Saturday, February 25, 2012

Daily Times editorial Feb 26, 2012

Government’s response on Balochistan

President Asif Ali Zardari has said Balochistan is the topmost priority for the government and he is willing to visit the province to talk to the Baloch leaders. The president went on to say that he would make sure that the people of Balochistan became part of Pakistan’s society. He asserted that he was aware of the injustices to the Baloch people and would not abandon his brothers in such difficult times. With due respect, the manner in which the government has made the Balochistan issue its ‘topmost priority’ leaves much to be desired. The thrust of the government’s approach, starting from the president’s apology to the Baloch people for past excesses and leading up to the Aghaaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package, has been predicated on a deliberate and misplaced concreteness that relies on offering development to the troubled province’s youth without addressing the real ground situation. The elephant in the room that the government chooses to ignore is the fact that the present course in Balochistan is dictated by the military establishment. The policy of kidnapping, torturing and then dumping the dead bodies of nationalists all over the province is surely not the idea of the government, federal or provincial. However, neither government has been able in the last four years to restrain the military and intelligence agencies from their dastardly and arguably eventually disastrous course. Given this reality, what sort of reciprocity does the president expect on a visit to the province from the alienated Baloch leaders? And it should not be forgotten either that these are the moderate leaders who do not necessarily subscribe to the idea of separation and independence for Balochistan. That so far is the declared position only of the Baloch leaders in exile or in the mountains. Since there is little if any chance of a dialogue with those extremely angry and alienated elements, any presidential visit without dealing seriously with the complaints, immediate and long term, of the Baloch would once again prove an exercise in futility, a dialogue of the deaf, with neither side conceding the other’s point of view.
First and foremost, the government has to abandon the flawed notion that ‘development’ can trump politics in the province. No amount of announcement of development projects, schools and other institutions can mollify the estranged province. The government must talk to the military establishment to withdraw the hated FC from the province, stop the kill and dump policy, recover the missing persons under a lawful approach to dealing with them, and last but not least, find ways and means to talk not only to the ‘available’ Baloch leaders (albeit they too are reluctant to engage unless the conditions enumerated above are met) but also those in exile or in the mountains. All this requires a major rethink on the approach to the province’s problems. These immediate steps could transform at least the atmospherics and open up space for a genuine dialogue. Off the cuff announcements such as those by Interior Minister Rehman Malik that cases against the insurgent leaders will be withdrawn, only to be cast into the shadows of doubt barely a day later, are not helpful. They only serve to widen the credibility gap. The Foreign Office has chimed in with the usual mantra of a ‘foreign hand’ churning up trouble in the province. These claims are neither new nor, in the absence of any evidence, credible. They too only serve to stoke the fires of anger and alienation and make the apprehensions triggered by the hearing and resolution in the US Congress self-fulfilling prophecies. Restraint, honesty of purpose, a turn from repression to genuine dialogue is the only way forward. The present course portends disaster.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Daily Times editorial Feb 25, 2012

Quran burning crisis

As though things were not difficult enough for western forces in Afghanistan, the incident of the Quran being burnt at Bagram air base has really put the cat among the pigeons. Thousands of Afghans have protested against the desecration of the Holy Book, at times turning violent and attacking western bases and installations. Two American soldiers have been killed by an Afghan soldier, and at least 12 protestors have lost their lives. The protests show no sign of abating as these lines are being written, and it is difficult to predict how this will play out eventually. The incident has come as a Godsend for the Taliban, who have exhorted Afghans to kill westerners, while their spokesman has at the same time said that the Qatar process of negotiations between the Taliban and the US would not be affected by the unfortunate incident. President Barack Obama has promptly sent a letter of apology to President Hamid Karzai, regretting the incident and calling it accidental. He has promised action against those responsible. The despatch with which the US president has responded in this case is glaringly different from the apology demanded by Pakistan for the killing of 24 of its soldiers in Salala, an apology that is said still to be ‘in the pipeline’. That glaring difference is an indicator of the seriousness of the reaction within Afghanistan to the desecration. Whether Obama’s apology will be sufficient to cool Afghan anger, however, remains difficult to ascertain, such is the angst unleashed by the incident amongst the religiously sensitive Afghans.
It is amazing that in spite of reported instructions issued to American soldiers regarding cultural and religious sensitivities, the US soldiers in the field in Afghanistan are either “ignorant” (as Obama put it in his apology letter) or just plain downright stupid. Clearly, nothing has been learnt by the US military from similar reported incidents in Guantanamo Bay prison and Iraq. In this respect, the US soldiers are their own worst enemies. The difficulties confronting US/NATO forces in the run up to the 2014 troops withdrawal have suddenly turned even more serious. At the best of times, candid off the record views of western observers admitted that in Afghanistan, the west is reduced to hoping against hope that all will go well up to and including the 2014 withdrawal. And all this kerfuffle is made worse by the fact that Pakistan-US relations continue to remain in a state of paralysis, creating more pressures on the western forces’ supply and logistics (Pakistan has still not reopened the supply routes to Afghanistan) and casting doubts on the ability of the US/NATO forces to negotiate a dignified withdrawal from Afghanistan while not leaving a total mess behind. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s interaction on the sidelines of an international conference on Somalia in London led to all the usual noises from both sides about getting their relations back on track, but the Pakistani parliamentary review of relations and terms of engagement seems subject to delay while the Senate elections loom. A joint session of parliament is supposed to be convened to visit the recommendations of the parliamentary committee on national security regarding the matter, and only after parliament decides the way forward will the diplomats on both sides be able to get down to the business of hammering out the details. US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Marc Grossman is still cooling his heels waiting for an invitation to visit Pakistan for discussions, as is General Dempsey, Central Command chief. Having shot itself in the foot in Afghanistan because of the Quran desecration incident, the US is not exactly on top of its game with Pakistan or in the region as a whole. If there is a lesson to be learnt from all this, it is quite simply that foreign wars and occupations eventually exact a high toll. Old-style imperialist intervention to police the world in the interests of the great powers is an idea that is, to put it politely, passé.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Daily Times editorial Feb 24, 2012

APC on Balochistan

The furore in Pakistan over the hearing and resolution in the US Congress regarding Balochistan refuses to die down. Politicians and the media have expended much breath and space on the issue, but by and large, they have indulged in misplaced concreteness. While every kind of condemnation of the US for interfering in Pakistan’s internal affairs is to be had at the drop of a hat, very few have taken a deep breath to assess soberly, calmly and wisely why things have come to such a pass. The Balochistan problem is as old as Pakistan. It has not been handled wisely, force and deception being employed more often than not against Baloch nationalists demanding their due rights. A continuation of this policy in the current fifth war in Balochistan since independence has stoked separatist sentiment to the point where the nationalists in exile are openly demanding an independent Balochistan.
One such view can be had from an interview of Brahamdagh Bugti in exile. He has reiterated his view that the policy of ‘kill and dump’, whereby mutilated tortured bodies of Baloch nationalists keep turning up every other day all over Balochistan, justifies the demand for separation from Pakistan. He has welcomed the US Congressional hearing and resolution, thereby rejecting the argument of the issue being an internal matter of Pakistan on the grounds that in today’s world, atrocities on the people by state forces call for international intervention. In the same breath he has dismissed out of hand the Pakistan government’s declared intent to convene an All Parties Conference (APC) on Balochistan. He has advised the Governor and Chief Minister of Balochistan to quit their office and join the resistance or else go home and keep quiet. Despite setting up a committee to contact and persuade all stakeholders to participate in the APC, Prime Minister Gilani seems to be swimming against the tide. The Baloch nationalists, even the moderates still subscribing to the federation, have rejected the APC as having been overtaken by events and therefore without merit. To add ammunition to this stance, PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif has set forth two non-negotiable conditions for attending the APC: the arrest of Akbar Bugti’s killers, and the recovery of missing persons. Some observers regard these conditions as not achievable, leading to the conclusion that Nawaz Sharif and his party, despite being the original authors of the idea of an APC on Balochistan, have backed away from the proposal as unlikely to be of any use. The fact is that without the participation of the Baloch nationalists, especially those in exile or in the mountains, and given the military’s seemingly unbending determination to continue with its present repressive course, an APC would be Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, an exercise in futility, and end up no better than the Aghaaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package announced by the PPP government with such fanfare, and which the PM himself has conceded has been overshadowed by the ground situation in the province.
The US administration has been at pains to distance itself from the Congress events on Balochistan. This is understandable when Pakistan-US relations are almost frozen and efforts to warm up ties are still subject to delay because of Pakistan’s parliamentary review of the relationship and terms of engagement. The Congress happenings have been, to put it mildly, unhelpful in this regard. That said, it should not be ignored that Balochistan potentially offers much temptation to the great powers. Its long Mekran coastline a stone’s throw from the Straits of Hormuz, its gas, oil and minerals potential, and its location as a possible listening post for Iran could tempt Washington to at least keep the option of support for the Baloch nationalists as a card to be played at an appropriate time. Clearly, US strategic and economic interests would dictate any such eventuality, not necessarily any deeply felt sympathy for the plight of the Baloch. The fact that Brahamdagh Bugti on the one hand denies any foreign support for his movement and at the same time welcomes any such help in future may be a reflection of his bitterness and anger, but perhaps the Baloch protagonists of independence for the province could do worse than cast a sceptical eye on Washington’s aims. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Daily Times editorial Feb 19, 2012

Strange ‘diplomacy’

All the efforts of the trilateral summit for mutual cooperation appear to have soured because of the inherent sharp differences between Pakistan and Afghanistan. While Iran can take away from the summit the satisfaction of President Zardari’s assurance that Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used against Iran and will pursue its relationship with Tehran irrespective of US or other external pressures, President Karzai must be scratching his head after Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s extraordinary press conference. For a start, the language Ms Khar used for President Karzai’s request to bring Kabul and the Afghan Taliban together hardly qualifies as ‘diplomatic’. “Ridiculous”, “preposterous” and “unrealistic” are ‘new’ ways to address the concerns of a visiting head of state, no matter how unpalatable to us. Ms Khar’s approach raises questions about her brief, which appeared contradictory to the apparent atmosphere of friendship and bonhomie amongst the three heads of state and which was reflected in the final communiqué.
One explanation for the unprecedented pique underlying Ms Khar’s diatribe may lie in the reports that Karzai and COAS General Kayani’s and ISI chief General Pasha’s interaction was full of sound and fury. Did the worthy foreign minister feel compelled in the light of this exchange to reiterate forcefully the views of the Pakistani military? Even more serious, how is the demand that Pakistan facilitate contacts with the Afghan Taliban and their leader Mullah Omar ‘preposterous’? Is this not the thrust of the halting peace process seeking an end to hostilities in Afghanistan? Is this not also what the US had been demanding from Pakistan before tiring of its prevarication and embarking on a unilateral effort to talk to the Taliban? Does Ms Khar seriously expect the world to swallow the obvious playing with the truth that the Afghan Taliban are based on and enjoy safe havens on Pakistani soil? Not only that, they enjoy the backing of the Pakistani military establishment as proxies? Even President Zardari tried a feeble defence of the military by denying any links with the Afghan insurgents, repeating the foreign office mantra that such links are by now ‘history’. The fact of the matter is that the civilian government has considered discretion the better part of valour since it came to power and surrendered Afghan policy to the military. That is why the expressions of solidarity and cooperation in the summit communiqué, at least as far as Pak-Afghan relations are concerned, can only be treated with scepticism.
Ms Khar, in answer to a question at her press conference, made no effort to paper over what appear to have been acrimonious exchanges between the Pakistani and Afghan sides. In fact she justified the atmospherics by saying both sides needed “hard talks”. With due respect, what is on offer from Islamabad is less ‘hard talk’ and more ‘hard policy’. Ms Khar and her government seem to be playing to the tune of the military establishment’s obsession with India and the inroads it has made by projecting ‘soft’ power in Afghanistan. That has allowed New Delhi to re-establish the historical friendship with Kabul, a development that has hardened the Pakistani GHQ’s approach to supporting Taliban proxies to control Afghanistan.
So long as the Pakistani military’s policy on proxy control of Afghanistan is adhered to, there appears no early end to the ongoing war in our neighbouring country. Even post-withdrawal of US/NATO forces from the theatre, a new or continuing civil war in Afghanistan looms, the effects of which will inevitably spill over into Pakistan and render all the good wishes for peace, stability and progress for the region a non-starter.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Daily Times editorial Feb 18, 2012

Regional shift

The Pakistan-Iran-Afghanistan third trilateral summit held in Islamabad yesterday put the seal on the growing perception in the region that responsibility for managing affairs in the wake of the US/NATO forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan rests on regional countries/players. A day before, in bilateral interactions by President Ahmadinejad of Iran and President Karzai of Afghanistan with President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, issues of concern and problems in relations were on the table. These bilateral exchanges were consolidated in the joint statement issued at the end of the trilateral summit. Perhaps the most hopeful, and also most controversial aspect of the statement was the declaration in principle that the soil of the three neighbouring countries would not be used for intervention in each other’s affairs. For Afghanistan, the irony is that this implies Pakistan’s withdrawal of the safe havens and support of the military establishment for the Afghan Taliban operating from our territory against the US, NATO and Afghan forces across the border, which arguably is the main reason for the failure of those forces to quell the Taliban insurgency. For Iran, the implication is that Pakistan would act to stop Jundullah operating from our soil against the Iranian regime in its Balochistan-Seistan province. In principle, this stance of not allowing territory to be used against sovereign neighbours should be adhered to in letter and spirit. Jundullah may be an easier phenomenon to control, but whether the Pakistani military establishment is prepared to go along with this principle vis-à-vis Afghanistan remains doubtful. And as long as that situation prevails, the trilateral aim of peace, stability, progress and cooperation may not achieve all its objectives.
Pakistan’s civilian authorities have of late been stressing their support for an Afghan-led and -owned peace process in that long suffering country. This should be seen in the context of the new factor in the equation, the unilateral efforts by the US to talk to the Afghan Taliban directly, bypassing both the Karzai government as well as Pakistan. Although President Karzai has claimed in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on the eve of the summit that the Afghan government is a partner in the US-Taliban talks, this has been dismissed out of hand by the Taliban, asserting they will not talk to the “careless” Karzai regime. Pakistan and Afghanistan have been throwing out feelers along the lines that they will cooperate in the peace process but on the Pakistani side, it is not clear if the military establishment subscribes to this policy.
Perhaps all is not such bad or doubtful news. President Zardari wants the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement to be extended to the Central Asian countries, fulfilling the dream of Pakistan acting as a regional trade conduit, especially for land locked Central Asia. Pakistan’s geographical location also promises benefits as an energy corridor, particularly if the TAPI gas pipeline can be built to ship Turkmenistan’s enormous gas reserves to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. This pipeline is the favoured one by the US as a more acceptable option than the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. However, Washington will be less than pleased by the reiteration at the summit of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project being speeded up. Iran is under increasing international sanctions led by the US for its suspected nuclear weapons programme. That is why President Zardari suggested trade be conducted between the two neighbours through local currencies, barter, etc.
The trilateral summit signals a tectonic shift from the US and the west calling the shots in the region in favour of local management. Cooperation amongst the three countries on security, trade, energy and economic cooperation could go a long way towards mutually benefitting all three and mitigating the dependence on the fickle, and often aggressive west. More power to their Excellencies’ elbows in this good work.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Daily Times editorial Feb 12, 2012

PM’s appeal rejection

With the dismissal by an eight-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) of Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani’s inter-court appeal against the February 2 order of a seven-member bench of the apex court hearing the contempt case against the PM, the die is cast for a contempt trial of the chief executive. The eight-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry upheld the seven-member bench’s order as properly framed under and conforming to the provisions of clause 17(3) of the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003. Therefore the bench rejected any need to intervene and thereby dismissed the inter-court appeal. The PM will now appear before the original seven-member bench tomorrow, February 13, for charges to be framed against him. If the PM, as all indications so far point to, sticks to his stand that no contempt was envisaged and he was simply following the repeated advice from the Law Ministry that no letter can be written to the Swiss judicial authorities to reopen the case against President Asif Ali Zardari as the president enjoys immunity while in office under Pakistani (Article 248), Swiss and international law, he may well be charged and a trial then proceed. All the signs point to the PM contesting the charges through his counsel, Aitzaz Ahsan.
The issue has two facets: legal and political. While the SC is insisting the letter of the law as reflected in its December 16, 2009 judgment on the NRO case be followed, and central to that is the repeated direction of the court that the PM write the letter to the Swiss authorities, the ruling PPP is seized of the political implications of following the directions of the SC. Aitzaz Ahsan had based his inter-court appeal argument on two pillars. One, that he and his client were not allowed sufficient time to present their point of view; two, the impossibility of adhering to the court’s direction in the light of the immunity enjoyed by the president, as advised by the Law Ministry. Although Aitzaz avoided discussion on the immunity issue, which the court had said again and again needed to be applied for to the court, a bare reading of Article 248 of the constitution does lend credence to the immunity defence. The wording of the article in question is clear, unambiguous, and arguably needing little if any interpretation. The political aspect of the issue is the perception of the PPP that for the PM to write such a letter to the Swiss authorities while ignoring the immunity enjoyed by a sitting president would be tantamount to damaging the political standing of the party. It should not be forgotten that the president is also the co-chairperson of the PPP.
If the above interpretation of the PPP’s thinking is correct, it seems the party is prepared, if worst comes to worst, to sacrifice its PM for the sake of saving its political reputation. Nay, even further, the possible conviction and disqualification of the PM from holding office will provide a rallying cry of victimisation to the PPP in the run up to the general elections, something that may leave it in better standing with the electorate since its palette of achievements over the last four years is thin, to say the least. Despite the removal of PM Yousaf Raza Gilani, the government is unlikely to fall so long as it enjoys a majority in the National Assembly. Theoretically, the party could nominate a new PM as replacement. Such a development could arguably continue the legal battle in the SC if the court then orders the new PM to write the letter according to its directives. It goes without saying therefore that the issue’s fallout is unlikely to end soon, with implications for political stability and democracy and a troubled future looming on the horizon.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Daily Timews editorial Feb 9, 2012

Balochistan to the fore

Balochistan has an unfortunate history of denial of rights and repression against those who demand them. It is doubly unfortunate because it has been largely ignored by the political forces as well as the media, barring untoward incidents such as the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti. Daily Times is proud to have consistently led in this regard. Our persistence in reporting and commenting on a critical issue may finally be bearing fruit in bringing the issue into the mainstream political discourse as well as gathering the belated attention of the media. One example of the former is the heated debate in the National Assembly (NA) the other day, related to the killing in Karachi of the wife and daughter of Balochistan MPA Mir Bakhtiyar Domki, which expanded to a discussion of the regime of extra-judicial killings that are the norm in that benighted province. Parliamentarians bemoaned the fact that the committee set up to look into the troubled situation in the province has failed to report. The demand now for a special committee for the same purpose misses the point. Neither the federal nor the provincial Balochistan government are in charge of policy in the province. The ‘kill and dump’ policy is being pursued by the FC, obviously under the orders of the military establishment. The FC has once again sprinkled salt on the wounds of the Baloch by killing protestors against the Domki family murders. No political force has so far been able to prevail upon the military authorities to revisit their policy and desist from what more and more people are characterising as a disastrous course.
In today’s world, it is no longer possible to carry on blithely with this kind of slow genocide without the world taking notice, sooner or later. This is what explains the US Congress’ decision to hold a hearing on the Balochistan situation. While some may see this development as a triumph for the lobbying of exiled Baloch nationalists in the US, it sits uncomfortably with both Islamabad and the Obama administration for their own discrete reasons. Pakistan’s foreign office sees the hearing as an unjustified interference in a purely internal affair of Pakistan, while the US administration, engaged in fence mending with Islamabad after the relations between the two countries went into deep freeze following the Salala attack, views the hearing and its timing as deeply embarrassing in its efforts to woo Pakistan back into a friendlier posture. Our foreign office seems woefully out of touch with the way the world works at present. Interconnectedness has ensured that no major development, let alone one involving a deliberate policy of decapitating the small intelligentsia of a still largely tribal society (albeit evolving haltingly into modernity), can stay off the radar forever. Washington is despatching General James Mattis, the head of the US’s Central Command, to Pakistan for talks with the Pakistani military top brass regarding the new terms of engagement desired by Islamabad and under discussion in Pakistan’s parliament currently. In fact those deliberations resulted in the cancellation of US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Marc Grossman’s visit recently, and has led to General Mattis’ visit being postponed by at least a week. Apart from the general tenor of the relationship going forward, the US and NATO desire a reopening of the supply route for their forces in Afghanistan that stays blocked since the Salala incident. To persuade Islamabad, the US administration is said to be contemplating reversing its initial reluctance to offer an apology for the deaths of Pakistani soldiers at the hands of the US and allied forces in Salala. The US Congress hearing at this precise moment could, in the administration’s view, cause further embarrassment in its relationship-healing thrust. The hearing itself will reveal its contours today, but the contentious issue of some nationalists’ demand for independence for Balochistan, implying the balkanisation of Pakistan, is considered too sensitive even to be commented on by the US State Department.
As an example of Baloch grievances, the issue of its natural resources and control/benefit for the local population has once again been highlighted by the case of the Tethyan copper project at Reko Diq. The Baloch are still smarting from the outcome of an earlier copper project, Saindak, which eventually ended up with a Chinese company with little or no benefit to locals or the province. Historical resentment over the use of Sui gas all over the country while depriving Balochistan of its benefits for many years still simmers despite the partial supply of gas to some urban areas since some years. The constitutional construct of Pakistan makes it very difficult for provinces to claim their just rights over their natural resources. That is an area which, if revisited, could go some way towards mitigating resentment in Balochistan. But the real issue is the attempt by the military to resolve the political/economic conundrum of Balochistan through unfettered force and repression. The times have changed. Force and repression will only reap the whirlwind of greater resistance by the Baloch people, now encouraged by the increasing attention being paid to their issues by local and international opinion.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Daily Times editorial Feb 5, 2012

Yousaf Raza Gilani’s fate

While in Lahore the other day to inaugurate the first Business Express train and abolishing the tollgate at the old Ravi bridge, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani reiterated certain themes he has been emphasising in recent days. Without explicating his charge in detail, the PM once again hinted at a conspiracy afoot to somehow abort the upcoming Senate elections in March, elections that seem set to give the PPP-led coalition a safe majority in the upper house. Dismissing such efforts, the PM once again categorically stated that the Senate elections would go ahead as per schedule, and all those interested in early elections should talk to the government after the Budget. On the contempt case against him in the Supreme Court (SC), the PM repeated his respect for the courts and said he would wholeheartedly accept whatever decision the court handed down.
In case anyone is inclined to treat the talk of a conspiracy as self-serving, it would be useful to reflect on two new writs moved in the SC against the by-elections scheduled for February 25 and the Senate elections expected on March 2. The former petition is a follow up by Imran Khan’s PTI asking the SC to stop the Election Commission from holding the by-elections on the basis of flawed voters’ lists. The latter, however, moved by a television anchor, pleads for cancellation of the Senate elections on the grounds that about 70 parliamentarians are currently charged with possessing fake degrees, on the basis of which they were elected, and are involved in proceedings to determine their fate as elected representatives. Further, the second petition argues that 29 MNAs and MPAs had been elected in by-elections based on flawed voters’ lists. Thus some 100 parliamentarians, according to the petitioner, are not eligible to vote in the Senate elections and were they to be allowed to do so, an unrepresentative, invalidly elected upper house would be the result. Now one may not be enamoured of conspiracy theories, but the timing of these petitions does give rise to suspicions and speculations about what is going on.
While the fate of these petitions remains to be determined by the court, a significant date, February 13, is looming. That is the day the PM has been summoned before the seven-member bench of the SC hearing the contempt case against the PM for not obeying the court’s order in the NRO judgment to write a letter to the Swiss judicial authorities asking them to reopen the Cotecna case against President Asif Ali Zardari. Neither the PM nor his redoubtable counsel, Aitzaz Ahsan, got much purchase at the last hearing from the bench on the argument that Article 248 debars the PM from following the court’s order as it provides immunity to a sitting president from any criminal proceedings. The honourable bench has not addressed that question in its February 3 order, which concludes that prima facie a case of contempt lies against the PM and charges accordingly will be framed at the February 13 hearing in the PM’s presence. Legal experts are debating the possible scenarios that may emerge on February 13, including the worst-case possibility that the PM may be convicted, sentenced, and disqualified. Were this to come to pass, legal remedies may lie with the PM, but even if those are not conceded by the court, the worst-case scenario sees the PM being affected, but not necessarily the government as a whole. As long as the sitting government enjoys a majority in parliament, the chief executive, if disqualified, can be replaced by another member of the PPP. That would, again in the worst-case scenario, leave the political situation unaffected materially, and the PPP and its allies could still soldier on till the general elections. Of course the effect of any such outcome on the politics of the country is another matter, to which one can only return if and when it presents itself.