The problem with a love triangle is that someone always winds up with a broken heart. As Pakistanis rejoice at the restoration of the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry,I cant help but wonder who will come away broken-hearted from the sordid entanglement that brought Chaudhry,President Asif Zardari,and Pakistan Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif together in an ill-fated ménage a trois. Flags are waving in the streets of Islamabad and Lahore,music is blaring,congratulatory text messages are being forwarded,and bloggers are beginning to tire of the words historic day.
So,is President Zardari the triangles victim? He tried to win the coveted Punjab province for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP),by having the Sharif brothers disqualified from power,only to find that his closest allies could not muster the support needed to see the plan through. What he learnt instead is that his onetime coalition partner and sometime rival Nawaz Sharifs hold over the Punjab is unflagging the show of popular support for the Sharif brothers,despite looming security threats,was impressive by any measure.
Moreover,the ever-smiling Zardari has had to back down from a fight before his nation and the international community. No one doubts that he was dictated to by the US and arm-twisted by his supposedly puppet prime minister into appeasing Pakistans lawyers and reconciling with Sharif.
But perhaps Zardari finds consolation in the fact that the powers that be were vested in ensuring that he was not driven from the President House by a swelling street movement. The US does not want to see Sharif in the driving seat. His not-so-hidden sympathies with Islamic extremists and his allegiances to Saudi Arabia make him a dangerous commodity at a time when Barack Obama is determined to win the war in Afghanistan (and,by extension,Pakistans northern and tribal areas). For that reason,Zardari has unprecedented job security,despite the public shaming over the weekend.
In that case,is Sharif the broken-hearted party? He was probably hoping that the lawyers movement would become about more than the chief justices reinstatement and transform into an anti-Zardari movement. In order to keep up appearances that his sole mission was to see Chaudhry back in the Supreme Court,Sharif will now have to back down from his street campaign. In fact,now that the government has agreed to file a review petition with the Supreme Court on the disqualification case of the Sharif brothers,theres little for the PML-N chief to do but wait for his brother Shahbaz to be restored as the chief minister of the Punjab; for the Supreme Court to review his right to contest elections; for general elections to be called. In other words,Sharif has been relegated back to the sidelines but with the assurance of mass public support.
Is it possible,then,that Chief Justice Chaudhry will bear the deepest scars as a result of this threesome? After all,he now finds himself in a tough position,reconfigured as the saviour of Pakistani democracy and the antidote to the cancer blighting our judicial system. It is imperative that Chaudhry now remain impartial and honest,immune to allegations of political bias.
Through all this political wrangling,the chief justice will also have to manage the challenge to Pakistans legal system in the form of parallel justice systems. The imposition of Sharia law in the Swat Valley is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of judicial upheaval in Pakistan. If Chaudhrys attention is distracted from that crisis,it could mean the ruin of Pakistans democratic set-up.
Other broken hearts might include those on the sidelines who have admired or despised the main players of the love triangle from afar. PPP stalwart and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer,who is unlikely to survive this weekends shenanigans,is bound to end up with something bruised whether its his heart or ego,one will have to wait and see. For his part,Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee,who believes that the Zardari-Sharif reconciliation will result in Pakistani stability that benefits India,is bound to be let down soon enough. And the US,which thinks that its succeeded in staving off a Taliban sympathiser from Pakistans top office,will soon be reminded that Zardari still doesnt have a vision for tackling the terrorist threat.
This being Pakistan,chances are that the only people wholl wind up with broken hearts are the Pakistanis. When the excitement dies down and political games are reignited,we have to return to the reality of deteriorating security,a faltering economy,and persistently poor governance.
The writer is a features editor with Dawn
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