May 25, 2008


Filed under: NEW GOVERNMENT AFTER MARCH 24-2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 1:27 am
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MAY 25, 2008

Sunday, May 25, 2008
As it has so often in the history of the country, democracy in Pakistan stands once more at the crossroads. In the distance, some already hear that familiar, but dreaded, sound of the tread of marching army boots. Others insist that the military will not intervene in the country’s political process and that the message in this regard has already been conveyed to key quarters. Most of us can only hope that this indeed is the case, that there will be no further instability or disruption of the democratic process and the current crisis that lingers will dissipate peacefully. Certainly, the army chief has actively distanced himself and his institution from politics and this is the way things should be. The army has gained little as an institution from its waltz with politics and indeed has lost much in terms of its professional standing and prestige.

The confrontation between democratic and anti-democratic forces is now clear; the lines have been drawn out and the divide is now obvious. The PPP, PML-N and ANP have once more joined ranks despite lingering irritants and made it clear that they stand as one against the presidency. Mian Nawaz Sharif has emphasized the need for cooperation between political forces. Rumours of conspiracy and uncertainty meanwhile lurk everywhere. The PML-N sees it in the gunning down of its Sindh vice-president in Karachi Friday night; the PPP regards as very real the possibility of a presidential move to wrap up the National Assembly and supporters of democratic forces in bureaucratic corridors have leaked out documents to columnists that suggest an onslaught on the elected government is being readied. This would come in the form of an economic charge sheet, stating that the country had, within months, been reduced to fiscal ruin. The Chaudhrys of the PML-Q, apparently offered a whiff of democratic blood, have also realigned themselves with the presidency and defended Article 58-2 B, the clause that gives the president the power to dissolve parliament and as such stands at the centre of the current confrontation.

Many believe the coming few days and weeks will be critical ones. Both sides appear to have their pistols loaded and their holsters strapped on. For the PPP, this weapon takes the form of its 62-point constitutional package, which, after being approved by the party CEC and undergoing appropriate amendments if required, will be forwarded to the other allied parties. The package includes measures that would cut down presidential powers, and, according to Asif Ali Zardari, largely restore the constitution of 1973. The presidency meanwhile is said to be in the process of making contacts with the powerful quarters, both at home and overseas, who it hopes will back it when the time comes. So far, they are reported to have politely but firmly suggested the democratic process be allowed to take its course and that an intervention at this point should be avoided. The prime minister meanwhile, representing the diplomatic front of the government, continues meetings with the president, who appears to be unwilling to relinquish powers and has been consulting with his team of overworked legal and constitutional experts to see how he can cling on to them. The reality, that for the future weeks, or months or years that he remains in office, he is unlikely to enjoy the kind of all-sweeping power he wielded in the past seems not to have dawned on President Musharraf.

The entire situation, of course, is a consequence of the refusal to accept the verdict of the people. This verdict, delivered on February 18, has been unequivocal in its views regarding the president. While General (r) Pervez Musharraf would have acted in a befitting manner by heeding this opinion, it is also true the elected government has not always acted wisely. There is certainly a persisting sense of drift and disarray, particularly in the economic sphere, and the fear is this could be used against the elected leaders when the time comes. People question whether any governance is indeed taking place at all. It often seems that it is not, with no semblance of an ability to get matters in control being demonstrated by the cabinet.

Much like a 20-20 cricketing contest, the scene seems set for a final showdown within hours of the start of the contest. The events of the past three months have been explosive. None of the graceful, long innings of the Test match have been played; there has been no time for such a stint. The tensions that have built up demand an immediate result. Most in Pakistan know that much of what happens now will depend on the role adopted by forces outside the political arena. One must hope that, this time round, they realize that failing to side with democratic forces would be disastrous and would plunge the country into still further years of crisis from which recovery would be all the harder.


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