The decision of the Supreme Court on the Speaker’s ruling that no question had arisen about Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s membership, which led to his removal from office, opened a plethora of further questions, even though the PPP’s acceptance of the verdict as meaning that Gilani and his Cabinet had ceased to hold office seemed to imply an obedience to the Supreme Court that should mean that the letter, not writing which had led to Gilani’s fall, will now be written. It also ensured that democracy was kept on track by electing a new PM in Makhdoom Shahabuddin, which also meant that it has decided to complete its tenure in office. The decision also showed that the Supreme Court was left unaffected by the accusations levelled by the real estate tycoon, Malik Riaz Hussain, against the Chief Justice’s son, Dr Arsalan Iftikhar, and by implication against the CJ himself. That particular case is thus to be seen as a means to press for Gilani’s acquittal, and thus the revelation of TV media malfeasance in the shape of the ‘fixing’ of Malik Riaz’s interview, which had seemed at one time to assume a life of its own, was merely a part, and that too an unsuccessful attempt, of holding back the verdict.
It is to be hoped that the PPP does not perceive the judiciary as its new opponent, as a representative of the establishment. The judiciary had fulfilled the tradition of supporting the establishment by validating all military coups, but now it is supporting the rule of law. The PPP was founded by someone whose ministerial experience was under the country’s first martial law regime, and while he was a barrister, his experience led him to see the judiciary as upholders of order, as pillars of the state. Therefore, in the clash between the military, used by Ayub to impose martial law, and the party founded by one of his ministers, the judiciary had been counted as on the military’s side.
It must be noted that the mission of both military regimes and PPP governments has been to perpetuate Western political dominance. The PPP’s initial anti-Americanism has long dissipated, and stands revealed as the preoccupation of a limited number. The PPP and the military still carry forward the modernising mission of the Ayub regime. However, the PPP cannot tolerate any rivals for power, just as the Ayub regime could not. The military is still a powerbroker. The judiciary is supposed to be part of the establishment, but is not! This means that it must submit to the PPP, or risk being opposed.
The PPP does not see itself as subject to law. The belief that it is a vanguard party implies that the PPP is the source of law, and its Co-Chairman should not have to be subjected to legal procedures.
Because the PPP has such a view of the law, while it may have obeyed the law in this case, it seems it has done so because the outgoing Prime Minister was not a member of the Bhutto family. Therefore, the cry for accountability that followed the Malik Riaz interview, should not be misconstrued as including the PPP, or even because leading PPP figures might be found involved, but because accountability should only take place to serve party interests.
The anchors were castigated because the public depends on them for information. In a democracy, information is meant to inform the public so that it can make informed choices at the next election. The hosts try to attract viewers to their programmes not because they wished to inform them, but so that they can get higher teledensity ratings, to get more ads, to earn more money. Thus, information is not provided according to the ability to pay, as it should be under this model, but as a speculation. It is unethical, but unsurprising, that bets are hedged by anchors providing this information.
Now that Mr Gilani is no more on the scene, there may not be much examination of what role he played in the interview, but there should be. The leak of the names of media men, mostly TV talk show hosts, who are supposed to have received money from Malik Riaz, also raises questions. The two most important are: what are the other categories (civil and military officers, other prominent personalities) with individuals whose names could be leaked? Was the leak the action of a genuine whistleblower or was it some kind of manipulation by Malik Riaz, who has shown, if nothing else, that he is both a master at manipulator and courageous?
One thing has remained in the background, perhaps because it has been thought to appertain to foreign affairs, not domestic, and that is the failure of Pakistan, specifically of the Gilani government, to restore the Nato supply lines. That is to assume that restoring them would have saved Mr Gilani’s government, which does not take into account the desire of the Chief Justice to impose the rule of law. It does not bear enough emphasising that this desire is not just based on a personal agenda, but a wish by the entire legal fraternity. The fraternity did not mobilise in 2009 for his restoration merely because it thought the dismissal of so many judges was unfair, but because it believed that the dismissed judges were trying to impose the rule of law.
Makhdoom Shahabuddin will take oath after being duly elected, and Pakistan will have a Prime Minister and a Cabinet. The country will once again be safe for democracy. However, will it also be safe for outside interference, as it was under Gilani, and before him? The new Prime Minister will have a truncated term, but more than enough time to carry out two important tasks. First, he must uphold national independence by telling the USA that drone attacks are unacceptable. Second, he must uphold the rule of law by writing a letter to Switzerland. Otherwise, he might well be remembered as the man who took over as PM only to lead the PPP to a poll defeat. However, his election would ensure that there is no early dissolution, even though a dissolution at this point would have led to a resolution of the crisis.
n The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of TheNation.