M A Niazi

Though there have been two rounds of comments on the petitions by the petitioners and the respondents, the Supreme Court does not seem any nearer the truth in the memogate affair. And thus has accepted the petitioners’ request for a commission. After all, the petitioners have not really requested for much more, and simply want the Supreme Court to carry out an investigation through a commission. The court had named a commission, but its head, a senior police officer, declined to head it. However, it did not name a replacement, and did not make a strong response to the announcement, made by former Law Minister Babar Awan, that the federal government would not set up such a commission.

In fact, the federal government has seemingly done its best to avoid an investigation by anybody not under its control. That might provide the reason why it wants the investigation carried out by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, which is bound to have a government majority built in. The fact that the committee has representation from all parties has received more emphasis from the government than the built-in majority.

The very reason that the public needs an independent enquiry may well be the reason why the government wishes to avoid an investigation, and is also the central question of the whole memogate affair: Did the President know? In other words, did the President approve the memo at the centre of the whole affair, and which promised to hand over Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, Pakistan’s defence and foreign policies, as well as its nuclear deterrent to the USA, so long as it prevented a military takeover?

The content of the memo itself is not particularly heterodox by PPP standards, and that might be a major problem. It leaves the President in the position of not being able to deny the views. That he cannot deny them would make it clear that he is beholden to the armed forces for staying in office, or at least thinks he is so beholden. We come to a belief, which arose during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s era, that power rests on three ‘A’s’: America, Allah and the Army. While the USA was mollified by obedience and Allah by giving in to key demands of religious forces, the army is mollified by following its policies, especially in the war on terror. The PPP does not hold to any of these policies, being anti-imperialist, nonformal in religion, and having been removed the first time in office by an army coup and having its founding Chairman hanged by the army. That hanging is at the back of the PPP’s distrust of the judiciary, something compounded by the two sackings of Benazir governments in the 1990s being upheld by the Supreme Court. Specifically, both sackings were upheld on the ground of corruption, among others, and the corruption charges were the ones which caused the leadership of the PPP most anxiety, as these charges were followed by references that were only ended by the NRO, though the Supreme Court revived them when it struck down the NRO. President Asif Zardari has used the immunity of his office against those charges, but the PPP and its followers are not convinced that they can get a fair deal from the judiciary. In one of the successor States of the Raj, there is no concept of an independent judiciary, and even now, though the judiciary has been supported by the entire legal profession, the PPP is not willing to accept that the corruption references against the President have any basis in fact. The reference on the murder case in which Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged is thus a touchstone. If the Supreme Court gives the PPP the decision it wants, it will mean that the judiciary is duly obedient, and thus can be trusted; otherwise, it is not. This is not democratic, but in line with the statism the PPP has inherited, both because of its founder’s initial experience of ruling as a minister under Ayub Khan, and because of the party’s conceiving itself as a ‘vanguard party’ in which all institutions found themselves.

It is noticeable that the clash between the PPP and the military, which goes back to Bhutto’s own efforts to bring the military under control, is much greater under the PPP. The clash has obviously occurred under the Muslim League and the IJI, and it was the League’s Junejo government that was sacked under Article 58-2(b) for the first time. Again, it was a league government, which removed Article 58-2(b), after three previous governments had been sacked under it by the President with military’s approval, only to be removed itself, by martial law. It is noticeable that Musharraf’s 17th Amendment brought back Article 58-2(b), though it was not used this time.

The whole situation was encapsulated in the Prime Minister’s two speeches last weekend, where he attempted to draw lines which implied that the military was plotting against his government, and trying to exert his authority over it. Though the PPP has the most well-defined position against military rule, having since 1958 to oppose it, the PML has also defined positions because of the association of many of its members with it, either because of themselves or their fathers. The Prime Minister himself has spent some time as a member of Junejo’s Cabinet, and the PPP itself contains people who belonged to some other party, and there are many founders of the PPP who first entered the Assemblies under Ayub Khan.

The Prime Minister may have been expressing the fear of the political class as a whole - that its monopoly of perks would once again be challenged by the military, but he was also showing that he remained within the PPP’s mainstream, which takes a dim view of the military’s propensity to take power. That he had to deny that he would sack two State functionaries does not speak well for the tangled knot that have become civil-military relations, and there is the additional complication of the Defence Secretary, now a retired lieutenant general, who has attracted the PM’s anger, and over the filing of comments in the memogate case.

At the same time as memogate, the country has to deal with various levels on the Salalah incident, which has re-emerged because of the USA’s internal report on the incident, which exculpates itself, only to be expected, since the USAF Special Forces general conducting the enquiry commanded the forces involved in the incident. The Salalah incident requires closer coordination than normal in peacetime between the military and the civilian government, and while the PPP has seized on the American connection with the memogate (through Mansoor Ijaz, the American citizen at the heart of the affair), it did not mention its own connection.

The Parliamentary Committee on National Security has said that it will continue its own proceedings on the memogate affair while the Supreme Court carries out its own. This might well be prompted by the government, but it does not stop the court. The nation badly needs an independent enquiry, and so, according to the affidavit filed by the COAS, does the army. Without a proper and unbiased investigation, there will only be speculation that can harm the government, the military, and their relationship. The government must not fear an impartial investigation. Unless someone is fearful that such a probe will unveil unpalatable truths.

    The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of TheNation.

    Email: maniazi@nation.com.pk