Political turmoil in Pakistan has been deepening with each passing day. No one knows what will be the result at the end, but one thing that is very disturbing is that war on terrorism is also being affected by events in Pakistan's political landscape.
One thing is certain - that this time the ruling class will face humiliation. Lawyer Ahmed Raza Kasuri was sprayed in the face with black ink on Monday as he arrived at the Supreme Court to defend the government against petitions challenging the president’s two offices. When the hearing of the petitions began, Kasuri complained to the bench about the incident that he said occurred on Supreme Court premises. He said the attackers were shouting slogans in favour of Aitzaz Ahsan and Munir A Malik.
The court said it would take notice if the incident had occurred on the premises of the SC. The court directed Kasuri to fulfil legal procedures and file a complaint in writing. Kasuri later lodged an FIR at Secretariat police station against Ahsan, Malik and Ali Ahmed Kurd, alleging that they masterminded the attack in an attempt to render him blind with a “dangerous chemical”.
He alleged that the person who sprayed him was Khurshid Khan advocate, former assistant advocate general of Nort Western Frontier Province. He said his eyes remained safe because he was wearing glasses. In an earlier application shown to the press, Kasuri alleged that the attack was pre-planned by Ahsan, Malik, Kurd, Justice (r) Tariq Mahmood and others in revenge for Kasuri’s comments criticising Malik and Tariq Mahmood on a television programme, and for raising an objection in court to the appointment of Ahsan as amicus curiae. Khurshid Khan told reporters after the incident “that people who have a black heart and tongue should also have their faces painted black”, Online reported. Kasuri said lawyers were now “becoming terrorists”.
While discussing the situation in Pakistan a leading newspaper in its editorial comment stated that the government decided on Sunday to round up leaders of the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) in an operation that has been unhappily dubbed Zero Tolerance. Some leaders have been sent to jail while others placed under house arrest. Some of them were roughed up and dragged (ghaseetay) because they showed resistance. But in all cases, the politicians and clerics were hardly upset by what was happening. In fact, most of them smiled as they were being arrested.
The “pre-emptive” operation was to stop them from building up steam for the September 29 “struggle” announced by the APDM, which the government thought would loosen its hold on developments taking place at some speed. By all signs and tokens it prefers the opposition politicians to go to the Supreme Court instead of taking to the streets. In contrast, the opposition thinks that it has reached the limit of its reliance on the apex court and wants to up the ante on the ground.
The lawyers have timed their action nicely too. They have announced their own candidate for the president’s office and have chosen a highly respected retired judge of the Supreme Court. Justice (Retd) Wajihuddin distinguished himself by not accepting the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) by General Pervez Musharraf and thus disqualified himself from the oath-taking that confirmed the now Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, as one of the judges sworn in under the Musharraf regime. Justice Wajihuddin leads a number of highly charged retired judges of the superior judiciary who have decided to take on the Musharraf government on the question of the president’s re-election. Of course, the good judge may not get more than a couple of conscience votes but that is besides the point. His nomination is a protest-gesture with moral value.
The higher the temperature in national politics, the more it is going to be difficult for the political players to stay out of the fray. The nomination by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) of Justice (Retd) Wajihuddin is going to add to the charms of political resistance and further isolate the government. Already the first signs of softening in the stance of the MMA Secretary General Maulana Fazlur Rehman have started appearing. The MMA President Qazi Hussain Ahmad, who had upstaged him in the APDM earlier, now says the Maulana will not betray him. Only a day earlier, when the arrests had yet to start, he was not so sanguine about the MMA holding together after what appeared to be a negative turn in the Court proceedings.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his Jamiat-e Ulema-e Islam (JUI) will be hard put to stay out of the showdown that is coming before October 6. His rank and file may not agree any more with the strategy of the MNAs and MPAs in three places — Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta — and may prefer confrontation in place of a pragmatic preservation of the power bases they enjoy today. The Maulana and his top party aides clearly want to be in a position to deploy all possible means to hold on to the seats they have and, if possible, increase them with the help of a positive equation with the establishment. This strategy will come under pressure as the wave of arrests swings the public view around to the side of the opposition.
The pressure from the “ungoverned spaces” in the Tribal Areas may not be felt by the secular parties of the APDM, but the MMA will certainly be affected by the latest escalation from Al Qaeda that is spearheading the Talibanisation process in the region. The “confluence” of the three streams of opposition to President Musharraf — political, legal-professional, terrorist — is most unfortunate. No one in the political-legal streams is mindful of the fact that the Al Qaeda challenge is a part of the strategy to unseat President Musharraf. The fact that the world is now clearly seeing President Musharraf getting soft on Al Qaeda — and thinking of cutting back the military presence in Waziristan — is simply going to strengthen the pro-Taliban elements in the MMA.
As the APDM momentum builds up and the PMLQ government is unable to talk to the PPP, more change in the political landscape is expected. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has quashed rumours that “negotiations” with the PPP were still on by saying that his party was sure to put together the numbers it needed for the presidential re-election and, therefore, it no longer needed to “talk” to anyone. In the coming days, the PPP, which already has a position close to the APDM, will be under pressure in Sindh and Punjab to join the fray in order to retain its profile as a viable party in the general election. Under the circumstances, unfortunately, it will no longer matter that its leader Ms Benazir Bhutto is mindful of the ultimate “ungovernability” of a state vulnerable to the challenge from Al Qaeda.