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Disaster averted?

By Imtiaz Gul

 The Friday Times , June 22, 2012

The PPP seems to have read the writing on the wall and has chosen to avoid confrontation with an increasingly assertive superior judiciary. It finally gave up its defiant posturing and decided to replace disqualified prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. This strategy may be useful for them for several reasons.

By agreeing to give up Gilani, the PPP bought itself more time to maneuver the course of developments until the next elections. Secondly, the PPP has attempted to convey the message that it does not want to confront the courts any more. "Despite reservations," outgoing information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said after a meeting of the Central Executive Committee of the PPP, "we accept the verdict." Thirdly, and most importantly, by giving in to the court's ruling, the PPP fended off the looming threat of a direct or indirect military intervention.

The patience of the Supreme Court had already worn thin because of continued defiance of its NRO ruling, and any resistance in this case would probably have dragged the army's General Headquarters (GHQ) into the matter, the way former army chief Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar had intervened to force both President Ishaq Khan and prime minister Nawaz Sharif to leave. Even the current army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani is said to have used his influence in March 2009 for the government to restore the sacked judges.

An intervention at this juncture would deprive the PPP of some of the remaining strategic advantages it has ahead of next elections. By defying the court and advertently glossing over the pressing electricity issue, the government has already lost much of its moral authority. The indirect consequence - loss of millions of jobs - seems to hardly matter. Gilani and Zardari - who had ruled out writing a letter to Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against the president "come what may" - were losing moral grounds because of their dilly-dallying after Gilani was convicted. The ruling on June 20 left them besmeared, and with even fewer options. Meanwhile, crippling power outages and the resultant riots have already irreparably damaged at least part of its credibility.

The dragging stand-off between the PPP and the Supreme Court also left the military high command wondering as to whether it would have to back down from its commitment of non-interference in political governance, hence all the talk of a caretaker set up under contemplation. It looked plausible that the Supreme Court would invoke Article 190 to seek military support for the implementation of its ruling.

Once sucked into this judiciary-executive clash, the army would have become even more vulnerable in view of the pressures it already faces on the security front. This would probably have spelt greater disaster for the country as a whole.

At least for now, the threat of military intervention is over. Yet a Pandora's Box has been opened. If Gilani lost office on April 26, what is the legal status of his actions since then? His own expenses, the budget, and the decisions the government made. A number of petitions are likely to be filed in the Supreme Court on those matters.

As the power riots expand and wreak havoc on an already fragile economy, the political costs of the standoff between the PPP and the Supreme Court may soar in the coming days. Because the court has yet to hit the bull's eye.

The writer is executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk