Wikileaks selectively quoted for political attack in The News

May 27th, 2011 | By | Category: The News

wikileaksAn article in The News today which claims that Wikileaks proves that Nawaz stood tall and delivered in the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry while tarring PPP with a black brush. The author, Anusha Rehman Khan, is of course a PML-N MNA, so her words must be read with the understanding that she is writing not as an objective journalist but as a politician who wants to be seen supporting her party. But even articles supporting one’s own political party should be based in facts. Unfortuantely, a review of Wikileaks cables shows that MNA Anusha Khan’s piece appears to selectively quote certain facts while ignoring others that are inconvenient to her argument.

Most of the piece is a list of accusations against PPP completely unrelated to the article’s main thesis which is the claim that the Sharifs held “unfaltering conviction” and “stood tall and delivered” on a commitment to see the Chief Justice restored.

The premise of the article is based on a Wikileaks cable dated 31 January 2008 that MNA Anusha Khan says proves that the Sharifs were standing strongly behind the restoration of the Chief Justice:

According to yet another leaked US embassy cable, the then US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, called on Nawaz Sharif on January 31, 2008 and “strongly opposed the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry”. But the Sharifs stuck to their principled stance and “insisted that without restoring the chief justice, there was no point to filling other slots on the bench.

Here is what the cable actually says:

5. (C) Nawaz expected both PPP and PML-N would do well at the polls if the elections were free and fair; he dismissed the Pakistan Muslim League party, saying that Pervaiz Elahi would get few, if any votes. Claiming he had no vendetta against President Musharraf, Nawaz said the PML-N had also reached out to the Pakistan Muslim League and they in turn had contacted PML-N (Ref A). (Note: He then launched into a long description of his mistreatment after Musharraf overthrew Nawaz in 1999). The PML-N’s goal in government would be to reinstate the deposed judiciary and restore the law and order situation. Without restoring the judiciary, Nawaz argued, you cannot restore law and order and rule of law.

6. (C) Ambassador said we continued to support an independent judiciary and wanted to work with the new government on this issue. It was simply too difficult to tackle before elections. We believed there should be a way to restore some of the deposed judges, but not the former Chief Justice. Nawaz insisted that without restoring the Chief Justice, there was no point to filling other slots on the bench. Ambassador disagreed, noting that many of the provincial judges could be restored for the benefit of Pakistan’s judiciary.

It is clear from this cable that the Sharifs believed that restoration of Chief Justice was important to the perception of an independent judiciary. But is this the whole story? Actually, another Wikileaks cable dated 14 March 2009  tells a completely different story.

4. (S) On the issue of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Shahbaz claimed that the PML-N was open to negotiation, provided that Chaudhry was symbolically restored as Chief Justice of Pakistan. Shahbaz stressed that his party could not afford the political humiliation of abandoning what had become a long-standing principle in favor of Chaudhry’s restoration. At the same time, Shahbaz claimed to understand that Chaudhry was a problematic jurist, whose powers would need to be carefully curtailed. Shahbaz underscored that the Sharifs were prepared to adopt any safeguards that President Zardari desired prior to Chaudhry’s restoration, including curtailment of his powers to create judicial benches, removal of his suo moto jurisdiction, and/or establishment of a constitutional court as a check on the Supreme Court. Shahbaz also stated that following the restoration, the PML-N was prepared to end the issue and remove Chaudhry once and for all by adopting legislation proposed in the Charter of Democracy that would ban all judges who had taken an oath under a Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) from serving.

To borrow MNA Anusha Khan’s own words, “only cynics who have become embalmed in their own cynicism and detached from all norms of reality” will ignore the fact that politicians make back room deals, and that long marches and street-level political dramas are not always what they seem. While the Wikileaks cables do show that the Sharifs insisted on the reinstatement of the Chief Justice in January 2009, a year later their demands had changed and the “unfaltering conviction” had transformed into a request for “face saving” as “the PML-N was prepared to end the issue and remove Chaudhry once and for all”.

The problem with selectively quoting documents like Wikileaks is that they are openly available for the public to fact check. It is natural that Anusha Khan wished to paint her party leader in a flattering light, but it is the responsibility of The News to fact check the pieces before they are published. Perhaps if The News would have upheld this responsibility, they would have saved everyone some embarrassment.

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