Chiseling out rough edges

With the results of the February 18 elections out, Pakistan has entered a crucial phase of its transition towards democracy, that of forming stable governments both at the Centre and provinces and thereby help the country wriggle out of its many crises, ranging from flour and energy shortage to the militancy raging in the tribal areas and spilling over into settled areas of the country, especially in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Most important, however, remains the task of restoring Pakistan’s original Constitution and, subsequently, instituting a strong parliamentary system. Restoration of the sacked judges forms an essential part of this undertaking. This would of course require forcing the exit of President General (retired) Pervez Musharraf, who can be rightly blamed for inflicting the most fatal wounds to Pakistan’s parliamentary democracy by ruling through a handpicked prime minister and a spineless parliament that functioned under the shadow of a constitutional amendment, 58(2)(b), which gives the president the power to dismiss a government and parliament when he thinks they are not working according to his scheme of things.

The results of the elections have shown that undeterred by President Musharraf’s veiled warnings and not inspired by the so-called economic boom, the Pakistani nation has voted out all the ‘king’s men’, i.e. President General (retired) Musharraf’s both de facto and de jure allies – the PML(Q) of an interim prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and his cousin and former chief minister of Punjab Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, and Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who earned notoriety for his dual role as the opposition leader in the previous National Assembly and a de facto backer of President Musharraf at the same time. For many analysts, the vote has proved to be a referendum against President Musharraf and his policies. Keeping in mind the dipping popularity of President Musharraf, which was explicitly established by the results of some international surveys even before the polls, the establishment took a wise decision by not allowing any rigging during the polls or any post-poll rigging. In the pre-poll stage, rigging in the form of putting in place a handmaiden Election Commission, use of the local governments to accrue advantage to Musharraf’s allies, a controversial voters’ list, ghost polling stations, etc., was noticeable. As Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association (PSCBA) President Aitzaz Ahsan put it during a television interview, pre-poll rigging took place for 364 days, but on the 365th day there was no rigging, thus the election results. It goes to the credit of new Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani that the elections were conducted in this manner. Cynics, however, say that the nation should not be under any illusion that the military would take a backseat in politics and let the politicians take control. A ‘tactical retreat’ is how they describe the army’s resorting to neutrality. Benazir Bhutto’s party’s win and the clear prospect of its forming a coalition government at the Centre and Sindh is but a repeat performance of 1988, when the army, trying to salvage its post-Ziaul Haq image, allowed the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to form a government. Even then the real power lay with the establishment. This time, Benazir’s husband and PPP’s co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari is seemingly unwavering in his demand that he wants an all-powerful government and parliament.

It is too soon to say what the future holds for the upcoming government, but whosoever forms the government will have to keep in mind how the people of Pakistan have used the power of the ballot to oust those they did not deem fit to run the government. The PPP has emerged as the single largest party in the February 18 general elections by getting 87 seats in the National Assembly while the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) received 65 and the Awami National Party (ANP) bagged 10 seats. It is expected that the PPP will form a coalition government with the PML-N of Nawaz Sharif, which swept the hub of Pakistan’s politics, Punjab, and the ANP, which eliminated religion-based politics represented by Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat-e Ulema-e Islam (JUI) from the NWFP, which lies on the borders with Afghanistan.

PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif got a resounding victory because of his firm stand on the restoration of the pre-November 3 judiciary. The emergency was imposed by President General (retired) Musharraf on November 3, 2007, on the pretext of fighting terrorism, when in actuality had been enforced to pre-empt the expected decision by the Supreme Court overturning the results of his presidential elections. Musharraf then went on to depose the Supreme Court judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry, through a Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) and a new judiciary was brought in place after taking oath under the PCO. Those judges who refused to take oath under the PCO were put under detention or house arrest and many prominent lawyers, like Aitzaz Ahsan, were also detained. Till now, Nawaz Sharif has played his cards right. By going to the Judges Colony – where Justice Chaudhry is under house arrest – in Islamabad on February 21 and proclaiming that Justice Chaudhry will be reinstated as the Chief Justice after the formation of the new government, Nawaz has won the hearts of millions of Pakistanis and has the support of the lawyers, civil society and the masses.

The PPP, on its part, has had a very fluctuating policy when it comes to the issue of reinstating the pre-November 3 judiciary. It is quite well known that last year the PPP grudgingly joined the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the Chief Justice, and that too after some pressure from the public. Even though Aitzaz Ahsan, a PPP member, being counsel to the suspended Chief Justice was at the forefront of the lawyers’ movement, the PPP maintained a reasonable distance from the movement due to the back-door talks that were going on at the time between Benazir Bhutto and President Musharraf. After Justice Chaudhry was reinstated as the Chief Justice, it was seen that Aitzaz Ahsan was put on the backburner in PPP politics. Some say this was due to Ahsan’s rising popularity, which the late PPP leader Benazir Bhutto could not tolerate.

One of the major reasons for the PPP’s flip-flop policy on the pre-November 3 judiciary is the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which was promulgated by the Musharraf regime. The NRO is nothing if not a political law. It gives blanket amnesty to public officials accused of corruption from the timeframe of 1986-1999, which means that Nawaz Sharif would not benefit from the NRO and the main beneficiaries would be the leaders of the PPP and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which has overwhelming influence in Pakistan’s business nerve centre, Karachi, and urban areas of Sindh, among others. The PPP was reluctant to voice its support for the deposed judges after the emergency was imposed in the country because it was believed that these judges would have nullified the NRO.

Now that the PPP has won a majority vote in the February 18 elections and is expected to make a coalition government with the PML-N, the issue of reinstating the deposed judges is quite crucial. It is noteworthy that lawyers representing Pakistan have recently urged a Swiss court to prosecute PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari who is accused of stashing 60 million Swiss francs ($ 55 million) in Switzerland. The timing is significant. Many are of the view that President Musharraf has reactivated the trial in the Swiss courts against Zardari as a bargaining chip. It remains to be seen whether the PPP would dare to reinstate the non-PCO judges under these circumstances.

Apart from the two mainstream political parties, the PPP and the PML-N, the other major party that has won in these elections is the ANP, known for its secular and forward-looking policies. It has won a majority of seats in the NWFP and is likely to form a provincial government there. ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan has once again reiterated that the ANP would change the name of the NWFP to Pakhtoonkhwa after coming into power. Khan’s other demands include the continuation of the war on terror to rid Pakistan of the extremists and provincial autonomy.

The demands of the ANP are quite logical. Provincial autonomy is something that any government, which comes to power in Pakistan now, should strive for, as it has been promised by the 1973 Constitution. It is one issue that all past governments have evaded, thus the power has always remained with the Centre. But for true democracy to flourish in any country, the provinces have to be autonomous. Since Pakistan came into being in August 1947, Punjab, the biggest province of Pakistan, has been accused of usurping the rights of the other three provinces – Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan. As Ayesha Jalal points out, “…the source of provincial disaffections in Pakistan originates in the highly centralised nature of political and economic power. Only when political processes begin altering the balance of power between centre and region and, by extension, between elected and non-elected institutions, can electoral democracy achieve its full potential in alleviating the grievances of entire regions and the various social groupings within them” (Jalal, Ayesha, Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia: A Comparative and Historical Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 252).

For a country like Pakistan, where there is a whole lot of diversity in ethnicity and languages in all its four provinces, it is crucial to create harmony between all four provinces for safeguarding the federation. The new government will have to see to it that the military operation in Balochistan is stopped immediately and the grievances of the Baloch nationalists addressed properly. The other jobs to be done are renaming the NWFP, as demanded by the ANP, granting due share in water to Sindh and smaller provinces as well as revising the formula for distribution of resources to them under the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award. Along with removing constitutional aberrations and undoing Musharraf’s crackdown on the judiciary, these crucial issues need to be addressed, if genuine democracy is to return to Pakistan. If these issues are not resolved, the public mandate delivered in the February 18 elections against the status quo would go waste.

Comments

Tanveer Iqbal said…
SMS Text Greetings - A collection of words that express your feelings to the people you love!
B.Aalok said…
read about you in TOI..
it's an achievement to get noticed across the border...keep it up.all the best!!
kristz said…
Mehmal Sarfraz !, I read about u in TOI. I watch Musik channel everyday just to see how your land is how people in Pakistan look like.... wierd inquisitiveness u might have noticed... but its nice... we share the same DNA after all. Honestly I was surprised on how Indian leaders are potrayed in Pakistani school textbooks, but we were never ever told by our teachers or any narration whatsoever in our text books mentioning Pakistan as our hostile neighbour. The hatred that we bore have seeped in majorly through discussions and the Kashmir issue so loudly portrayed by the media. I must appreciate your initiatives to bring it out in light.
Anonymous said…
Hey Mehmal...you keep up the good work!

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