SO the Swiss letter affair is over, with barely a blip appearing on the national political radar.
Never mind that the federal government was hostage to the issue for three years; never mind that no country had presented its head of state before an international court for over a century; never mind that the constitution and international laws were clear about presidential immunity while in office; never mind that we lost an elected prime minister to this drama; never mind that Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan among other analysts had predicted exactly this outcome.
The irony of the situation is lost on us. Those most invested in and outraged by violations of national sovereignty, whether over the US drones or the Raymond Davis case or the Kerry Lugar Act, are the most vehement that national sovereignty must be overridden and the fate of a sitting, elected president be decided by courts of another country.
Never mind, we have moved on.
Snide though that sounds and deliberately so, we have in fact, moved on. The distance covered between the Mansoor Ijaz saga of memogate fame and the Tahirul Qadri saga of topi-dharna fame is significant. In the former, the then ambassador Husain Haqqani qualified for treason for allegedly requesting US assistance against the military, while the judicial establishment reserved the right to ask for Swiss assistance against the current president.
But whereas in the media and opposition political parties there was little questioning of the motives and credibility of Mansoor Ijaz and they fell in with the establishment line, when Tahirul Qadri emerged, the same groups showed more political maturity by not letting shockwaves convulse the system.
Of course, this may be because Qadri poses an electoral threat, however remote, unlike Ijaz who was clearly a time-bound interloper in the political field.
There are other signs of seismic shifts in Pakistan. In terms of legislation that changes structures, the 18th Amendment and devolution, the NFC agreement, extending the Political Parties Act to the tribal areas, amendments to the Frontier Crimes Regulation, the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act and the status change of Gilgit-Baltistan will have a far-reaching positive impact that will start to show within a few years.
The Aghaaz-i-Huqooq package for Balochistan could have been included in this list had its kneecaps not been shot off by the security apparatus.
While it is possible for laws to remain unimplemented, the more fundamental sign of change is the power tussle unfolding across Pakistan.
While back-to-back political upheavals have led to urban despair and kicked the country’s perpetual and pathological countdown to apocalypse into overdrive, this turmoil can also be read as a breakdown of status quo.
The old power equilibrium had the army at the helm with a steering committee of the military and civilian bureaucracy defining a particular perspective as ‘national interest’, and through it arbitrating and distributing slices of the power pie.
After the Asghar Khan case, at least this is no longer up for debate. Now, this civil-military establishment matrix appears to be a contender for power, albeit its mightiest one, but not its arbitrator.
The judiciary’s recently asserted autonomy has meshed with its newfound populism, even though it is neither representative of nor accountable to the people — it is a non-elected body accountable only to the law itself. Judicial overreach now veers into judicial usurpation of politics, signalling a ‘juristocracy’ as labelled in other countries, even as it offers people a new hope.
The other contenders include the news industry, with the owner/talk show host nexus in the electronic media, in addition to the usual contests between traditional rivals for further carving up the political party slice of the power pie.
Occasionally, the old guard half-heartedly positions other old guards like Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Pir Pagaro and will continue to do so, but the sense of change is palpable. It is one thing for newspaper editorials to critique the armed forces, it’s another for such critique to enter the ultimate barometer of the vernacular — the writing on the rickshaw.
These seismic changes can be attributed to all of or a combination of various factors — the Abbottabad raid and the drying up of dollar pipelines; the US exit from Afghanistan; Gen Kayani’s perimetered professionalism; a politically defensive army fighting militants; the spectre of the completion of a political term and democratic transition; judicial activism; the lawyer’s movement; a privatised free media and the consequent higher levels of informed political consciousness.
Whatever it is attributed to, it is a productive chaos in that it has disrupted the old order that gave rise to the current crises.
Pakistan is in the liminal. Where the old order could be restored, new ones are also a possibility.
But this doorway to change may be open only temporarily. Democracy will not magically create a blissful garden outside. It is just the doorstopper that allows us to go out and do so ourselves.
The writer conducts research and analysis in the social and development sector.