Feb 28, 2009

A virtual martial law

Mir Jamilur Rahman
During the military dictatorship of Gen Musharraf, some public leaders and intellectuals had formed the opinion that it will take Pakistan 300 more years to become a democratic country. They had reached this disappointing conclusion in view of Pakistan's history. As soon as Pakistan was put on a democratic journey, a military or civilian dictator would jump in and undo and reverse the little bit of democratic progress Pakistan had made. It is the result of frequent interventions by the anti-democratic forces that Pakistan has less democracy now than it had at independence.The disqualification of the Sharif brothers has put back the democratic clock by another 100 years. No doubt, our Constitution has been badly mauled by military dictators Gen Zia-ul-Haq and Gen Musharraf, who--with the military force behind them-- arbitrarily amended the Constitution to fortify their rules and indemnify their illegal positions. In the process they dealt a near-death blow to the judiciary. However, their civilian successors have seldom tried to undo the mischief that had been played by these two military dictators. Only once was the notorious amendment 58 (2) (b), which empowered the president to dismiss an elected government, repealed. This was done by heavy-mandated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and fully supported by Benazir Bhutto. Before being kicked out President Musharraf had restored the infamous amendment. It now hangs like the sword of Damocles over the head of Prime Minister Gilani.The military dictators had transferred all the important state powers from the prime minister to the president. This action has relegated the prime minister to a high-grade official of the Republic, always subservient to the president. There have been numerous news reports that all is not well between the president and the prime minister. That Prime Minister Gilani is not his own man, because the powers of chief executive are denied to him. Some reports suggest that on a few occasions the prime minister has defied the president in the matter of postings and transfers. However, there is hardly any evidence that the holders of these two important offices do not see eye to eye with each other. Prime Minister Gilani is cognisant of the factors which have put limits on his authority. Therefore, the question of his showing defiance does not arise at all. In fact, both are on good terms and working as a coordinated team. One wields the stick, and the other offers carrot, and thus the victim hardly feels any pain. Moreover, defiance to the president would be a folly. If Prime Minister Gilani were to show any sign of defiance, he would be sent home cruelly by through the application of 58 (2) (b). It has been done before and, if need be, could be done again. Prime Minister Junejo was sent home by Gen Zia although he himself had nominated him as prime minister. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had elevated Leghari, secretary-general of the PPP, to President of Pakistan. President Leghari paid her back by dismissing her.Nawaz Sharif laments that he was made a fool by President Zardari. Mr Zardari, of course, is a very smooth political operator. He wins over his political opponents by raising the slogan of national reconciliation and government by consensus. In practice there is neither reconciliation nor consensus. He assures that he would take everyone on board. He is not a prisoner of any ideology. Absence of ideology gives him freedom to move freely from one stance to another. He would sign political agreements and forget about them or interpret them differently without feeling embarrassed. He considers politics a business and has over the years become a sharp politician.Punjab is now under virtual martial law with Governor Taseer as its administrator. Punjab, which is bigger in area and population than England, has been deprived of representative government. Now an unelected servant of the state will decide the fate of Punjab. He is contemplating turning the province over to the PPP, a minority party in Punjab, and thus sow the seeds of discontent and disappointment for the people of Punjab.It does not appear that the agitation will subside. Eventually the Taseer government will have to start arresting political leaders. The lawyers' long march is also getting nearer. Their leaders might also be arrested. People can say goodbye to media freedom. As a first step the government could follow the precedent set by Gen Musharraf: There could be a complete ban on TV coverage of the current agitation and the impending long march.

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