There can be no doubt that the Supreme Court’s judgement on the National Reconciliation Ordinance was a historic decision and speaks volumes for the independence of the judiciary. But the verdict raised many eyebrows – certain ‘legal eagles’ even termed it “targeted and politically motivated” – for depriving the president of his constitutional immunity. If the president indeed enjoys constitutional cover, the government can certainly challenge the decision through a review petition and the honourable chief justice, being the custodian of justice in the country, is bound to admit it.

The fact is, the government did not defend the NRO in court, where the immunity plea could have been argued and even accepted. In fact, the chief justice and his team did not seem especially biased against any individual whosoever.

Desperate politicians and disestablishmentarian media outlets ‘overplayed’ the issue, acting as if they – not the Supreme Court – were the authors of thejudgement. It even brought the Jamaat-e-Islami to the same table as Imran Khan, who invited (sic!) the army to help implement the verdict.

Other parties accorded an ‘academic welcome’ to the decision and while asking the government to implement it, also appeared worried about the political repercussions. Central Punjab, a traditional Sharif stronghold, did not witness any dancing in the streets or zealous celebrations this time around. Even the politically-charged Lahoris seemed ‘calm and confounded’.

The wily Altaf Bhai, while welcoming the decision, hinted at the sense of alienation and deprivation that is slowly but surely creeping into hearts and minds in the smaller provinces. The ANP was full-throated in its support for President Zardari. Surprisingly, Khawaja Saad Rafique was the only Punjabi politician who did not throw caution to the wind and warned that any move to disqualifythe president through this judgement would not send a positive message to the smaller provinces. Across the country, an air of uncertainty hung over the masses’ reaction to the judgement . Considering the latent hostility against President Zardari and his party, simmering ever since the lawyers’ movement, a mass outpouring of support forthe verdict was only expected. But that did not happen.

The disestablishmentarian media group then revealed that the verdict would be followed by several other petitions challenging the president’s eligibility, who would eventually be sent packing, either to sit home or rot in prison. This overplay implied that the judgement was indeed targeted at President Asif Ali Zardari. Let it be clear that such so-called experts do not wish the chief justice or the judiciary well.

After the decision, I travelled to Sindh and Balochistan to gauge the political temperature and talked to people from different walks of life. Ironically, the feelings articulated by Altaf Bhai are indeed developing among non-Punjabi speakers, who hold the Punjabi establishment responsible for maligning their political leaders. It seemed as if it was just their leaders who would hang to death in Punjabi jails, or be brutally murdered in a staged encounter in the mountains, or be targeted on the streets of the garrison city.
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Sindhi intellectuals were of the view that after this verdict, all Punjab-based political parties would be wiped out from Sindh and Balochistan in the next elections. The hullabaloo over ‘third-time premiership’ was, in their opinion, nothing more than a means to further strengthen the political cartelisation ofPunjab. They raised many questions, some of which I am listing, in the hope that we can find answers that will satisfy the whole country.

Firstly, why are non-Punjabi leaders singled out for ‘accountability’ and put on trial, whereas Punjabi politicians seem immune. Government machinery and millions in funds are wasted manufacturing cases against the ‘others’, but the billions embezzled by the sons ofPunjab are ignored. Be it the money-laundering case against Nawaz Sharif or their millions of pounds in British assets, none were pursued or prosecuted with the killer instinct that was demonstrated at the time a non-Punjabi was tried.

The media too came under fire for being so obviously selective in highlighting corruption or malpractices. Pro-Punjab TV anchors were especially singled out for criticism, for whom, it seems, Pakistan is limited to the ‘holy land between Islamabad and Raiwind’.

Repeatedly criticised for playing the ‘Sindh Card’, the Sindhis asked why no one questioned Punjab’s omnipresent dominance over the political, civil and military bureaucracy. Why was Punjab’s electoral strength not cut down to size so it could no longer exploit the smaller provinces? The Bengalis were accused of using the ‘Bangla Card’, but they called the bluff and seceded. From the creation of Pakistan in 1947 to its reconstruction in 1971 and from strengthening thecountry’s defences to giving it a comprehensive constitution, all of these were services rendered by the sons of Pakistan, not Punjab alone. Why then, the youth ask, are they being treated like second-class citizens in their own country?

The Pakhtuns too have their grievances. Is it right to deprive them of their mother tongue and identity. If the Punjabi tongue has a right to be recognised, why not theirs? Whether they want to rename their province or not is their own business, why are the Punjabis objecting to the name Pakhtoonistan or Pakhtoonkhwa?

The cross that the Baloch bear is that of Nawab Akbar Bugti. Why, they ask, was the murder of one of the Quaid-e-Azam’s companions swept under the carpet? They talk of depravation unlike anything the Punjabis have ever experienced and one cannot help but sympathise.

As a Punjabi myself, I must confess that all these questions are legitimate. I don’t have all the answers, but it’s high time someone did come up with the right words and remedies. Hopefully, before it’s too late.

Daily times