging the Nov 3 conspirators from the courts, it is implicitly welcoming similar future takeovers. If an act of the Establishment were to be taken to a court dominated by PCO-powered scions we can easily tell in whose favour they would vote.

We firmly believe that the only way for the PPP to put Pakistan on a sustainable path of democracy is to strengthen institutions and submit to the will of the real rulers -- the people of Pakistan. As we had pointed out earlier, an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis not only wants an immediate restoration of the deposed judges but also the dismissal of the Nov 3 PCO judges. By not doing so and aligning itself with the Establishment, the PPP is committing political suicide which, as well as affecting its votes, will leave open the way for future coups by the military establishment.

The writers are students at Harvard University and members of the Student Action Committees (SAC) of Islamabad and the US. Emails: &