Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pakistan: Belated but objective decision

Although the decision Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf announced before the Supreme Court on Tuesday is belated, the commitment given to the country’s apex court that the government will write the letter to Swiss authorities is a welcome move. This letter would revoke the previous letter in which the government had rescinded its claim on money in some Swiss bank accounts. The common belief is that the letter can cause the authorities in that country to re-open the money laundering case against President Asif Ali Zardari. It appears to be the best course, the government could take to avoid a host of complexities, including a conflict between state institutions. As Raja assured the SC that his government would withdraw the letter which the former attorney-general Malik Mohammad Qayyum had written to Switzerland judicial authorities in 2007 about the fall-out of the National Reconciliation Order (NRO) that gave blanket immunity to the commission of offences by some 8,000 persons, including President Zardrari, other politicians, bureaucrats and well-to-do individuals, it means that Swiss courts can now take up the case involving the president. As a consequence of the assurance, the SC adjourned the case of show-cause notice issued against the prime minister on contempt of court charges till Sept 25th with the concession that prime minister is exempted from personal appearance. The PM nominated Law Minister Farooq.H.Naek to appear on his behalf in the court and submit the draft of the much talked about letter. Whether the draft meets the approval of the Court is yet to be seen, but the government has succeeded in buying time that it wanted. The stalemate between the government and court was jamming the activities of other institutions in the country. Some call the government move a tactical retreat and some say the Raja government has taken a U-turn from its earlier stance. Both the notions seem well-founded but the former seems more plausible. However, the government delayed the decision to write the letter by several months and as a result the former Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Galani stood disqualified and had to go home. He not only lost the office of the country’s chief executive but also faces a bleak political future after his disqualification for 5 years. Most probably the government gave an afterthought to its earlier stance with next parliamentary elections in sight. It did not want to enter the electioneering process with the stigma of being a party of contemnors; the opposition would have had an opportunity to exploit the situation. The government also appears mindful of the fact that the SC case may linger on for months and the caretaker administration, that seems would be put in place, at the most, by the end of this year, might not stick to the PPP government’s stance of not writing to Swiss authorities. Nevertheless, the government’s allies in the coalition may receive the new development as a sorry affair only because they were not taken on board. But the Awami National Party may be angrier with the government than the other allies, including the PML-Q and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which have so far remained unclear in their mind, as to what the government’s response to the SC insistence should be like. Even otherwise, prima facie on the political horizon, most of the coalition allies may not for sure carry on with the Pakistan People’s Party when the next general elections are held. No doubt, Tuesday’s development is a step forward and the government must be thinking in terms of utilizing the time it has bought to concentrate on problems facing the nation and try to solve these so that it can face the voters with a cleaner slate. For example, the government has to give its attention to the worsening economic situation by minimizing the impact of power load-shedding and reforming the tax structure to rope in all who have the ability to pay taxes. Above all, this is a rare opportunity. Our first democratically elected government is just a stone throw away from handing over the reigns of the government to another democratically elected administration. This is the tradition which we have to set, and have been unable to, since the creation of this country. In fact the PPP government must be eying this opportunity which can be a momentous distinction any political party could achieve in the present circumstances.

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