April 27, 2008

Business as usual! (WHAT IS THIS GOVERNMENT UPTO!)

Filed under: NEW GOVERNMENT AFTER MARCH 24-2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 5:02 am
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APRIL 26, 2008
Shamshad Ahmad
Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” The more things change, the more they remain the same. This French aphorism perhaps best describes the uncertainties surrounding the current political climate in the country. We have a government which the people brought to power to bring about an end to dictatorship. It was a vote of no confidence against Musharraf and the system that he represented. It was a referendum for change but till now there is no change visible on the horizon, and business as usual goes on.

Yes, we now do have elected governments in Islamabad and in the four provincial capitals, but they have yet to make their presence felt in our day-to-day life. The only time we felt their presence was when some of them wearing black ribbons chanted “Go Musharraf Go” slogans at the time of their oath taking ceremony. Beyond this gesture of “helplessness” on their part, there is no sign of any veritable change, systemic or directional.
The system continues to be haunted by the same ghosts and the same wizardries. The key faces as well as the fall guys of the outgoing regime remain untouched. Harry Potter fame Lord Voldemort is still out there. The “war of one against all” has not ceased yet. The wizard attorney general is as skilful as ever while the replacement of the interior secretary is yet to be designated by Washington. The only appointments made so far are those that originated from Washington.
These include the key appointment of Major General (retd) Mahmud Ali Durrani as Pakistan’s national security adviser. The media has especially chosen this appointment for serious questioning as a clear case of Washington’s encroachment in Islamabad’s decision-making processes. After the unmannerly visit of the US senior officials, John Negroponte and Richard Boucher to Pakistan last month and their meetings with almost every one who mattered in Islamabad’s politics yoyo, there is a strong perception of unremitting US interference in our internal matters.
In looking at the unfolding events in our country, we find ourselves no better than motionless wooden marionettes singing opera with flapping mouths and enacting the bizarre dark humour of the medieval ages. This is a puppetry drama in which actors made of flesh merged with actors made of wood are producing an endless comedy. But eventually, the actors made of flesh with their feudal and elitist background and the actors made of wood with no voice of their own end up with a continuing “tragedy of errors.”
The new Prime Minister, Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani has a challenging task ahead. His leadership qualities will be judged not on the basis of his past credentials but on the basis of his performance as the chief executive of the country. He will have to prove himself different from the shortcut of a prime minister, the only and the one Shaukat Aziz. It will be his own personal calibre as well as the policies that he will make and implement under his own signature that will make his imprint in history.

His first 100-day agenda is focused on fighting terrorism, poverty and unemployment. But these challenges will take decades if not longer to be eradicated. For the first 100 days, he should have been seeking to redress the more immediate problems that concern directly the common man’s daily life. These include unbearable food shortage and power outages, spiralling inflation, and rampant corruption. The plunderers, profiteers, and the looters, murderers and killers must not be allowed to take the law for a free ride.

Our people had voted for democracy and good governance. They also said no to religious extremism and violence. They voted for the restoration of the 1973 constitution and independence of judiciary, rule of law and fundamental freedoms including the media freedom. They wanted 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. This was their verdict on February 18.

The massive popular support as manifested in the February 18 election results and later the unprecedented unanimous endorsement of the election of Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani in the parliament as the country’s new prime minister should have given the new government enough strength and confidence in acquitting itself honourably with the people’s verdict and to fulfil its mandate in keeping with the Charter of Democracy and the Bhurban Declaration.
The new leadership must put the country back on the path of democracy based on constitutional supremacy, institutional integrity, rule of law and good governance. This is a mandatory challenge for the PPP and PML(N). To become reality, this commitment will have to rise above personal or factional interests and also transcend narrow motivated deals based on expediencies or external pressures. A time-bound “roadmap” is needed to salvage the country from its current political, judicial and constitutional maelstrom.
In his first speech in the National Assembly after his election, Prime Minister Gillani ordered the immediate release of all detained judges who were put under house arrest by General Musharraf after he imposed his extra-constitutional “emergency plus” on November 3. This was an impressive beginning. As he ordered the release of detained judges, the galleries reverberated with slogans of “Go Musharraf Go.” This echoed spontaneously the mood of the people.

The judges have since been released but still await their reinstatement as pledged in the Bhurban Declaration. The 30-day countdown is nearing completion. But the PPP is prevaricating on the issue and now seems to be linking conditionalities to the requisite “executive order” for reinstatement of the judges. Despite reassurances by the coalition partners of their commitment to implementing the Bhurban Declaration in its letter and spirit, there is an air of uncertainty and confusion over this issue.

One thing is clear. Where there is will, there is always a way. The grand coalition during its first few weeks has the requisite majority to undo all the wrongs done by Musharraf to the country’s constitution and judiciary. As the time goes by, this strength and standing will inevitably suffer an erosion and attrition. Unless the elected members of our “sovereign” parliament have transformed themselves into wooden marionettes, they have a mandate to fulfil.

First and foremost on the legislative roaster of the National Assembly should have been the adoption of the resolution on reinstatement of the judges of the superior courts deposed illegally by General Musharraf as army chief through his undeclared November 3 martial law. A bill should also have been introduced in the National Assembly seeking the “validation” of all those actions that General Musharraf took as army chief and then transferred to himself as a civilian president.

General Musharraf’s earlier “extra-constitutional” measures including the removal of an elected prime minister on October 12, 1999 were also brought before the 2002 National Assembly for “validation” and “indemnity” which he managed to receive by a two-third majority vote. A bill on the “validation” of his November 3 “coup” against himself, if brought now before the present National Assembly, is doomed to meet its logical fate. This could serve to grasp the nettle.

The coalition government on its part must not disappoint the people. It must come out of its declaratory mode and should rise above the “blame game.” The people are looking towards them very expectantly. Their patience is not limitless. Public discontent is brewing and may soon reach a point of no return. These are exceptional times warranting exceptional responses to our problems. Ad hoc measures or business as usual will not do.

The February 18 verdict was an anti-Musharraf vote. It must be respected by restoring immediately the pre-October 12, 1999 constitution and reinstating unconditionally the legal judges before it is too late. Improve the quality of governance and delivery of every day necessities and services. Fix the fundamentals of the state by regaining the lost sovereignty and reordering the national priorities. Beware of the hidden hand and its ingenuities against the grand coalition.

Follow your own policies formulated through institutional rather than personal approach with greater focus on domestic political, economic and social consolidation. Build external relationships on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual benefit. In doing so, we could best serve our interests by following Hafiz Shirazi’s advice for “kindness to friends and courtesy to enemies” with equal faith in Allama Iqbal’s message of “self-dignity, and self-confidence.”


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