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Grand Deescalation !

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse , Feb 03,2012

Conscious of their respective limitations, the titans have decided to deescalate, and climb down from their stated positions. The Centre of Gravity – the Supreme Court on Jan 30 gave two more months for the controversial “Memogate” investigation, and lifted the travel ban on the man in the eye of the storm, Husain Haqqani, the former ambassador to Washington. Was it after all a tea-cup storm, hyped up by the security apparatus and Mansoor Ijaz, who acted as the whistle-blower on something not many believed in or did the refusal by Research in Motion (RIM) – the Blackberry company – to share data 
with Pakistani judiciary – eventually consigned the case to the dustbin of history? 

For several weeks, the Memogate agonized the entire nation for quite some time – an unnecessary expense of time and resources practically for nothing. This distasteful episode has clearly left a trail of unpleasant brinkmanship, slander, and speculation. But seen from a distance, it has also exposed some realities; for the first time in history, the apex court has emerged as the second strongest and largely unified power structure, only second to the mighty military establishment, which had until Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s revolt against General Pervez Musharraf on March 9, 2007, acted as the unquestioned wielder-cum-arbiter of political power. Ideally, the Parliament, should stand out as the ultimate centre of power but given its shortcomings, precipitated by absence or lack of integrity on the political top, the pendulum has clearly swung towards the apex court – 
turning it into the centre of gravity that the Military, Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif look up to. The Zardari-led government, too, is panting and gasping to escape the wrath of the enigmatic Supreme Court. Yet, the Court cannot dislodge the government, nor can it 

morally justify if its stated opposition to army’s intervention and involvement in politics if it ever invoked Article 190 to seek army’s support for its rulings against the rulers. In the face of a defiant Zardari-Gulani government, superior courts’ judges know they can only influence to a certain extent, can interpret law but cannot have the law or orders implemented. 

Apparent detractors of Zardari and Gilani i.e. Nawaz Sharif and Military were depending on each other for success in SC against government. But realized they lacked the requisite authority. The Supreme Court depended on Mansoor Ijaz but he ditched them ( this disappointed the military as well, so they realized they had put their bet on the wrong horse). All stake-holders hamstrung by limitations and the socio-economic ircumstances. 

The Memogate and the NRO cases in fact marked the height of the triangular battle among PPP, Supreme Court and the GHQ. Technically, they are still at loggerheads until the final disposal of these cases. 

Practically, operational constraints in an unfavourable environment prohibit them from continuing the collision course. No body wants to rock the boat. 

Is it a win-win for the troika under discussion or a loss for judiciary and the military because the Army and the ISI chiefs had practically sworn that the Memogate was “ a reality” and a conspiracy against national security? Whoever put Kayani and Pasha on this path certainly did a huge disservice to them because they shall have to bite the dust if the Memogate in particular becomes history. 

What impact will these events have on the larger political landscape and how will the political scenario unfold in a situation in which a) the judiciary is hamstrung by lack of power vis a vis the executive,b) the army is on the defensive, c) Awami National Party is happy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, d) The PML-N happy in Punjab, e) Everybody part of Balochistan government, f) The JUI-F practically still enjoying privileges of power (despite being out of government), g) the MQM sitting pretty (because its like the proverbial fish-bone for rulers both in Islamabad and Karachi) , and g) the PPP, firmly in saddle in Islamabad, is now increasingly expanding the Benazir Income Support Programme to the reported exclusion of other political parties – a ploy to ensure votes in the next elections? 

For certain reasons, the steam seems to be out of Imran Khan’s tsunami; it has probably already peaked and meanwhile wobbly because of some questionable statements and actions of Imran who shocked many by talking of an election alliance with Jamaate Islami. The very thought of Khan moving to JI looks very conservative. Many within his 
ranks even will not like it. ( Keep it in mind the recent pronouncement of Maulana Munawar Hassan who told followers that “only beards and hijabs” would usher in a revolution in the country). Following the influx of former Musharraf colleagues, many are certainly disappointed with PTI, and questioning as to whether these faces would attract popular vote across the board?

What is clear though that the explosive events of recent weeks did manage to pave way at least for an inter-party discussion on early elections – and hence Premier Gilani’s statement upon his return from Davos, in which he sounded open to the possibility of early elections after the budget.

Apparently, federal minister Khurseed Shah has been tasked to open dialogue with other parties to discuss mechanism for early elections - and a caretaker administration. A central PML-N- leader told this scribe that resignations from assemblies before Senate elections still remained an option. He ruled out any talks on the preservation of the

current system, yet suggested that if any talks at all with PPP, their sole objective would be how to prepare for early elections which his party believes must be held as soon as possible.

Another issue bothering the N-League is the massive use of Benazir Income Support Programme money, which the PPP has now begun throwing at women and youth alike; the N-League it wants the distribution of money under this programme stopped immediately because PPP is continuously expanding the programme with the objective of winning over new voters.

Surprisingly, it seems, both the United Kingdom and the USA as well as the World Bank, view grants under the BISP as stabilization tools and have thus provided several hundred million dollars for distribution ( DFID gave 180 million, World Bank recently gave 50 mil dollars).

Does this mean influential external factors such as the UK, USA, and international finance institutions (IFIs) are likely to support the present coalition into the new elections and would like them to return? They also would not like the boat to sink, one would presume.

Similarly, all coalition partners – PPP, ANP,MQM- and the Q-League – also know they can succeed by sticking together, particularly in view of the possibility of Imran Khan’s PTI chipping off the vote bank of Jamaate Islami, PML-N and PML-Q. Imran Khan’s gain will be the Leagues’ loss but a gain for the PPP as a whole. And this would mean

another comfortable ride into power for the PPP? Well let us see to what extent has Zardari and Co outmaneuvered Nawaz Sharif and others.

Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and is currently a Fellow of International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk