CIVIL SOCIETY PAKISTAN

March 18, 2008

Taking back Pakistan -FROM MUSHARAF

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DAILY TIMES

MARCH 18, 2008 

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

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analysis: —Rasul Bakhsh Rais

 Having good faith in politics is not enough; it requires permanent vigilance. Law and the constitution must restrain the power of an elected government because power in countries with weak institutions can be misused

From whom must we take our country back? And who is ‘we’?

We can answer the second question without much difficulty: ‘we’ are the majority of common men and women, living on the margins of power and influence. Most Pakistanis have hardly figured into the calculations of our ruling classes.

We, the majority, have been subjects, not citizens, of Pakistan. A citizen has inalienable fundamental rights, whereas a subject has nominal rights that can be taken away or granted selectively as long as subject populations don’t bother the rulers.

The promise of Pakistan’s creation is yet to be realised in terms of the people’s right to govern themselves through their representatives according to the law and the Constitution. There is no better evidence to support this contention than the five martial laws imposed over the course of our history — two by a single general, currently in power as an ‘elected’ president.

There is an elitist view held by members of the ruling classes — military, bureaucracy, feudal elements and their apologists — that considers our people and society undeserving of rights. In fact when they argue that we cannot have democracy in a poor and illiterate society, it basically means they can get away with undemocratic rule and practices, and that our society is too weak to pin them down with rule of law.

Since the ruling groups are used to converting power into money and endless material benefits, they don’t accept any constitutional or legal regime above themselves. As we have seen not once but five times in our history, law and constitution have no sanctity or supremacy over the power interests of ruling groups. They can be changed at will without any regard for the provisions of the constitution.

There is extensive empirical evidence from our own history and from other countries that have endured similar pain and humiliation that a society without law and constitutionalism functions only for the benefit of the powerful; rule of law and supremacy of the constitution would offer equal protection, rights and opportunity to all, without regard to their social position and power in the society.

Having had our constitution undermined repeatedly, our common folk have lived in virtually sub-human conditions, and generally at the mercy of powerful figures, clans and social groups in their vicinity. Pakistanis have endured this system for more than half a century, a system that has turned many of us into cynics, believing that nothing will really change in our country. We often counter this view in everyday conversation suggesting that we should not be idealistic about social revolutions or the masses turning tables on the ruling cliques.

After decades of degradation and subjection to humiliating and unrepresentative dictatorial rule, the masses of Pakistan have finally awakened to the need for constitutional rule and a representative government. But this awakening is much deeper in the urban middle and professional classes, with civil society, lawyers, intelligentsia and even students struggling to come out of the shadows of political parties.

The new awakening is also reflected in the political attitudes of the parties. They have buried the past and have signed declarations like the Charter of Democracy and entered into coalitions. There have been such formations in the past as well, but the difference this time around is that the coalition essentially seeks to take the country back.

What do we mean by taking the country back?

First the dictatorial rule of one man must end, no matter what the excuses. Our history suggests that one-man rule has been disastrous. A careful look at the country will show decay in institutions, destruction of the judiciary, corruption and failure of governance at all levels. No single person, in a military uniform or civilian garb, can claim the wisdom and vision to single-handedly rule a complex and large federation like Pakistan.

All modern societies must have representative institutions under a constitution. The change we are seeing now is that our people don’t want to live under the conditions we have been forced to for the past eight years.

The second aspect of taking the country back is challenging the dictatorship by defying it openly and resisting it with peaceful and non-violent means. No democracy or constitution rule has been delivered on a platter without a struggle.

Pakistanis must fight for its second liberation, which is from undemocratic forces and the power cliques. The ballot box offers only one instrument in this struggle. Although elections are the basic instrument in terms creating a representative government, they can be inadequate and ineffective if the constitutional and legal foundation of a country remains weak.

Therefore, besides political mobilisation and civil society activism, the struggle to take the country back would, in the final analysis, require us to have an independent judiciary and supremacy of the constitution. This is why Pakistani civil society continues to focus on the restoration of an independent judiciary.

This also means that the new political forces likely to form governments in the centre and the provinces must remain under the watchful eyes of civil society, media and an independent judiciary. Having good faith in politics is not enough; it requires permanent vigilance. Law and the constitution must restrain the power of an elected government because power in countries with weak institutions can be misused, as it has often been, for advancing private interests.

Finally, we are still in a struggle to take the country back. It is going to be a long and bitter fight.

Nobody is really impressed by the intrigues and machinations we are hearing about, which aim to defy the popular mandate. Pakistani society appears defiant and determined and willing to make any sacrifice to gain a second independence. That is no longer an idealistic dream, but a political reality that will soon start to unfold.

The author is a professor of Political Science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He can be reached at rasul@lums.edu.pk

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