June 25, 2008

Why not a democratic NRO?

Filed under: NEW GOVERNMENT AFTER MARCH 24-2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 3:03 pm
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JUNE 25, 2008

IS there any other country besides Pakistan where law and constitution are a source of such chaos? Double trouble: that is what the Sharifs now have. Monday’s Lahore High Court (LHC) judgment that went against Nawaz Sharif is less unsettling for the PML-N than the implications of Shahbaz’s election to two seats in the Punjab Assembly. While the PPP felt disappointed by the LHC verdict, the PML-N termed the decision ‘political’. Also a source of embarrassment to the PML-N is the issue of enhancing the number of judges in the Supreme Court to 29. The party voted for the budget and for the 29-judge provision and now seems to be regretting it. Its members have a point. Voting for the budget does not mean an approval of the concept behind having 29 judges. If that is so, they should put the issue behind them instead of letting it become a source of acrimony in their ranks. It is time the PML-N leadership realised the ground they have lost over the last four months. On the morning of Feb 19, their position was unassailable. Punjab was in their pocket, and the PML-N had emerged as the second largest party in the country. When the federal government was formed they were co-sharers of political power. They could have used this situation to consolidate their position and achieve gradually whatever their political aims. Instead, they let the advantage slip when they chose to quit the federal cabinet. What the Sharifs should know is that the more they focus their attention on one point — the restoration of the judiciary — the more they play into the hands of Asif Ali Zardari. The PPP co-chairman has used his position effectively and often kowtowed to the Sharifs to advance his own agenda carefully.

If the PPP is sincere about letting the second biggest party in parliament play its due role it should help the Sharifs overcome the legal hurdles. The petitioner who challenged Nawaz Sharif’s participation in the by-election accused him of being ‘dishonest, a defaulter and a convict’. Evidently, the LHC tended to agree with him. The only way out of this legal tangle is adopt a political approach — in other words go in for a democratic version of the NRO. If President Pervez Musharraf could frame a national reconciliation law by decree for the benefit of the PPP and hundreds of MQM convicts and under-trials, there is no reason why the coalition government cannot enact a similar law through parliament for the Sharifs’ benefit?

Pakistan faces enormous challenges. The food inflation, power outages, the situation in Fata, and the menacing tone of some of Pakistan’s “allies” in the war on terror need a leadership combined in thought and action. Instead we have a hopelessly divided and confused leadership that makes the people wonder whether those they voted for have anything in mind for the nation’s good.


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