DAWN - Opinion; June 18, 2008

18 Jun 2008

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The clearing fog

By Cyril Almeida


THE Asif-Musharraf axis has won; the warrior judge has lost; and the black coat will not go down in history as a symbol of revolution. The transition is back on, and the country is better off for it.

We now know how the judicial crisis will end: the PCO judges will stay; Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar’s powers and tenure will be cropped; and Dogar will be CJ again one day. It’s been Asif’s roadmap for a while now, but he hadn’t figured out how to get his partners to compromise. Turns out they had no real stomach for confrontation.

Nawaz is the media’s latest darling, delighting them with his fulminations against Musharraf. But the significance of his sound and fury was lost on many. By refusing to send his workers over the barricades and the coalition government into oblivion, Nawaz demonstrated a degree of political maturity many doubted he had. Sure, he will continue to try and prise Musharraf away from the presidency, but a bright red line has been drawn – political rhetoric aside, the fate of the president will not be decided by the street.

Legend has it that Governor Jilani, Zia’s henchman in Punjab, went to the Sharif household in search of an adoptive son of the army, a figure who would become the civilian facade of the military establishment. The governor wanted the younger, more capable Sharif brother, but ‘Abbaji’ offered Nawaz instead. The country suffered the foolishness of that decision for a quarter of a century as a lethal combination of dullness and ego reduced national politics to a zero sum game. Until last weekend. Nawaz is clearly obsessed with removing Musharraf but by stopping short of hijacking the long march as a vehicle to finish the job, he signalled a new pragmatism.

Structural ambivalence is the new game in Islamabad. The N-League will keep its foot on the president’s neck even as it learns to live with an Asif-Musharraf axis. It’s a messy arrangement, but Asif must be happy. His perma-grin could only have widened as the marchers dispersed peacefully. After the Bhurban gamble failed, Asif must have wondered if his government’s last rites would be read on Parade Avenue. Instead, things have moved back inside the relatively sober walls of parliament where the numbers are in his favour.

Pakistan being Pakistan, political theatre and brinkmanship will rear their heads ever so often, though hopefully nothing that can’t be smothered by Asif’s cheerfulness. He has a plan in hand to deal with the judges, now he must execute it quickly and let the cabinet get on with the business of governance. The problem with Asif’s attritional approach to resolving the judicial crisis is that it creates time and space for events to overwhelm his plan. Right now there are winners on many fronts; Musharraf keeps the presidency, Asif keeps the centre, Nawaz keeps Punjab and Aitzaz keeps alive the hope of a triumphant return to party politics. This particular configuration may not last long, so the constitutional package needs to be sliced up. Get the judicial amendments out of the way first and return later to correct institutional imbalances.

The big loser of the long march is Chief Justice Iftikhar. His dream of returning to the Supreme Court to vanquish his nemesis, Musharraf, is gone. The biggest threat in the lawyers’ arsenal – the long march – has been deployed and it didn’t even quell talk of paring the CJ’s powers or tenure. In fact both seem more likely than ever, as Aitzaz and Nawaz have all but yielded to Asif’s roadmap.

The problem for Chief Justice Iftikhar was that he needed to play politics while appearing not to be politicised. His strategy was to allow Aitzaz and later Nawaz to take up his cause, using the bar associations and the N-league party workers to swell the numbers protesting for his reinstatement. It was a strategy born of necessity and suffered from an inherent weakness: he was at the mercy of the political calculations of Aitzaz and Nawaz. And in the rough and tumble world of Pakistani politics, it’s best not to be at the mercy of others.

Assessing the legacy of Chief Justice Iftikhar is premature at this point. At the very least he will be remembered for his heroic defiance of an army chief. However, to enter the pantheon of greats he must do something more. The problem is that since last July, he has decided that the something more is to send an unpopular president home. Compounding that problem is the fact that he lined up the Supreme Court against parliament, much of the political firmament, the army, the establishment and a superpower. These were simply institutional strains the Supreme Court was never designed to withstand.

This hardnosed assessment often rubs Chief Justice Iftikhar’s supporters the wrong way. To them it equates power with legitimacy, for illegitimate power must be rejected at the earliest and Musharraf’s power is patently illegitimate. From this perspective, the Chief Justice’s earlier sin of validating Musharraf’s first coup can be forgiven because it was too early to challenge Musharraf’s illegitimately acquired power. But with Musharraf’s popularity sinking and the people behind the chief justice, 2007 was the year to aggressively challenge illegitimate power.

Chief Justice Iftikhar’s supporters are only two-thirds correct. Yes, illegitimate power must be rejected and it must be rejected at the earliest. But illegitimate political power must be opposed politically. If Nawaz harangues Musharraf into resigning or Zardari quietly slips a knife in the president’s back while embracing him, then let the nation rejoice.

There was another, more practical reason for the chief justice’s Supreme Court to step back from its catastrophic challenge to the president. The chief justice and his band of avenging judges had an array of small devices at their disposal to systematically reduce the president’s sphere of influence. As army chief, Musharraf had only one tool to cut a recalcitrant judiciary down to size: a second coup.

In the battle between the warrior judge and the warrior president, the country was always going to suffer collateral damage. It is good that the politicians have stepped back from inflicting further damage of their own.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Guest stars at the long march

By Raza Rumi


THE enthusiasts for the long march towards Islamabad are justifiably feeling let down by the grand posturing, thundering rhetoric and the subsequent retreat from agitation outside the dreary citadels of power in Islamabad’s dark heart.

A Bastille, which was not meant to be? Interpretations abound and explanations are flowing in from the motley groups who ventured to change the contours of state-society relations. The lawyers’ movement is profoundly significant. It constitutes the finest historical ‘moment’ in our troubled history. However, many observers have hinted at its limitations and the problematic phase that the movement has now entered.

Unlike China, Pakistan’s long marches have been nefarious for their results. Orchestrated by political and non-political actors to undermine the democratic process, we are well aware of this stratagem. This time it was different, complex and refreshingly path-breaking alas with similar results: pressurise the beleaguered PPP government still trying to find the proverbial power-ground beneath its truncated legs. In that sense, the march was a roaring success. From the sloganeering against the much maligned Asif Zardari, to de-legitimising three decades of PPP’s valiant struggle against dictatorship culminating in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Irony, that all is now a forgotten snippet of history. What is indeed more pressing, as we are told time and again, are the sacrifices made by the honourable judges. Indeed they have altered the parameters of the state and perhaps buried the subordination of the judiciary to the all powerful executive. Well, one may ask what about Asif Zardari and his eleven and a half years in jail without a single conviction? Therefore the vilification of Zardari by anti-Musharraf sections of the media and by the historical long march is symbolic. It is a testament to the deep-seated middle class trend of demonising politicians and party politics that are prerequisites for democracy and means to establish the ‘rule of law’.

The opportunism of individuals and groups jumping onto the lawyers’ bandwagon is also alarming. It is most convenient to have been all-powerful army chiefs, heads of the ISI and former honchos of the civilian bureaucratic monolith and once the party is over, re-christen yourself as firebrand democrats. The patriotic Hameed Guls, Aslam Begs and Faiz Ali Chishtis and the neo-constitutionalist Roedad Khans and right-wing ambassadors (who slept while Afghans were killed for strategic depth), must be questioned by the anti-Musharraf movement for it was their historical culpability that undermined civilian governance. Is it not important that circumspection be exercised while letting them be the spokespersons of the new vanguard? If Zardari has to be isolated then these dubious characters must also be questioned.

Perhaps the most worrisome aspect is the ‘activism’ of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s touted apology to the nation was just another political ruse. For most of Musharraf’s reign, JI supported army rule and participated in power-games such as the legitimisation of the seventeenth amendment. The PPP’s constitutional package enunciating amendments to restore the federal and democratic character of the polity is now being trounced by JI! This is cynical hypocrisy. History has still many questions for the JI: from the nefarious role in supporting army action against civilians in former East Pakistan to the jihad games of the 1980s and legitimation of another dictator, Ziaul Haq, whose shadows refuse to leave us. Another guest star of this movement, the fearless jirga-loving Imran Khan was also campaigning for the dubious referendum of 2002. It is still intriguing as to how jirgas fit in the ‘rule of law’ paradigm?

The Jamaat and Imran Khan are deciding what the election results were. Their temerity in doing so goes unnoticed — after terming the February election a farce they refer to the results ad nauseum. Paradoxically, they are rocking the system that has resumed almost after a decade?

Today, Aitzaz Ahsan stands out among the politicians for his oratory and sense of history. It pains to see him dabble into these alliances with groups not known for their principles. Ahsan is a dyed-in-the-wool secular democrat; and is aware of the cul-de-sac where the movement might end i.e. pushing the people’s verdict into the right-wing of Pakistani political spectrum well known for its closeness to the national security state.

Nawaz Sharif might have learnt his lessons in history a la Pakistan style. He has to be wary of the born-again democrats; and may wish to revisit the public statements of these ex-servicemen cohorts, Imran Khan and JI after he was overthrown despite the two-thirds majority. Rationalising civil-military relations therefore should be a foremost priority given that Sharif is eyeing Islamabad in the next election. This can only be achieved through strengthening the democratic process. Unfortunately there is no alternative.

The puritanism of the lawyers’ movement and pitching it against the civilian government is unwittingly making things easier for the invisible hand in Pakistan’s political marketplace. The establishment (that does not include Mr Zardari and his transient sojourn in the corridors of power) could not have it better. The crumbling of the PPP-PML coalition, the continuation of a distorted constitution and resumption of 1990s’ political polarisation is the best formula for business as usual. Hence for any ‘rule of law’ movement, the stakes are bigger than the individuals that the movement is targeting.

Thus the need for a shift in the strategic focus of the movement arises. What is wrong with a refined constitutional amendment if it is backed by parties and the lawyers’ movement? Once enacted, Musharraf’s exit will be certain. This would be an unravelling of the authoritarian insertions and triumph of the legal and democratic system. Justice is not restricted to benches with men of conscience; it also denotes the redistribution of power. Not just between the pillars of the state but also to the disempowered through political representation and electoral accountability.

The other, oft-repeated rhetoric is the route of confrontation. Many had hoped that the thousands in Islamabad would carry out a dharna. But that did not happen ostensibly for ‘lack of resources’. Or is it that the guest stars of the movement are not willing to take on the state? Bourgeois movements rarely lead to street battles. The right could very well be fishing in troubled waters with the tacit support of the faceless power-centres. The route of constitutional process and parliamentary sovereignty can still be considered over the unclear, dangerous path of confrontation.

The writer contributes to http://razarumi.com and edits Pak Tea House and Lahore Nama blogsites.

Who controls the prime minister?

By Zafar Iqbal


THE Constitution of Pakistan is supposed to be modelled on whatever we understand to be the British constitution which evolved over several hundred years beginning, one presumes, with the Magna Carta 1215/16.

The civil wars of the 17th century limited the power of the monarch. The war was between the long haired and the short haired: Cavaliers versus the Roundheads. It resulted in the beheading of Charles I by the Roundheads.

The monarchy was restored under Charles II, but matters again came to a crisis in 1688 when James II was ousted for trying to re-establish Catholicism. It resulted in the Bill of Rights. The dispute was whether the King was above the law or the law was above the King. However, the law could only be changed by the King in Parliament. It ultimately resulted in parliamentary supremacy but according to most writers on the English constitution not in parliamentary sovereignty. A.V. Dicey, in the middle of the 19th century propagated the idea of parliamentary sovereignty but other important constitutional authors have not agreed with it although they were all very proud of the British constitution.

On the other hand, our legal brains claim to be committed to the views of Dicey. As far as Pakistan is concerned, this has nothing to do with reality. Our parliament is the servant of the executive. There are no dissenting back-benchers.

The important writers on the British constitution were not necessarily lawyers. They were journalists or academics, or even a practicing politician. They were conscious of the role in the constitution played by civil servants. As far as running the ship of state was concerned, the civil servants knew what was what.

As a British writer on the constitution says “…British civil servants, although servants, were not meant to be, and almost invariably were not, remotely servile. The most senior officials were men (and latterly women) of high intellectual calibre, equipped with good education, assertive personalities, and, in a majority of cases, a well developed sense of their own worth.”

Harold Laski was professor of government at the London School of Economics. More important than the House of Lords or the monarchy both, Amery and Laski, correctly divined, was the civil service. It is said that Clement Attlee told him to shut up before the 1945 election.

Under the British constitution the legislature, in theory, controls the courts. With the passage of time the leader of the winning political party became more and more powerful. He became a ‘Chief Executive’ and the concept of primus inter pares (first among equals) no longer exists. The nature of executive supremacy depends upon the personality of the prime minister and the composition of his kitchen cabinet.

One wonders why our political scientists and lawyers imagine that the British constitution can be transplanted into Pakistan. In Britain, prime ministerial power is contained by public opinion and the fact that backbenchers of the party in power can revolt, as happened with Mrs. Thatcher and possibly, Tony Blair. Pakistan’s Constitution of 1973 was designed to promote prime ministerial dictatorship. All succeeding prime ministers have tried to uphold this doctrine as far as they could manage. As far as one could see, given ZAB’s civil service reforms, he was in the process of creating a ‘one party’ state. The problem that he faced was that the army was not entirely under his control, although he thought he had managed it by appointing Ziaul Haq as chief of army staff.

As far as the 1977 elections were concerned, he had almost complete success in the Punjab because of a well integrated servile civil administration. It didn’t work quite so well in the other provinces because the administration was not so well integrated. The agitation started in Karachi and finally moved up to Lahore. That was the end and the army made plans to move in. Free and fair elections are not possible without a nonpolitical and relatively secure bureaucracy. Two issues, which may ensure some sort of democratic rule, stand out: good governance and the rule of law. Unfortunately, few people in power are interested in good governance or the rule of law. In India they claim to be interested in both. As a result their similarity to the British civil servant may be true given the elite Indian Administrative Service (I.A.S.). This development was emphasized and supported by Sardar Patel not by Jawahar Lal Nehru.

ZAB destroyed the concept of an elite service. Gen Musharraf destroyed district administration which the Indians have not done. He also demoted the Public Service Commission and made everything political on the insistence of Shaukat Aziz. Without an elite service it is not possible to attract individuals of a high calibre and without a certain sense of security and political independence in the civil infrastructure, free and fair elections are unlikely to happen. Gen Musharraf was probably hoping that the nazims would support him. Some of them may have tried but on the whole they were probably looking into the future and went along with the ‘hate Musharraf’ surge in some sections of public opinion.

The Economist of May 24 has quoted a senior British officer referring to a ninth century Muslim scholar, Ibn

”There can be no government without an army

No army without money

No money without prosperity

And no prosperity without justice and good administration.”

Except for the early years of Pakistan, no government has been interested, including the present one, in justice or good government. Since 1972, things have tended to decline. In Pakistan ‘prime ministerial’ dictatorship has been far from benevolent. Article 58 (2) b is opposed by political parties who expect to be in power — the PPP joined PML-N in its repeal by Nawaz Sharif in 1997 and PML-N will join the PPP in repealing it now. Perhaps as a substitute Gen Jehangir Karamat suggested the formation of a National Security Council and was made to resign by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for making this statement.

We, nevertheless, need some constitutional device to contain prime ministerial dictatorship if we are serious about a better Pakistan. What do we do? Much serious thought is needed except that our clever people tend to fall back on cliches about what is supposed to be the Westminster model; completely forgetting that Pakistan is not Britain. Our electorate is still not properly educated, besides we are still a semitribal society with a substantial element of provincial prejudice. All governments have been against good administration or justice. Besides, there has been little prosperity except when the US decides to favour Pakistan. This has always, roughly, coincided with a military takeover.

A different and dreadful world

By Irfan Malik


HYPOCRISY lurks round every street corner and plusher places too are just as infested with vile, smarmy creatures who revel in duplicity. So all things considered, why shouldn’t I hear holy verses every time I call the land-grabber, or evil-doer as I prefer to think of that shameless man of god.

You know how it is when you call someone on their cellphone these days and, instead of the ringing sound preferred by normal people, what you get is some tuneless halfwit belting out trashy pop songs. In my case vis-à-vis the land-grabber what I heard, without fail, was the Holy Quran being recited.

Perfectly understandable, my friend Puppoo would say. I’ve had cause to outline his views on such matters elsewhere in this paper, which I must say is incredibly accommodating. Puppoo’s theory, in a nutshell, is this: it is usually the most sinful who are drawn to overt religiosity. “Un kay gunah ziada hotay hain (their sins are greater),” he is fond of saying night and day but more so late at night.

Puppoo may be right, he may be wrong, who am I to say. What I do know is that I am singularly unsuited to dealing with potentially violent criminals who appropriate property that rightfully belongs to others.

Truth be told, I’m a non-starter in most matters featuring the ‘real’ world. Give me a plant to re-pot or a dog to play with or several walls to paint at my leisure and you find me at my best. Tell me to go to the bank and pay for the rights-issue shares and I’ll fake illness. I like being in my own head, such as it is, and bankers sporting nylon ties and glittering teeth are much too jarring.

I like to potter around and ponder the burning issues of the day. Do flies get disoriented, resentful even, when they get into your car in Clifton and suddenly find themselves in Saddar? Is there a single woman on the face of the planet who finds moustache-twirling attractive, and if not why do men keep doing it? We all know that hoarders are behind the wheat crisis but why is aesthetic sense in short supply? And so the long day wears on.

Shove a land-grabber in my face and, like Bertie Wooster beholding an 18th-century silver cow creamer, I am transported to a different and dreadful world.

The death threats are bad enough but what rankles more is the hypocrisy slapping you in the face. Just like I prefer my dictators ruthless, I expect scoundrels of a criminal bent to behave like the sons of bachelors that they are. I can see them knocking back whisky at a furious pace and frolicking in the altogether with ladies of the night, but praying and extorting at the same time?

The cellphone business has already been discussed and, I hope, noted. Allow me to add this little gem: discussions once had to be put on hold for a week because one of the land-grabbing duo I was negotiating with went to the holy land for Umrah. He took his aged mother along too. What a good little boy.

Another time I was told that, no, can’t meet today because we don’t do business on Fridays. Of course, silly of me to ask. Extortion and prayer may go hand in hand 24/6, but on a Friday? Heaven forbid.

My well-wishers may be few and far between but they did rally round with suggestions, some handier than others. One school of thought advocated brute force, another recourse to the law. Some insisted the press be mobilised to strike the fear of god in these lawless worshippers.

The minority view went something like this: yes, they can be picked up and bunged behind bars, no problem there. But there is such a thing as bail for crimes of a nature not deemed heinous by law. (Here I interjected that even their appearance is heinous, if not a crime against nature.) Anyway, the fact is they could post bail and then where would you stand? Constantly looking over your shoulder in a city where an assassin can be hired for a few thousand rupees.

So, I am ashamed to report, I paid the blighters off. And off they went, possibly to the travel agent’s to enquire about flights to Jeddah.

Meanwhile the passion-flower vine is blooming magnificently and the baby champas or frangipanis I grew from seed are coming along just fine, thank you very much for asking. Now if I could only figure out how to keep the ants from eating the jalapeno seedlings, yet again. My prayers are with them. The jalapenos, not the ants, though ants are nice in their own way too. Most unassuming, for one thing.Must be off now. Got some moustache-twirling to do.

imalik@dawn.com