Time is running out for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani

Time is running out for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani

By Hamid Mir.Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is desperately trying to get out of a political crisis, bordering chaos, created by his own colleagues but, unfortunately, he is looking helpless.

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He invited more than three dozen TV anchorpersons and journalists from across the country to the Prime Minister’s House on Thursday evening and tried to impress upon them that “I am the government and my government is strong, I am not threatened by any conspiracy. There is no conspiracy going on.”

It was his sheer bad luck that at the Bilawal House in Karachi the same evening, President Asif Ali Zardari was saying something totally different. “Certain mercenary elements are involved in conspiracies to topple the government. We will foil all these conspiracies,” said Zardari.

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The same day, Punjab Senior Minister Raja Riaz condemned the “conspiracies hatched by generals against democracy”. Both Zardari and Gilani claimed on Thursday that they respected the Supreme Court (SC) verdict on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), but their actions were speaking louder than words, which were in direct conflict with each other. Gilani was looking confident in front of many aggressive and charged anchorpersons, yet at one stage, he conceded: “You people have cornered me.”

I have a lot of respect for Gilani, because I am a witness to how bravely he spent more than six years behind the bars and refused to make any deal with Pervez Musharraf, but I was feeling very sorry for this brave man on Thursday evening when he failed to answer me and some of my colleagues on many occasions. When one of us reminded him that the SC had ordered the federal government and all other competent authorities to proceed against former attorney general Malik Muhammad Qayyum, he hid behind the screen, saying: “We are waiting for the detailed judgment of the court.”

There is no reason for anyone to wait for the detailed judgment after the categorical directions given in the short order on December 16, which itself extends to 18 pages. So, it is not so short anyway. Gilani must spend a few minutes to read page 17, which says: “We place on record our displeasure about the conduct and lack of proper and honest assistance and cooperation on the part of the chairman of the NAB, the prosecutor general of the NAB and the additional prosecutor general of the NAB, namely Mr Abdul Baseer Qureshi, in this case.

“Consequently, it is not possible for us to trust them with proper and diligent pursuit of the cases falling within their respective spheres of operation. It is, therefore, suggested that the federal government may make fresh appointments against the said posts.”

But look at what happened. The SC suggested making changes in the NAB on Dec 16. The very next day, Gilani reshuffled the top bureaucracy and appointed six new federal secretaries. Not a single change was made in the NAB. One week after the SC order, the prime minister changed Federal Law Secretary Justice (retd) Riaz Kiyani. He was the one who cooperated with the SC during the hearing of the NRO cases. It was Riaz Kiyani who produced a file in the court, which proved that the NAB officials were actually trying to hide some very important facts from the court.

It is believed that Riaz Kiyani was punished by the prime minister, because he embarrassed the NAB officials in front of 17 judges. The president and the prime minister have even appointed a new attorney general, but they have not listened to what the SC has suggested in its short order. Is it not a violation of the order? How can we believe that the prime minister respected the SC verdict? If Prime Minister Gilani is under pressure from President Zardari not to take action against Malik Qayyum and not to make changes in the NAB, then Gilani must resist and try to convince him. They have no other option but to implement the verdict in its true spirit. I agree with Gilani that his government has the right to complete its five-year term, but he himself has predicted that a clash between the institutions will ruin everything.

He should not push the SC to remind him of the Article 190 of the Constitution, which says: “All executive and judicial authorities throughout Pakistan shall act in the aid of the Supreme Court.”

Many legal bigwigs are saying that the SC can call the Army for its help and once the Army is called under the Article 190, then it would also like to act under the Article 245 “in aid of the civil power”.

A clash between the institutions could create a new crisis, in which any provincial government will have the right to invite the Army under the Article 245 in the name of help. One mistake will lead to more mistakes. One disaster will be followed by bigger disasters. This scenario has forced many allies of the government to stand at some distance from all those who are saying one thing and doing an entirely different thing.

The PML-N is still ready to help Gilani for saving democracy, but both Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif are reluctant to trust the PPP and Zardari. They are extremely worried why the federal government is not implementing the SC verdict yet.

One top PML-N leader told me recently that the Army leadership was fed up with Zardari and wanted to get rid of him, but the PML-N was not ready to support any unconstitutional action against Zardari.

Some people are even saying that Zardari is already history and have started throwing new names as his successor. The names of Aftab Shaban Mirani, Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani and Makhdoom Amin Fahim are already under discussion in some circles, but it is clear that the PPP’s Central Executive Committee will not accept anyone out of these three as the new president.

This situation may force one powerful institution to ruin all other weak institutions. Gilani and Zardari must realise that the survival of one institution lies in strengthening the other institutions. Parliament must respect the SC and if these two are united and strong, no third institution can even think of crossing its constitutional limits.

Apparently, Gilani gave us the impression on Thursday evening that he had no problem with the SC and the Army leadership, but even a common Pakistani is aware that there are misunderstandings between Zardari and the Army. When Gilani said “We have no differences with the Army on the Kerry-Lugar Bill”, I asked him a simple question: Why did the ISPR issue a press release about its concerns on the bill? Gilani responded meekly: “I don’t know.”

Nobody asked Gilani any question about the role of General Kayani in the restoration of the deposed judges. He himself started saying: “I restored the deposed judges, not Gen Kayani.” When I asked him if he restored the judges, then why Gen Kayani called Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan on March 16 and informed him that the judges would be restored this evening, Gilani again responded meekly: “I don’t know.”

In other words, Gilani politicised the Army chief very “innocently” in his typical Multani style. He said it again and again that the month of March would also pass and his government would still be there. We reminded Gilani of the statements of Nawaz Sharif just a few days before the military coup in October 1999 when he was claiming that his government was not facing any threats. Gilani responded blankly: “No, Nawaz Sharif never said that.” Which brings me to the point to say: “Good luck to you, Mr Gilani. Your government may survive again, but you must get out of the chaos, which is going on from months and months. This government cannot govern in the interest of the people of Pakistan, if the political situation remains the same.”

Gilani’s interaction with the media gave us an impression that the PPP leaders have yet to formulate a strategy to avert a clash between the institutions. Time is running out. The government must act swiftly to implement the SC order without waiting for the detailed judgment.

Zardari and Gilani must fix a deadline for the implementation of the Charter of Democracy, in consultation with the PML-N, as soon as possible. Otherwise, the PML-N will be no more in a position to rescue the PPP government this time. Gilani must remember his own words that a clash between the institutions will ruin everything.

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