February 23, 2008

Meeting of minds?

Filed under: POST-ELECTIONS 2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 1:40 am
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FEB 23, 2008


Meeting of minds?

THE two major opposition parties have agreed to form a government at the centre and in the provinces but their differences on some key issues, including the political future of President Musharraf and the independence of judiciary, are likely to impede their efforts to enter into a coalition. PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari, who began consultations with PML(N) Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad on Thursday, also held a separate meeting with ANP President Asfandyar Wali for the formation of what he visualizes as a PPP-led government of national consensus. After their one-on-one meeting, which lasted for over two hours, Mr Zardari and Mian Nawaz told a joint press conference that they would work together to strengthen democracy and uphold the supremacy of Parliament. Perhaps the largest departure from the past can be seen in their commitment not to undermine each other.
There is potentially some scope of the meeting of minds between the two leaders but they still have to cover a lot of ground. Both agreed that the issue of the judiciary would be resolved by the new Parliament. But while Mian Nawaz keeps attaching priority to the reinstatement of the deposed judges, Mr Zardari remains non-committal on the issue. In a recent interview with India Today he was quoted as saying, “I think we need a larger solution to this problem…we need to lay down parameters of what the judiciary’s functions are going to be in the future set-up.” And he also stopped short of endorsing the PML(N)’s call for the impeachment of President Musharraf amid speculations that some western powers are pressurizing the PPP into working with Musharraf for fear that his absence from the scene could adversely affect Pakistan’s role in the ongoing War on Terror.
It might be encouraging for the President to find his political opponents, currently negotiating the future power set-up, having failed to attain the two-thirds majority required to impeach him. One thing is however clear. Monday’s election has considerably weakened his position because of the comprehensive defeat of the former ruling coalition which has been his major support-base over the past five years. President Musharraf might well understand that if he tries to cobble together a coalition of his choice the mainstream opposition parties, which have emerged major winners in the elections, will destabilize the system by launching a countrywide agitation against him. The biggest dilemma he is facing is that he would not be acceptable to the future democratic dispensation even if he adopts a conciliatory approach and agrees to act merely as a ceremonial figurehead. It is time for him to quit now that the nation has given its verdict. But for this the mainstream parties will have to stay united and keep exerting pressure on him.

Crackdown on lawyers


THE police action against lawyers of the Karachi Bar Council on Thursday, who were staging a peaceful rally, evokes growing concern. Reportedly nine of them were arrested while many other sustained injuries. Hundreds upon hundreds of lawyers had turned up on the streets all over the country, demanding the immediate release and reinstatement of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry as well as the restoration of the Constitution to its pre-November 3 status. Though the stern action was mainly in Karachi, police furiously baton-charged the black coats in other parts of the country as well. Employment of such repressive measures to silence the Lawyer’s Movement, backed by popular sentiment, is regrettable, especially at a time when a new government is about to assume charge.
Meanwhile, there is a dire need for a better-coordinated effort between members of the legal fraternity and the victorious political parties who would soon be at the helm of affairs. Not like rats leaving a sinking ship, the political parties must continue to support the lawyers and the deposed judges just as much as they did before the elections and any deviation from such a stance is sure to lead to further destabilization. Former SCBA President Tariq Mehmood, who is still under detention, said that the ball was now in the politicians’ court and that it was up to them to resolve the issue of the judges’ restoration. In line with this was the united stance of the protesting lawyers that they would not accept anything less than the reinstatement of the judges. Implicitly, this message is intended for the newly elected parties as well. Yet in spite of the odds stacked against the deposed and detained judges, the struggle should not run out steam and a settlement must be negotiated. There’s a way out. Chief Justice Chaudhry has said that in fact an executive order was all that was needed to reinstate the judges. He also said that all those who took oath under PCO shall stand removed as they had taken oath in violation of the November 3 Supreme Court order annulling the Emergency Proclamation.
Putting this consideration aside, our police department must not overlook the fact that it is indeed the state they owe their allegiance to, and not to the harsh and arbitrary rule of a particular government. That said, an immediate and unconditional release of all the detained lawyers and judges is required besides compensation for those who sustained injuries. Rather than viewing the lawyers as a group of rabble-rousers, which the current government certainly does, they should be saluted for their all-out struggle for a free judiciary.


The last chance

Shamshad Ahmad
Through February 18 elections, the people of Pakistan have spoken loud and clear. First and foremost, they have shown to the world that contrary to what General Musharraf has been telling his Western audiences in recent months, they are fully capable of practising real democracy with all its fundamental norms and values as are applicable to genuine democracies anywhere else in the world.
Our people have indeed opted for democracy and moderation. They have said no to religious extremism and violence. They have voted for the restoration of the 1973 Constitution and independence of judiciary, rule of law and fundamental freedoms including the media freedom. They want immediate reinstatement of the judges of the superior courts who were removed illegally on November 3 and those who refused to take oath under PCO.
In registering their verdict, the people have thwarted all the pre-poll conspiracies and manipulations seeking to distort the popular will. Despite the absence of a level-playing field and massive pre-poll rigging through a partisan caretaker set-up, subservient election commission and politically controlled local governments, the vigilance of the voters as well as close monitoring of the entire electoral process by local and foreign non-governmental organisations and civil society including the media prevented any major upset in the electoral results.
The people have given a clear verdict for an end to dictatorship. By voting against the disgraced Queue League for which Musharraf was openly canvassing till the very last day of electioneering, the people have in fact voted against Musharraf himself. They have thrown out his stalwart allies including 23 of his cabinet ministers not because they did not like them. They knew whose policies and agenda they represented. Bicycle became the symbol of rejection.
No wonder, this has been a vote of no-confidence against Musharraf. He must listen to the people. They want him to go. He should respect their voice and avail himself of this opportunity for an honourable exit. Those telling him that he is indispensable for Pakistan are no friends of his. They are sycophants or self-seekers and are merely securing their own future or interests. There is no eternity in life, not even politically.
Every one knew General Musharraf’s personal involvement with the Queue League which he himself cobbled together as “king’s party” in 2002 when he used state machinery and resources as well as arm-twisting through NAB apparatus for securing large scale defections from other major parties to huddle together a group of self-seekers and political wanderers familiarly knows as “Lotas.”
What a tragedy and an irony that this group of “political gnomes” started associating itself with Quaid-e-Azam. Had the Quaid been alive, he would have been embarrassed to see a gross misapplication of his name with a group of military sponsored feudal-based opportunistic politicians. The people were distressed to see the Quaid’s name, his visual clips and sound bites being part of highly negative election commercials. There could not have been a greater insult to the Founder of Pakistan being associated with the Queue League.
The people have been struggling for the rule of law and independence of judiciary since March last year when Musharraf precipitated the worst crisis of our history by trying to seek the Chief Justice’s unmannerly and unlawful removal from office. It was a crisis because of one man’s obsession for remaining in power at every cost and by all means, no matter what happens to the country or its people. He has shown no legal or moral restraint since then.
General Musharraf shocked the world through his November 3 extra-constitutional “emergency plus” in which he, as army chief, not only suspended the country’s constitution, promulgating a “provisional constitutional order” (PCO) but also illegally removed those judges of the superior courts who refused to take fresh oath under his PCO.
It was a ‘martial law’ in the name of “emergency plus” and an assault in one stroke on the constitution, the judiciary, the media and the fundamental rights of the people. The judges are being treated like prisoners. On December 15, the emergency was lifted but nothing was restored. Unfortunately, an individual’s personal whims became the law of the land.
Far from reversing the actions taken by him in his capacity as army chief on and after November 3, Musharraf has only entrenched them further by giving them a life beyond the period of emergency though a flurry of constitutional amendments and decrees. His self-specific amendments in the constitution were meant only to consolidate his own position by providing legal cover to his recent actions under emergency, which now cannot be challenged by any court.
Amazingly, all these decisions were made by General Musharraf under powers that he first used in his capacity as the army chief to impose an extra constitutional state of emergency, and then in anticipation of his vacating the office of army chief, he conveniently transferred to himself as civilian president.
This was a “person to person” exclusive transfer of power “designed” only to ensure that General Musharraf, even after becoming Mr. Musharraf, continues to own the constitution and the law. It was he alone who was to decide as to when the emergency or undeclared martial law should go. Nowhere in the world is the state power concentrated so densely in one person by name.
He was right in claiming in his book, In the Line of Fire, that the “buck really stops with him.” He considers himself indispensable for the future of this country. It was with this conviction that he “decided” to remain president for another term by all means, because in his view, the country will not survive without him. The people of Pakistan have a different opinion. They have now shown the door to him and to his allies.
This has indeed been a referendum for change. No one should mistake it nor should anyone obfuscate it. The people would now expect their verdict to be respected and implemented. It is an overwhelming mandate to the two mainstream parties to deliver on their commitment to put the country back on the path of democracy based on constitutional supremacy, institutional integrity, rule of law and good governance as envisioned by them in their Charter of Democracy.
The success of the post-election process would be predicated on their ability to forge a government of national unity to be able to move ahead with requisite legislative measures for the reinstatement of the pre-November 3 Judges as a sine qua non for the independence of judiciary in Pakistan.
This is a challenge for the two major political parties, the PPP and PML (N). Their leadership must transcend all factional considerations and join together in implementing the verdict of the people in letter and spirit. They need to evolve a national consensus on major issues and on a time-bound roadmap for salvaging the country from its current morass.
Unfortunately, the hidden hand already seems to be at work in cobbling up new unnatural and self-serving alliances. An effort is being made through invisible pressure tactics and calibrated arms-twisting to deprive the major political parties their freedom of action and much needed environment of fair play and equity for formation of governments at the centre and in provinces. Public resources will be used again to influence, affect or alter the formation of governments.
According to PILDAT’s Citizens’ Group on Electoral Process, there are already signs of “a clear intent and plan by the Government to support its favourite parties by direct and indirect means.” It is therefore incumbent on the major political parties to beware of these machinations. The leaders of PPP, PML (N) and ANP must exercise their right to form the governments without any pressures or interference from within or without the country. The sooner they do this the better it will for the nation.
On his part, Musharraf should also realise that by heeding to the will of the people, he would only be facilitating the commencement of a new genuinely civilianised democratic era in the history of Pakistan. He must feel the people’s mood. Despite all that he has already done to the country’s constitution, judiciary and the rule of law, he could perhaps still save himself from a place of ignominy in history. And his one step could change the course of our history.
Any attempt to prefab a government that does not reflect the will of the people or that blocks a government of those who have the requisite majority would amount to stealing of elections and defeating the will of the people. This would not be acceptable to the people who have this time expressed their will loud and clear.
It is time for the people of Pakistan to have faith in themselves as the final arbiters of their destiny. Pakistan owes its existence to a courageous and visionary lawyer and constitutionalist wedded to the rule of law. Pakistan’s survival lies in keeping the Quaid’s legacy alive. We cannot afford any more unseen times or unanticipated debacles. This is the last chance.

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