Popular mandate keeps hope alive
PEOPLE in Pakistan are witness to the wheeling and dealing, negotiating and bargaining that have kept politicians busy of late. This is a rare sight for us. However, it is a routine affair in other democracies. We have more of bargaining in store as coalitions are in the offing.
The making and breaking of coalitions is also normal in most countries. But in Pakistan, mischief-mongering by a receding praetorian regime cannot be ruled out. Indeed, many suspect the manipulators to have a hand in denying a clean majority to the PPP. Manoeuvring coalitions is easier for those interested in splitting them and then claiming that Pakistan is only fit for a Musharraf/Myanmar type of democracy.
Apart from these disruptors hovering in the wings, the newly reborn democracy faces many internal threats. Pakistani politicians have suffered long periods of hibernation during military regimes, with their alertness rusted and vision blurred. They often confuse politics with other disciplines like, say, morality.
The warp and woof of morality is a principled stand in the light of a given law, whereas in politics it is a perceived objective in the light of what the voters want. Morality generates lawgivers and the followers of that law; it follows a straight path and a rigid stand, whereas in politics an objective is pursued by a thousand twists and turns, and directions are found by indirections. Rigid stands derail politics.
It is perfectly valid to want the Supreme Court judges restored. But all the ramifications of the designs of those who oppose this will have to be considered. Hopefully, parliament will find a feasible solution. This parliament is mainly the fruit of the efforts of the most astute politician of Pakistan, Ms Benazir Bhutto.
Her objective while abroad was to pave the way for her return. She made the right noises which President Musharraf wanted to hear. She also spoke on issues dear to the Americans to facilitate her homecoming. She achieved her objective and was allowed to come back on Oct 18, 2007.
Once back home, she proceeded to work on her second objective, which was to build bridges with all segments of civil society. She condoled with Nawab Khair Bux Marri, with the family of Nawab Akbar Bugti and with Begum Naseem Wali Khan. She visited Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and Mr Aitzaz Ahsan and talked to their wives when not allowed to meet them. She visited the homes of many victims of terrorist attacks. She insisted that elections should be held as per schedule. Mr Nawaz Sharif visited her with the declared intention to persuade her to boycott the elections: he came back saying that he will also take part.
By this time most of her homework was done. She arranged her first big public meeting at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi, on Dec 27, where she was assassinated. She knew the people she was dealing with, so she made her will and informed all those who mattered that if she were killed, people in the king’s party would be responsible.
The post-Benazir transition was handled by Mr Asif Ali Zardari and others to the satisfaction of most. The PPP team is taking forward her mission of building linkages and forging a platform of national consensus leading to a coalition government.
The coalition, as usual, has strange bedfellows. But they are united by the popular mandate, a force with remarkable adhesiveness. In spite of what the prophets of doom may wish, the new coalition government can meet all challenges bequeathed by the outgoing regime. And these challenges are legion. They are in all fields: political, economic, internal security, judicial and foreign policy. Mauled institutions have to be streamlined.
The army is already moving back to its constitutional orbit. Washington may render advice but, if need be, the advice can be ignored. The president may have extraordinary powers but he is in no position to use them.
The general elections have been the harbinger of a new dawn for Pakistan, much as Ms Benazir Bhutto had visualised.
Her electoral politics has empowered the people. Had she been around, with her iron will and her soft juicy politics, which was everything from war to an act of love, she would have cemented the national coalition further and brought new hope to the country and its people.
Cricket & politics
SHORTLY after the emergency was imposed in Nov 2007, I wrote an article that used cricket as a metaphor to ask why Pakistani citizens accept the kind of blatant manipulation in the realm of politics that they would instantly reject in the world of cricket. After the
Feb 2008 elections, I find that cricket still provides a good analogy to describe the present situation.
In one sentence I would characterise it as follows: the bowlers have done their job; now it is up to the batsmen to deliver. The voters have performed beyond expectations and left it to the politicians to wrap it up.
Will they? How many times have we been here before? How many times have the batsmen managed to defy all odds and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? How many times have we needed a sensible display of maturity and have been subjected to the most bizarre displays of incompetence? So why would it be different this time?
I recall a Pakistani team six of whose members had been captain at one time or another. There were some who had allegedly thrown matches in the past, some who had sold out. I wonder if there were some who did not wish the credit of victory to be attributed to a rival. The winning skipper might have been rewarded by being appointed captain for the next season. Such was the Machiavellian world of Pakistani cricket.
Coming back to politics, one would have to say that none of the captains-in-waiting have really earned their places in the team — most of them are kinsmen, adopted or real, of previous chairmen of the board. And they have already started stuffing their teams with their own kith and kin. So what is the team that would finally come on to the field and what exactly is to be expected of it when it does?
I agree we don’t have the luxury to assemble a dream team; we have to field the players at our disposal. The voters have done the best given the limited choices. We have the same individuals who have opened for us before. Dare we expect them to perform so far above their averages? Is there a way the spectators can make that happen?
In ordinary circumstances, I wouldn’t bet the farm on the team. Expect that this time the skippers ought to know full well that the self-appointed coach is waiting in the pavilion with a gun. If the captains screw up this time, they could well find themselves hanging upside down by their jock straps.
Do they understand that? Or are there still some who think they can pull a fast one and hit a six on the last ball? If we wait long enough we will find out no doubt. One really wouldn’t mind the captains getting what they deserve except that this is a team that can’t afford too many more defeats. Another loss here will certainly knock it out of the tournament for good.
There are two alternatives. We can join our cricketers who, when they couldn’t win anything, proceeded to Raiwind to pray for divine blessings. But knowing the outcome of that effort, we really don’t have a choice left. We can’t be spectators any more sitting on the bleachers enjoying our cakes and tea. We need to make our presence felt and add force to the struggle that has enabled our bowlers to give us half a chance. We need to join the struggle to get the neutral umpires back.
There is not much time left: it is the tea interval on the fifth day and the rain is threatening to come down.
The writer is the 2007-2008 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington, DC.
Today’s inauguration of the new National Assembly is being heralded by many as a new dawn in Pakistan’s political history. A grand coalition of the country’s major political forces will assume government shortly and its stated agenda, as enunciated by Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif on March 9, has won national acclaim.
For now, the army appears to have opted for a strategic retreat from the political arena. Its former leader, President Pervez Musharraf, though characteristically unrepentant and unashamed, nevertheless stands humiliated and diminished. It is a rare moment of vindication for the country’s political class, its democrats and its highly mobilised civil society.
But history teaches us that this moment is as fleeting as it is special.
It would be naïve to assume that one general election that threw up a politically credible result despite a massively flawed process has transformed power relations in the country. Pakistan remains a praetorian state structured and geared to service, above all, the needs of a military that remains every bit as convinced as ever that Pakistan’s national interest is synonymous with its institutional priorities and the preservation of its position as the final arbiter of political power and patronage.
It is also important to remember the scale of the challenge faced by the government-in-waiting. Since Musharraf’s 1999 seizure of power, civilian space in Pakistan’s power structure has been systematically eroded. Musharraf’s vicious attacks on the country’s civilian institutions during the emergency actually mark only the latest blow in this process that began with the attempted criminalisation and de-legitimisation of the political class in 1999.
Consequently, we must not lose sight that this is a hopeful but precarious period of transition. Elected representatives will find themselves hemmed in at every turn, fearful of the military’s political resurgence and keen to keep it at bay through appeasement and accommodation. Civil society will remain under pressure. Reporting on army or ISI abuses will remain fraught and dangerous.A hyper-militarised dysfunctional state faced with a widespread security crisis cannot be reconfigured into a rights-respecting, law-abiding polity overnight. So the new government, so long as it acts in good faith, will need some time and space to sort out the mess it inherits.
The fragile coalition poised to assume governance faces unprecedented challenges. The intelligence apparatus has not just failed to successfully rig the 2008 election, it has manifestly failed to check the onslaught of terrorism that now spreads its tentacles from the tribal areas all the way into the very heart of Pakistan’s military and civilian establishment. The economy, kept afloat partially by artificially maintained low fuel prices, is on the brink of nosediving as Pakistan catches up with the global price of oil. And finally, a legal and constitutional mess entirely of Musharraf’s making, unless resolved, threatens to destabilise the new parliament in its infancy.
The question is whether Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif and their respective parties remain equal to the challenge. Will the surprisingly strong commitment to reform last? They have given themselves thirty days to deal with the issue of the ousted judiciary. This is a welcome self-imposed deadline.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s freedom from incarceration and resumption of the post of Chief Justice and the restoration to office of the deposed judiciary should be non-negotiable. Only the modalities should be subject to debate and, preferably, culminate in a solution arrived at through a process of consensus-building rather than confrontation between stakeholders. That is a message Pakistanis must continue to send to Musharraf as long as he continues to cling on to presidential office, to his patrons in Washington and to Pakistan’s newly elected political leaders. There can be no meaningful rights-respecting rule of law in the absence of an independent judiciary. Zardari and Sharif, both having suffered at the hands of kangaroo courts and judicial witch-hunts, ought not to forget this.
But the government-in-waiting is not responsible for the disastrous consequences of the emergency. It was neither Zardari nor Sharif who ousted and jailed the Chief Justice. That responsibility lies squarely with the army then led by Gen Musharraf. And if Gen Kayani really means business when he says the army will support the elected government, he must clearly spell out to Musharraf that he cannot rely on the military to support any attempt by him to derail a mechanism for the restoration of the judiciary and judicial reform worked out by the National Assembly in consultation with legal experts and an attorney general representing the federal government rather than Musharraf.
Gen Kayani could cement democracy and strengthen governance by effecting yet one more paradigm shift: the army’s elaborate intelligence network should move away from subverting the will of the people and concentrate on keeping them safe and secure. While the intelligence infrastructure has concentrated on keeping Musharraf in and civilians out, the threat of terror has grown exponentially. Why the US thinks that Musharraf has been a success on this front is, of course, one of the great mysteries of our time.
Pakistan’s counter-terror policy needs to examine the threat this monster of our own making poses. Instead of appeasing the US through the despicable and failed cocktail of disappearances, torture, illegal detentions and beatings that passes for counter-terror policy, it is time that Pakistan starts confronting home-grown terrorism through legal means and political stratagem. The Bush administration opposes the return of Chaudhry in part because he confronted Musharraf and the ISI over these abuses. Compromise with the US on fundamental rights has to end but equally important is the army’s need to examine and resolve its own professional inadequacies and ideological contradictions.
The highs and lows of the last year have politicised hitherto indifferent sections of society and created a new impetus for democratisation. This is a welcome development. But a democratic polity is built neither by dictator’s decree nor Supreme Court rulings. Of course, the ouster of the dictator and the restoration of the Supreme Court judges that defied him are both symbolically important, but neither should be confused with democracy and the creation of a rights-respecting society.
Both take time, and there are no quick fixes. Cementing liberal democracy and democratic institution-building is a painfully slow and frustrating process. As the fraught life and tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto continues to remind us, it can also be a bloody process that demands bravery and sacrifice.
Polls & women empowerment
DISCOURSE on the Feb 18 election tends to be coloured more by self-adulation and premature optimism than by realism. Hyperbole abounds. The election is described as one of the fairest in the country’s history.
Such comments constitute an unwitting indictment because elections are meant to be free, fair and transparent. Unfortunately rigged elections have become the norm in Pakistan and the 1970 election stands out as an exception. The recent election can at best be described as relatively fair because the whistle was blown by the mainstream parties and civil society about the intention of the government to manipulate the vote through pre-poll rigging.
Despite the imperfections of the Feb 18 election, the outcome was consequential. Analysts have waxed eloquent about the rout of the so-called king’s party and the religious right as well as the ascendancy of moderates. However, only a few have commented on the role of women in the political process.
Sixty-four women contested general seats for the National Assembly this February and initial unofficial tallies indicated that a total of 15 were elected from Punjab and Sindh. In the provincial assemblies, 116 ran for general seats while just under 400 registered for the 60 National Assembly and 128 provincial assemblies reserved seats. This is a far cry from the first constituent assembly of 1947 which had only two women representatives and the 1955 constituent assembly which had none.
An unprecedented development was that women were allowed to vote in a few districts of South Waziristan, notably Wana. Though this break from the stultifying patriarchal tribal tradition was refreshing, it is only a modest beginning and the road ahead is strewn with pitfalls.
For instance in the lower Dir districts, where 145,377 women voters were registered, not even one woman turned up in any of the polling stations. This demonstrates the formidable roadblocks, ostensibly for religious reasons, in the way of empowerment of women who constitute 50 per cent of the country’s population.
Although there is no priesthood in Islam, self-appointed clerics arrogate to themselves the exclusive right to interpret religious doctrine. As a consequence, tradition and tribal norms are touted as articles of faith. The immediate casualty of these distortions is the Pakistani female whose political, economic and social rights are denied. Yet none other than Maulana Maududi supported Fatima Jinnah against Ayub Khan in the 1965 presidential election. More than three decades later, Benazir Bhutto had the support of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam.
The so-called religious right is not exclusively to blame for swerving from their declaratory principles towards the dictates of expediency. Some of the most progressive secular parties are no less culpable. For instance liberal parties, in their quest for votes in the NWFP, are known to have negotiated arrangements with tribal leaders under which women were denied their right to vote primarily due to tribal codes and a skewed interpretation of religion. Women political agents were placed in some of the polling booths for the sole purpose of preventing any female from voting.
Thus expediency and not sacrosanct principles has impelled both religious and liberal parties alike to make compromises for short-term political gains. In the context of Pakistan, the now virtually defunct MMA and obscurantist clerics would never concede the right of Muslim women to become the head of state or government despite their earlier support for Fatima Jinnah and Benazir Bhutto.
The Quran itself, however, is silent on how the leader of the community is to be chosen, the duration of the tenure and the method of succession. The absence of Quranic injunctions on these political details leaves ample space for the incorporation of modern concepts into the constitutions of Islamic countries. The only injunction is that the head of state should be a Muslim and there is nothing to stop a woman from becoming the chief executive.
Accordingly a significant number of Muslims have rejected the clerical viewpoint. Thus Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Khaleda Zia and Hasina Wajid of Bangladesh, Tansu Ciller of Turkey and Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia have been prime ministers and president and some of them even served as leaders of the opposition in their respective countries. These nations, three of whom have populations of more than 150 million, collectively represent nearly half of the Islamic world.
Despite this, in Pakistan, as in other Islamic countries, only a few women have risen to prominence, whether in politics or in other areas of national endeavour. Without exception they have belonged to the privileged elite. In Pakistani politics most of them have inherited their family constituencies. This is as true of Benazir Bhutto as it is of Nasim Wali Khan who became the leader of the opposition in the NWFP Assembly.
The stranglehold of the privileged few over the masses will remain as long as there is poverty and illiteracy. An island of prosperity and privilege cannot sustain itself in an ocean of poverty. Despite persistent claims in recent years of impressive growth, the so-called trickle-down benefits have still not reached the silent majority. There can be no meaningful change in the political and social landscape without broad-basing prosperity.
It is clear, therefore, that the problem has to be tackled at the grassroots level, a term that is used frequently in Pakistan in any and all plans that deal with the eradication and overhauling of outdated and useless systems that prevail in the country. These plans remain on the drawing board and are seldom implemented.
Distorted interpretation of Islam cannot be exclusively blamed for the relegation of females to pariah status. The actual cause is illiteracy, primitive tribal codes, economic deprivation and commodification of women, all of which have been exploited by vested interests. This has resulted in a regression of social values to the pre-Islamic Jahaliya era in some areas of the country.
Against this backdrop, allowing women to vote in the Feb 18 election in areas of South Waziristan was a remarkable development and could be the harbinger of a gradual social transformation towards modernity. The process needs to be encouraged through genuine reform for only then will the masses become conscious of their inalienable rights. For this to happen, the shackles of tradition in the guise of religion will have to be broken and replaced by true enlightenment.
The writer is editor-in-chief of Criterion Quarterly.
Let the original judiciary be restored
JUST imagine for a moment that an ordinary government servant, say a functionary of the revenue department, appears on a local TV channel and announces that the Constitution of Pakistan is no more valid and the country will henceforth be run by a new law introduced by him. This gentleman further states that all judges should consider themselves fired and house-arrested, unless they take oath under his newly invented law.
What is going to be the reaction to this rather strange announcement? Most people are likely to consider it comical and disregard it as an incident of no consequence. Some others may consider this person to be suffering from delusions of grandeur or some form of acute egocentricity. The newspapers would hardly bother to cover this story, except for some eveningers which might wish to use it as a filler for leftover spaces. The local Nazim may ask the SHO to discipline this clerk for a day or two, till he learns not to talk about issues that do not strictly fall in the realm of land revenue.
The interior ministry would not even feel the need to issue a clarification, as they would not like to extend any credence to this inconsequential irrelevance. Parliament would not be required to even take notice of this absurdity, while the judges would certainly not be seen making a beeline in large numbers, dying to take oath under the new law.
Now imagine another government servant, say the chief of the army staff, does exactly the same thing one day, except that he calls his figment a PCO. One would imagine exactly the same sequence of events to repeat themselves, with people deeming the proclamation senseless and the government not even bothering to issue a clarification. Civil society does not take to the streets and constitutional experts do not hold seminars to debate how the issue may be resolved.
Parliament would not be required to hold a special session to undo the PCO or to restore the judges, because the judges would have kept going to their offices as usual. The state institutions, the police, bureaucracy, ministries and executives of all kinds would have ensured that nothing hindered the judges from performing their routine activities.
But the army, a responsible, law-abiding and disciplined force, would not leave this matter to the local SHO and would instead take necessary disciplinary action against the gentleman in question. After all he violated the precious Army Act by indulging in politics and saying things against the Constitution. This is how it would happen in any half-civilised country, and this is how it should have happened in Pakistan.
Pakistan does need to explore unique methodologies to undo what was completely illegal and irrelevant to start with. The proclamations of Nov 3, 2007 were the brainchild of a government servant whose oath and job definition barred him from saying or doing any such thing. We do not have to wait for the arrival of the new parliament to make a grand decision to restore the judiciary. The judiciary was never unseated, for the army chief has simply no authority to do so.
Logically neither a court order nor a parliamentary decision is required to restore the judges. All that is needed is that state institutions enable and ensure that all judges can go back to their jobs as they stood on Nov 3. Where there is a blatant conflict between the personal desires of an individual and the dictates of the Constitution of Pakistan, it should not be a complex assignment for state institutions to decide which option to take.
Acting in accordance with the dictates of their conscience and the Constitution, they should immediately facilitate all judges in resuming their responsibilities from where they left off on Nov 3. Any state institution not doing so is itself guilty of violating the Constitution. Perhaps an issue the new parliament may look into is why state institutions, including members of their own clan, were in such a hurry to rubber-stamp such illegal arrangements. Why didn’t government functionaries (except for the 60 honourable judges) refuse to obey the blatantly illegal orders of the army chief?
Perhaps the army also needs to implement its own accountability process for those who violate the Army Act (besides the Constitution of Pakistan). By bringing the violators to justice, we may forever be able to get rid of our seven-year PCO itch. Alternatively, we should start tightening the seat belts and brace ourselves for more déjà vu in the not too distant future.
|© DAWN Media Group , 2008|