EDITORIAL: Rumours of change


Rumours of a change in the political set-up have been doing the rounds for quite some time, particularly since Altaf Hussain’s call to ‘patriotic’ generals to intervene. Political leaders as well as analysts have been ruminating over the idea and have come up with varied responses. These rumours are reminiscent of the 1990s, when no government was able to complete its term and was sent packing on charges of misgovernance and corruption. After initially denying that any such possibility exists, it appears that the government has now decided to treat the matter more seriously. This was evident from the extraordinary cabinet meeting co-chaired by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani at the presidency. Party members present expressed the resolve to thwart any effort to bring about a change of government and reposed confidence in the leadership of both the president and prime minister. In this context, it is difficult to ignore a constitutional petition invoking Article 190 filed in the Supreme Court urging the august court to enlist the armed forces’ help to implement its decisions and also explore the option of mid-term elections. Acceptance of this petition for hearing by the Supreme Court could be a dangerous development. Unless the PPP plans ahead for any such possibility, it will bring tremendous pressure to bear on the government, which is already facing multiple crises.

A proposal was floated for the government to call for a vote of confidence from parliament. Such a move requires the government to gather the necessary support from among the treasury benches as well as the opposition. It does not appear there was much enthusiasm for the move as it may open a new Pandora’s box of testing the loyalties of MNAs, particularly those belonging to the coalition partners of the PPP. There is no denying that the government needs internal cohesion and the coalition’s support to complete its term.

It is encouraging that US Special Representative Richard Holbrooke has made his country’s position clear while talking to reporters in Islamabad. He said that the government is not “drowning in the floods” and that the US would not like the military to be distracted from its current preoccupation with the war on terror and venture into politics. In the past, Pakistan’s military regimes received critical support from the US as long as they were ready to serve its dubious strategic interests in the region and they readily obliged. Circumstances have forced the Americans to change tack. In the post-Cold War scenario, it is no longer feasible for the US to support dictatorships, given the convergence of world opinion in favour of democracy. Within Pakistan too, there is a political consensus, even among elements on the fringes, that military intervention is not the solution to Pakistan’s problems. Past creatures of the establishment too have joined this chorus by now, stung by being victims in turn of military interventions, with perhaps one of the few exceptions being MQM’s Altaf Hussain.

It is encouraging that the government realises the gravity of the threat. But it needs to do more than this. Even if the government is able to receive a vote of confidence from parliament, it will not change the situation on the ground. Unless and until the government delivers on the enormous challenges facing the country before and after the floods, public confidence in its commitment and ability would remain low. So far the public has not received any indication that the ruling coalition is in any mood to change its happy-go-lucky-style of governance. It is time the government paid attention to performance. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: The land of mischief mongers 

A local English daily recently published an ‘investigative’ story based on an alleged report by the Special Branch of Punjab Police. According to the report, a federal minister and the federal government’s nominee in Punjab were allegedly working on a plan to assassinate the chief justice of the Lahore High Court (LHC) Khawaja Muhammad Sharif. Though the alleged planners were not named, it was all but obvious that the report was trying to implicate federal Law Minister Babar Awan and Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer. It was also alleged that a PPP Punjab chapter’s official was tasked with hiring hardened criminals to carry out this plan. Some of the suspects were arrested by the Punjab Police but have been declared innocent after interrogation.

Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik has reportedly asked the ISI and IB to check the authenticity of the report while Governor Taseer has written a letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry, to order a judicial inquiry into the matter. Meanwhile, Colonel (retd) Ehsan, former chief of the Special Branch, has denied that the report was written by him or any other official of the said department. Col (retd) Ehsan has reportedly been taken into protective custody. With no one willing to take the responsibility for authoring this report, the whole episode smacks of a campaign to discredit the PPP-led federal government. 

Governor Taseer has alleged that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s secretary Tauqeer Shah leaked the fake report to the local newspaper and Major (retd) Mushtaq, Jahanzeb Burki and Rana Maqbool were part of the conspiracy. The PML-N has been mealy-mouthed about the whole issue. Whether someone from the PML-N is behind the report or some other forces are at work can only be ascertained after a high level probe is launched into this messy affair.

On the face of it so far, it seems like a manipulative report instead of being a genuine one. It is highly unfortunate that a sensitive report such as this one was leaked to the media without verifying any facts whatsoever. At a time when the country is passing through a difficult phase, creating a rift between the provincial government and the federal government is the height of irresponsibility. If the report is indeed fake as is being claimed by the PPP, the mischief mongers must be punished severely. *

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