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The New Establishment

During his last important interview to the Press before leaving office ex- President Asif Ali Zardari, an astute politician, in a very relaxed, satisfied, mood, made a very deep, revealing observation on the new shape of politics in Pakistan.  The  interview was conducted by a team of senior journalists including  Sohail Waraich (lead), Mubashir Luqman, Mujeebur Rehman Shami and Nusrat Javed, and broadcast a local channel on TV on June 2, 2013. The following is a rough English translation of an exchange that took place towards the close of the interview:

Sohail Waraich: “……Sir, what Shami Saheb is trying to ask you is, that the People’s Party used to be an anti-Establishment party. This is the first election where, in spite of defeat, the People’s Party did not blame the Establishment. Have the conditions completely changed? Are you a friend of the Establishment?”

President Zardari, with his characteristic, disarming smile: “You must now change the definition of the Establishment.”

Mujeebur Rehman Shami: “How should we change it?”

President Zardari: “You are journalists. You should do your research into this”.

Amidst laughter, Mujeebur Rehman Shami: “Could you please give us some guidance”.

At this point, another journalist said to his fellow journalist that this was his responsibility, and changed the subject to a different topic. Of course, President Zardari was not going to give a clue. The composition of the “New Establishment” is anyone’s guess. This article gives my take, and I may be wrong.

The New Establishment  came into being during 2007, and consisted of the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, the leaders of the two major political parties, and a media empire headed by a mogul equaling Silvio Berlusconi of Italy in reach and influence. The Establishment was not formed by design where its three pillars sat down and decided to come together. Events led up to its formation, and it ended up as a formidable force, taking on all potential challenges with unity and strength, backing each other to the hilt when push came to shove.

A foundation stone was laid by the so-called “Charter of Democracy” of London, which the late Pesident Sardar Farooq Ahmad Leghari, while discussing the plunder and loot by turn during the 1990s in an interview with Asma Chaudhry on a Pakistani News Channel on January 22, 2010, had described in the following words: “What is the Charter of Democracy? Its main point is a decision by the two major parties (with some others who were just invited) that you digest what you have eaten, and we will digest what we have eaten. Let’s not mess with these things. And, in future, let us make a system where neither of us gets caught.” (translation from Urdu).

Hence the “friendly opposition”. The non-production of a white paper after the defeat of a government which had been described as the most corrupt in the history of Pakistan in an article in the News International dated December 3, 2013, with the Chairman of the National Accountability Commission (NAB) himself admitting that corruption to the tune of rupees 8 billion per day was going on in the country. This happened in spite of election-time promises of “we will hang them on the streets!” This was in sharp contrast to a white paper which was produced and hotly pursued by Senator Saifur Rehman of the PMLN after the defeat of a previous PPP government.

The first contribution of the media wing of this troika was the cheer-leading and spearheading of the movement on the streets, the so-called lawyers’ movement followed by the garnering of sympathy votes which created the climate for the defeat of the PMLQ government, which was the first elected government in Pakistan to complete five years, and included the Nazim System which restored power to the people at the grassroots – the cradle of democracy in all truly democratic countries –  for the first and only time in the history of Pakistan. The lawyers’ movement was really triggered by a simple case of allegations of corruption against the former Chief Justice, which should have been sent to the Supreme Judicial Council, according to the law of the land. The contribution of the media to the success of the lawyers’ movement was acknowledged by former Attorney General of Pakistan Mr. Munir A. Malik in a TV debate with Mr. Riaz Haq, an independent blogger and TV commentator. During the same debate , Mr. Riaz Haq pointed out that  “Mr. Chaudhry took PCO oaths twice and remained a compliant judge until his support for his son Arsalan Iftikhar's illegal and rapid promotions and conduct were discovered in 2007 and a reference filed against Chief Justice Chaudhry. The issues of corruption brought out in that reference have remained unresolved mainly due to obstruction of justice by the Chaudhry Court.”

The might and power of the media mogul has been exhibited recently, in that no action has been taken against it in spite of serious charges of  blasphemous broadcasts resulting in country-wide protests and law suits, the vilification of the intelligence wing of the armed forces, and the acceptance of funds to do PR work for foreign governments.  In a recent TV talk show, businessman Aqeel Kareem Dedhi had stated that he is prepared to go to any court to state how the media chief had threateningly boasted of his king-maker qualities to him in the following words: “Mir Shakeel told me that you don’t know what I have done (in the past). I have had Nawaz Sharif removed; I have had Benazir removed; I have had Iftikhar Chaudhry re-instated….(translated from Urdu).” The recommendations of a PEMRA council meeting to dissolve the offending TV channel were set aside and three members who refused to change their views were asked to provide an explanation for their behavior. The media chief has assumed so much importance that he would not condescend to come to Pakistan, and an honorable minister of the government had to fly to Dubai to conciliate him and get agreement on the wording of a proposed apology. No acceptable agreement has been reached yet. This is how a government beset with problems left and right is made to waste its time.

Some of the other examples of how the pillars of the troika have aided and abetted each other are as follows:

1.     A travesty of the norms of parliamentary democracy was committed when the de facto head of a political party became the president of the country. The closest equivalent of this would be Queen Elizabeth assuming the leadership of the Conservative or Labor Party in the United Kingdom. The ‘friendly opposition’ did not protest, and the CJ, who later came to be known as the “suo motu judge”, did not take suo moto notice.  It is true that judgment was finally passed by the Lahore high Court on a writ petition, but it was too late in the game, and the Master Craftsman got out of it by deciding that he would conduct the business of the party not from the Presidency but from his palace in Karachi – a story which nobody in Pakistan bought, except their lordships, who did not even ask that another de facto party president be elected/appointed instead. Case closed.

2.     The Chief Justice wasted several months of the court’s time and the nation’s time on pursuing the famous Swiss letter, without ever clarifying whether President Zardari had immunity in this case or not, and without finding out from the Swiss authorities whether he had immunity in Switzerland. As Barrister Akram Sheikh waxed hot on how the CJ could call upon the executive branch and the army, the public sat tense in front of TV sets in anticipation of things about to happen. Nothing happened. The only “gutsy” thing which came out was the sentencing of a sitting prime minister for all of 30 seconds for severe contempt of court, an offence for which a man on the street would have gotten 6 months hard labor. The famous 60 million dollars are still intact in the proxy bank accounts of those who looted it. With so much enthusiasm shown for the letter by the CJ, one would have expected him to pounce upon President  Zardari once his immunity in Pakistan ended. No enthusiasm shown.

3.     President Musharraf was much maligned by all and sundry, including those who were its direct beneficiaries, for accepting the demand of a political party for the NRO. However, even though the NRO was annulled early in the tenure of the last government, no enthusiasm was shown to prosecute the beneficiaries. They are still sitting pretty because, if the NRO cases were seriously pursued, the high and mighty of the political parties would be in trouble. Most of the cases which have been brought to court have been either dismissed or decided in favor of the accused. During the back-door negotiations leading up to the NRO, the main Opposition party had presented two alternate demands: either the annulment of the two term limit (a limit imposed in many democratic countries, including the USA) or the withdrawal of all corruption cases against the politicians which were pending in court. President Musharraf’s political advisers said, with full justification, that nothing in these matters ever gets decided by the Courts, and favored the withdrawal of corruption cases. The politicians themselves took care of the second condition. The conditions are back to pre-October 1999.

4.     The Supreme Court allowed a former ambassador of Pakistan, facing serious charges of  high treason,  to leave the country overnight with a stroke of the judicial pen, when the naivest of naïve Pakistanis knew that he would never come back once allowed to leave. There was no protest from the Opposition. This was an incidence of the New Establishment taking on the so-called Old Establishment, which was only trying to perform its duty in looking after the internal and external threats to the country. One has to admit that the New Establishment won.

5.     The former CJ and his court dismissed the case brought up by Dr.Tahirul Qadri on the corruption in the electoral process (which would have directly hurt the candidates of both major political parties) in a very frivolous manner, on unrelated pretexts, with mockery and ridicule, insulting the patriotism of millions of overseas Pakistanis whose hearts bleed for Pakistan and who are the main source of income for the country. The subject of the writ petition was hardly discussed by their lordships. This could have been a golden opportunity to stem the rot in our body politic, something which the Supreme Court could easily do on the basis of constitutional requirements. However, the CJ showed that its priorities were elsewhere. As a result, tax dodgers, bank defaulters and corrupt politicians were declared qualified.

6.     It served the purposes of the troika to silence the voice of former President Parvez Musharraf who might have made unsavory revelations (although his nature would not have allowed to do so) during and after the national elections.  This was done first by having him disqualified from taking part in the elections, violating the international statute of a person remaining innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law, and then by having him indicted on one ridiculous charge after another.

7.     Imran Khan’s simple demand of having thumb prints verified for just four constituencies has not been met. It appears that the members of the troika are again of one mind on this issue.

The list could go on and on, but one has to stop for the sake of brevity. Anyone who has followed and given thought to the events during the past seven years would have seen evidence of the New Establishment at work. The future looks bleak, with princes and princesses-in-waiting lined up and the former CJ rumored to have presidential ambitions. As a poet had said,

Ibtida-e-ishq hai rota hai kya

Aagey aagey daikhyey hota hai kya

(This is only the beginning, why the hue and cry?

Just watch out for what’s coming in the future!)

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