CIVIL SOCIETY PAKISTAN

May 28, 2008

A historic opportunity

Filed under: NEW GOVERNMENT AFTER MARCH 24-2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 2:27 am
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THE NATION

MAY 28, 2008

By ARIF NIZAMI

Mr Zardari’s sudden onslaught against General Musharraf has a sense of macabre! Till last week he had been pleading with Mr Nawaz Sharif that sudden exit of Musharraf was not in the interest of the stability of the system. However, it was generally perceived that the PML-N considered Musharraf as the mother of all evils, and so long as he was there the body politic would remain unstable.


Mian Sahib had been consistently imploring the PPP Co-Chairman to join hands with him to oust the President. He was of the clear view that, ‘if we do not sack Musharraf he will sack us within days not months.’ Now Mr Zardari has come around the view that Musharraf will have no qualms about sacking the coalition by invoking article 58(2b) in the next six months.


Not having a two-thirds majority in the parliament and in order not to legitimise the November 3 putsch, Mian sahib is in favour of restoring Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and his colleagues through a resolution. But he wants to kill two birds with one stone. He knows fully well that Justice Chaudhry would declare Musharraf’s re-election from the defunct parliament as ultra vires of the Constitution, thus forcing him to resign or seek re-election from the present Parliament, whose majority is hostile to him.


Perhaps for the same reason Mr Zardari is not in favour of a resolution and rather prefers to go for the circuitous path of a constitutional amendment despite the fact that the coalition partners do not have the required two-thirds majority to pass the constitutional package. The proposed package, however, goes far beyond restoration of the judges and attempts to bring structural changes in the political system, ostensibly to strengthen democratic institutions and promote provincial autonomy.


If our past history is any guide mere scrapping of Article 58(2b) is hardly a guarantee against presidents sacking elected governments, nor has it prevented Bonaprtist generals from launching coup d’etats against elected prime ministers. Zia ousted Bhutto and then hanged him in 1979. Much later in 1999, General Musharraf sacked Nawaz Sharif. Interestingly Farooq Leghari did not succeed in sacking the Nawaz government in 1998, after precipitating the judicial crisis in cahoots with Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, because the then Army Chief, General Jehangir Karamat, refused to play ball. Subsequently, Leghari had no option but to resign.


Virtually all elected governments in Pakistan’s chequered political history failed to complete their terms as presidents and army chiefs in cahoots, irrespective of the constitutional safeguards to prevent such eventualities, prematurely sacked them. The only ‘elected’ government to complete its term is the last PML-Q government. But this was achieved by a uniformed president heading it in the form of General Musharraf who had no qualms about imposing another martial law euphemistically coined as the November 3, 2007 emergency.


Hence, it is obvious that for a sustainable democratic system mere constitutional amendments or even ouster or resignation, resulting in a premature exit of General Musharraf will not suffice. Mian Nawaz Sharif had a historic opportunity to strengthen democracy when he was Prime Minister but he squandered it at the altar of grabbing more power for his office at the expense of emasculating all other democratic institutions all in the name of his so-called heavy mandate. Thankfully, after the travails of exile and persecution at the hands of Musharraf, he is a born again democrat.


Mr Zardari has started his innings with a severe handicap. Assassination of Ms Bhutto during the early part of the election campaign was a big blow not only for Pakistan but also on a personal as well as political level for Mr Zardari. In this backdrop, offering the olive branch to his erstwhile nemesis with whom his late wife had signed the Charter of Democracy was indeed a bold and statesman step on his part. Mian Sahib also showed his magnanimity and political acumen by grasping the extended hand without reservations.


However PML-N’s early exit from the federal cabinet only after a few weeks dealt a big blow to those who have strived for a stable and democratic political system in the country and has strengthened forces who have always maintained that squabbling politicians are incapable of running the affairs of the state. Restoration of the higher judiciary remains the bone of contention. While Mr Zardari is keen to retain the incumbent Chief Justice of Pakistan he is not so keen on the restoration of the presumptive Chief Justice, who was sacked along with 60 others by Musharraf in a manner that cannot be justified even by lowest common denominator of democratic norms.


Of course, judiciary should be restored honourably and as President of the SCBA Aitzaz Ahsan would wish. But if wishes were horses! Restoration is now as much a political issue as it is legal and constitutional. And let’s face it, Justice Iftikhar is now perceived to be as much a politician as he is judge. The protracted lawyers’ struggle has made him so and his speech at Faisalabad bears testimony to this fact. It is heartening that Mr Zardari agrees to a five-year tenure for the chief justice, thus giving Justice Iftikhar two years to go if he is restored, albeit with clipped wings.


Mr Zardari’s constitutional package coupled with his willingness to discuss and amend it should give the PML-N supremo enough political justification to reopen his stalled dialogue with the PPP as well as with other coalition partners without losing face. Notwithstanding some hawks like Ch Nisar and Javed Hashmi, he must realise that the days of bhari mandate are over and Pakistan like India will have to be run by coalitions for some time to come. Hence the politics of accommodation, adjustments and consensus should be initiated sooner rather than later. Governance and national security issues, poor state of the economy and law and order makes it even more incumbent upon the politicians to get their act together ASAP.


Luckily, they have a historic opportunity! Bonapartists are out of fashion these days. General Kayani has kept the armed forces strictly out of the political arena. But this will not last forever if the polity keeps on squabbling and lets the country go down the tube in the process. The exit of General Musharraf is absolutely necessary to achieve this and Mr Zardari is a belated convert to the idea of letting Musharraf go sooner rather than later. Hence it’s time to unite in the name of saving the system.

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