Pakistan Supreme Court Stumps President Zardari

Pakistan Supreme Court’s decision on December 30 to order a probe into the Memogate as the secret memo scandal is known, is not unexpected. It signals that a countdown has begun for President Asif Ali Zardari with the real power centre, the army, in a vindictive mood. And it is a public rebuke of his plans to reward Hussain Haqqani, the villain of the piece, according to the General Kayani and co., with a Senate berth; and a snub to his moves to deny further extension to General Kayani and. his Sancho Panza, ISI chief, Lt Gen Shuja Pasha.

President Zardari could have shown a little difference towards the judiciary; he did not. His prime minister, dapper Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani could have avoided targeting the judiciary; he did not. So much so Zardari-Gilani cries that their detractors in the judiciary, military and political scene are using Memogate to topple the civilian government is neither here nor there. Historically speaking, no civilian government has ever completed its five-year term in Pakistan in the 60+ years of its existence as an Islamic Republic.

Rama Rao Malladi
Rama Rao Malladi

The Memogate has its origins in May when President Zardari sent a SOS to Washington to deliver a pep talk to Gen Kayani and stop him from staging a coup. Journalist turned diplomat Hussain Haqqani was the author of the draft, notwithstanding his denials. Mansoor Ijaz, a US-based Pakistani businessman delivered the memo to the Admiral Mike Mullen, the then chairman of the US joints chiefs of staff. Why Ijaz was chosen to be the courier remains unclear since good credentials is not his forte. He belongs to the tribe of boastful wheeler -dealers who willingly cover the extra mile for a price with no concern for the colour of the currency.

The authors of the Memo failed to factor in the reality that Washington doesn’t enjoy any special leverage with Rawalpindi after Operation Geronimo which had smoked out Osama bin Laden from his Abbottabad lair. And that Gen Kayani and his GHQ Shura have scripted a new equation with Pentagon by cashing in on the American concerns and vulnerabilities in what is essentially an election year for President Obama. That is why Gen Kayani and his Sancho Panza are outraged and forced the defence ministry to admit under oath that the army and ISI are not under its control. Also they were able to go before the Supreme Court with injured innocence and supported the Supreme Court’s investigation.

It is too early to say that opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, himself a creation of the ‘establishment’ as the military is known in Pakistan, will stand to benefit from the Supreme Court’s decision. He is one of the politician -petitioners in the case and his PML-N has made the Memogate a big stick to beat the PPP. The fact that the chief justice of Baluchistan high court, Qazi Faez Isa will head the probe commission is significant. Nawaz has just had a meeting with Baloch leader Attaullah Mengal and though he is a Punjabi, and the Balochs have nothing but hatred for Punjab and Punjab dominated Pakistan army, he emerged as the most acceptable Punjab face to them.

Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court Iqbal Hameedur Rehman and Sindh High Court Chief Justice Mushir Alam are the other members of the commission which is free to avail services of lawyers and experts of forensic science and cyber crimes. Foreign Secretary and all other federal secretaries, the chiefs various investigative agencies including the Federal Investigation Agency and the police chiefs of all provinces are asked to render assistance unto the Commission besides the envoys to the US, UK and Canada.

The nine-judge bench, which passed the order asked Attorney General Maulvi Anwar ul Haq to secure the most important piece of evidence, namely confirmation on the authenticity of the messages allegedly exchanged between Haqqani and Mansoor Ijaz on their Blackberry phones. Canadian company, Research In Motion (RIM) is the maker of Blackberry smart phone. The Gilani government is expected to provide logistical support in what is certainly a case of inquiry against itself. Will the government comply? This is a rhetorical question. But fact of the matter is it has no option except to fall in-line and hope for the behest.

One interesting thing about the probe is that one of three-judge panel, Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman is the son of a judge who had delivered a stinging verdict against the army for its abject surrender in the Eastern theatre of the 1971 war that resulted in the emergence of Bangladesh as a free country. Hamoodur Rahman Senior was a highly respected chief justice of Pakistan and the then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto asked him to conduct the probe. The Hamoodur Rehman Commission report, as the findings are known, is yet to be made public officially. Now, 41 years later, the fate of Bhutto’s son-in-law is very much in the hands of Hamoodur Junior, in a manner of speaking.

Qazi Faez Isa commission is given four weeks to complete the probe into Memo-gate. It means that its report can be expected by the first week of February. The Senate elections are slated for March. So once the Senate elections are over, President Zardari will be toppled and it will be done democratically with Gen Kayani remaining true to his public professions of not interfering in power politics.

There is already a talk of a silent deal between Nawaz and army generals that assemblies would be dissolved after Senate election. The ensuing general election may see an old army creation and a new army creation as contenders for the thrown but both may end up as a part of the new triad.