Friday, February 22, 2008

On Musharraf, The Judiciary, And The U.S.

Several readers have pointed out that being prescient isn't exactly my thing. I will therefore cease and desist in my attempts to predict what will happen, and rather concentrate on what should happen. Hereunder are three things I'd like to see:

1. Musharraf has to go

It's plain that he has outlived his purpose. His value-added potential is low to none. He has little authority. His reputation, if one remains, is in the doldrums. In short, as Aitzaz Ahsan said, it's time for Mush to pack his bags for Turkey.

I say this as someone who supported a number of Musharraf's actions during the first seven years of his tenure, from his attempts to tackle militancy head on, to opening up the economy to market forces, to his privatizations schemes, to his rhetorical (if not substantive) stance on women's rights and, most importantly, on his quest for a long-lasting settlement with India on Kashmir. This did not mean that I supported everything he did - his diatribes against Mukhtaran Mai, his instinctive lashing-out at unflattering media coverage, and his embrace of the Mindless Medieval Assholes and the Chaudhries chief among his failures - but, broadly speaking, I supported the guy.

The wheels came off in March last year. The paranoia, the supercilious beliefs in his own popularity even when it was evident that it was dwindling at a rapid rate, and most of all, his panga with the judiciary and the media didn't just leave a bad taste in the mouth, they rendered him ineffectual. Let me state again: I am not drawn to a particular personality. I am drawn to someone who does stuff that works, who is proactive and tries to figure out problems on the ground and goes about solving them. Hell, I'd vote for Qazi Hussain Ahmed if there was evidence that he was the guy who Made Things Better On The Ground. Musharraf stopped being that guy last year.

As things stand right now, even sound proposals by Musharraf are likely to be shot down by the stakeholders in the system (parliament, parties, media) simply because no one wants the taint of being associated with him. Hell, even his own party, the Q-League, didn't use his image or his name in their election campaign. When Pervez Elahi and Chaudhry Shujaat think they're too good for you, it's time to wrap it up. Through a combination of stupid and egregious mistakes, Pakistanis' short-term memories, and citizen fatigue (seriously, it's been more than 100 months since Musharraf rose to power), Musharraf can no longer be of service to Pakistan. One hopes he recognizes this fact soon, and doesn't attempt to delay the inevitable.

2. Iftikhar Chaudhry should be released from house arrest and then not return to the judiciary

Is there any doubt that the former Chief Justice is now a political figure? This may or may not be his doing - after all, Musharraf was the one who fired the first salvo in the "politicization of the judiciary question" by, uh, politicizing the judiciary - but honestly, has Iftikhar Chaudhry been completely blameless? Do judges on Supreme Courts around the world partake in massive political rallies, as Iftikhar did after he was fired the first time? Do they make political speeches outside courts of law and through telephone addresses, as Chaudhry did and continues to do? No, they do not. Judiciaries around the world are political because of the space they occupy in governing structures. They are not political because of the self-aggrandizement of, and stoking-of-fire by, justices. Iftikhar Chaudhry has now fallen into the latter camp, and this is unfortunate. It should also preclude him from reoccupying his chair in the Supreme Court.

[An aside: are we really ready to live in a world where Nawaz Sharif is the champion of the judiciary and Asif Zardari sounds like a statesman? Can someone please tell me what exactly is going on here?]

I know what pro-Chaudhry/anti-Musharraf people are going to say in response: "hey, it's not his fault this happened. He was just doing his job. If he's political now, it's only because Mush made him a political figure." And I agree. But no one can argue that after the initial firing, Chaudhry was/is a neutral arbiter of important legal-constitutional questions. With that in mind, this is what I would have liked to hear from him on July 20 last year, when the panel that handled his case exonerated him and reinstated him to his position:

"Friends, I am happy that the struggle between the forces that believe in the rule of law and those that do not has resulted in the victory of the former. Today is an historic day. However, because I unnecessarily and unwillingly became a lightning rod for political debates and action in the country, I can no longer occupy my position on the Supreme Court. My neutrality on important legal-constitutional questions will doubtless be compromised and questioned. Now that I have been proven innocent of crimes I was accused of, and my record is as clear as my conscience, I am going to devote the rest of my life to providing free legal aid to raped women in rural areas/free legal aid to orphans and child laborers/some other philantrophic legal-based venture. I know all those who fought against the forces of dictatorial persecution will wish me the best of luck toward this goal, just as I wish the best of luck to Judge Random Khan who will replace me. Thank you."

He can still say this, by the way. When (and it really is when and not if) he gets released from house arrest, he can still say this. He won't say it - even I can't get that prediction wrong - but from a normative standpoint, I sure as hell would like to hear him say it.

3. The U.S. should stay out of post-election maneuvering

Seriously guys, I say your entire South Asia desk at the State Department just take a 6-week vacation. Please. I say this for your sake as much as ours. Please. I'm begging you. Please.

Look, I can definitely see why the U.S. thinks it can stay involved. It gives us oodles of aid, gives us fancy weapons that we could use in a war that we would invariably lose against India, and understands perfectly well that as the sole superpower, it can do as it damn well pleases. But just because doing-stuff-because-you-can worked out well for Brad Pitt, doesn't mean it works out for states in the international system.

One of the unintended consequences of U.S. involvement is that in the current political climate, anyone who appears to have U.S. backing is instantly tagged with perjoratives like "poodle," "lapdog," "Busharraf" and the like. One of the gravest mistakes any U.S. analyst can make right now is confusing "a vote for moderate secular forces" for "a vote for the U.S." I read recently (but can't find the link, sorry) that the U.S. enjoys a whopping 16% approval ratings among Pakistanis. Clearly, the U.S. needs to vanquish the self-serving and horribly misguided opinion that moderate = American supporter.

This is why it's crucial the U.S. stay out, for its own good. Right now, Pakistani politicians and leaders are in the midst of a messy trading period, where allocations of power are still being decided. Until such allocations are made, and there is a certain concreteness to Pakistan's governing structure, it behooves the U.S. to not get involved. Don't worry, guys, the terrorists will still be there in a month's time. We can catch them then. If you choose to get involved now, anyone who has your backing will be invariably compromised, and Pakistan will relive the same battles that we did for the last six years ("Traitor! America backer! Biggest Terrorist Of All!). Don't do that to us. Don't do that to yourself.

We'll let you know when you can come back to the bedroom. Promise.

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