The Altaf saga continues

In an interview with Time magazine, President Zardari ruled out the possibility of a military coup in the light of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain’s recent appeal to “patriotic generals”. The president said that the country is going through such a difficult phase that he does not foresee “anybody in his right mind will be wanting to take this responsibility. It is only democracy that can carry this yoke.” Mr Zardari does have a point but even then the MQM chief’s audacity to contemplate such a move is inexplicable. The furore over Mr Hussain’s remarks has not died down, and understandably so. In Pakistan’s 63-year old history, we have been ruled by military dictators for more than half of our existence. In 2008, Pakistan returned to democracy after nine years of General Musharraf’s rule. Thus, giving an open call to the generals to intervene directly or indirectly in getting rid of the incumbent civilian dispensation is a clear violation of the constitution and against democratic norms.

It was in this context that the PML-N submitted a privilege motion in the National Assembly secretariat and demanded parliamentary action against Mr Hussain. In response to this, there is now a war of ‘motions’ in the federal as well as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. The MQM has filed two privilege motions against the PML-N; one for hiding an alleged secret pact the Sharifs made with Musharraf to go into exile, thereby asking Mr Nawaz Sharif to apologise to the nation for ‘lying’, and two, the secret meetings between Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and General Kayani, deeming it ‘undemocratic’ since the nation was not taken into confidence. On the other hand, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) has also submitted a privilege motion in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly against the MQM chief’s undemocratic remarks.

It is good to see that most of the ruling and opposition parties have taken a principled stand against Altaf Hussain’s statement; some have condemned it in stronger terms than others. Except for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan, no one else has condoned Mr Hussain’s anti-democratic remarks. Mr Khan is an avowed enemy of Altaf Hussain but as is usual with opportunist politicians, an enemy of an enemy (read democracy) is a friend. Thus, Mr Khan has joined Mr Hussain’s bandwagon to undermine democracy. Imran Khan said his party “will back military rule in the country for the sake of stability” but his party claims that he had been quoted out of context. Even if Mr Khan does not want a direct military rule, his support for ousting this government through unconstitutional means is equally disgusting. Mr Khan’s autocratic attitudes are no secret, neither are his Taliban-like leanings. He should be ashamed of himself for putting the country’s future at stake by demanding a military intervention, be it direct or indirect.

At a time when Pakistan is going through one of its worst phases, what with terrorism gnawing at its very foundations, the floods wreaking not only a humanitarian catastrophe but an economic collapse as well, Altaf bhai’s call to the generals is utterly contemptible. When he asks for an end to feudalism, does Mr Hussain realise that only when democracy takes roots can such a system be overcome? Under a military dictatorship, the fundamental rights of citizens and constitutional guarantees are all taken away. The only thing we are left with is autocracy and tyranny. We lost half of our country due to a martial law. We should not be fuelling another crisis by asking for another military intervention.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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