Feb 27, 2009

Side-effect, Another year lost

Who did not welcome the restoration of democracy in Pakistan one year ago? Who did not want the democratic institutions to flourish and jackboots out of public decision-making? Whoever has a sense of history and a desire for creating a just and civilised world would support the democratic process. Knowing it is endemic in the democratic system that power struggles are waged, governments fall, parliaments get dissolved, accusations are levelled. But some grace and maturity was expected of the politicos this time around. The expectation was not ill-founded. The leaders of the PPP and PML-N had shown both understanding and willingness to start afresh by first signing the Charter of Democracy and then agreeing on larger issues, followed by a public announcement in the shape of the Bhurban Declaration. The ANP, the MQM and the JUI-Fazal were kept in the fold. The PML-Q, the former king’s party termed as Qatil (killer) League by Mr Zardari, posed a weak opposition. The recent Senate nominations and the consensus over candidates reached among all parties in Punjab and Sindh made many of us think that virtually there is little opposition left in the country. It had its pros and cons but it was deemed an indicator of reconciliation between different political forces. No doubt cracks had started appearing between the two main signatories of the Charter of Democracy soon after the president went back on his word, twice publicly, and the Sharifs decided not to budge an inch on the issue of the restoration of the judiciary (as it was on Nov 2, 2007). But a meeting between the prime minister and the chief minister of Punjab gave a ray of hope that tensions might get diffused over the coming weeks. The meeting was held just a day before the court judgement endorsing the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif to run for a public office and suspending Shahbaz Sharif’s membership of the provincial assembly. What one finds more problematic is not the judgement but the subsequent imposition of governor’s rule in Punjab. This is done on the pretext of a constitutional compulsion arising out of a “unique” situation as a result of the court judgement. Perhaps the president got so worked up after listening to the press conference of a frustrated Nawaz Sharif that he immediately decided to take over the province. The governor of Punjab instantly flushed out the top provincial bureaucracy, the chief secretary and the IG Police, and appointed men of his choice, making it clear to the defiant lawyers and their supporters what they will be up against in the coming weeks. So we see Pakistan entering into a new crisis. A crisis that was avoidable if the powers that be were a wee bit interested in strengthening democracy and could see beyond their immediate interests. What we may see in the months to come is the right-wingers, including the Jamaat-e-Islami and Tehrik-e-Insaf, rallying around the PML-N, pushing the Sharifs further to the right and the supporters of the PPP pitched against them, without sensing the betrayal of their leadership. The real issues, including terrorism, the struggle for rights in Balochistan, food and energy shortages, the breakdown of law and order and lack of basic services, will all be moved to the back burner. The military must not intervene at any cost, for its imminent failure in governance soon after taking over resurrects the old-timers, thus preventing them from becoming irrelevant. The otherwise incompetent and corrupt are absolved of their wrongdoings due to the illegitimacy of military rule. We mustn’t forget that the National Reconciliation Ordinance was passed by a military dictator when sand shifted under his feet. The antics of our ruling elite strengthen my belief that the only option left for us is a complete overhaul of the economic and political system bringing an end to elite-capture. The only way is the emergence of a new political force rooted in common people, particularly workers, peasants, small traders, local industrialists and youth. If the people of Pakistan do not rise up to shed the old and embrace the new, our fate is sealed.

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