Mar 13, 2009

Neither democracy nor revenge

Whatever became of the slogan "Democracy is the best revenge"? It first surfaced at a press conference in Naodero on Benazir Bhutto's soyem and soon became the catchphrase in the People's Party's election campaign. The nation was asked to swallow the twisted logic that if democracy was restored, Benazir's murder would stand avenged, the inescapable underlying implication being that no further action would be necessary against the killers. In just three days, the new party leadership's order of priority had been dramatically reshuffled so that the acquisition of power superseded the urgency of pursuit of their leader's assassins. Exploiting the volatile emotions of the masses, the People's Party indeed succeeded in obtaining power but it is clear that there is neither any trace of democracy in the country nor any sign of revenge for Benazir's murder.No one has as yet given a satisfactory explanation as to why the Benazir Bhutto murder investigation has been lobbed into the United Nation's court instead of being carried out locally. Since this matter falls within the ambit of neither international law nor the UN Charter, there seems to be no obvious justification for involving the UN in it. If Pakistani authorities feel competent enough to undertake investigations into the Mumbai incident, then why are they reluctant to carry out an investigation for a crime committed on Pakistani soil? Besides, Zardari is on record as having publicly admitted knowledge of the identity of the culprits. The fact that he has neither divulged this information to the authorities nor ordered action against the culprits 14 months after the murder is a violation of Section 44 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which is a punishable offence. People's Party big shots make a grand public display of contrived rage at the desecration of Benazir's portraits in Rawalpindi, but no one among their ranks seems particularly bothered that the murder investigation has been put on ice and the killers roam free. It is increasingly appearing as if there is a move afoot to sweep this murder case under the carpet, as in the case of Mir Murtaza Bhutto, to avoid inconvenient outcomes that might rock the boat for those in power. Those who have inherited the Bhutto political legacy, by stroke of pure chance, have turned it into a political cash machine. They make withdrawals from it when power, political survival and personal interests are at stake, since they have nothing to go to the people with, other than this emotional appeal.That democracy remains a distant, in fact receding, pipedream is no surprise. A modicum of honesty, commitment to principles and transparency are a prerequisite not just for democracy but also good governance. But when the president brazenly declares that his commitments with the nation and his allies are neither ayats of the Quran nor Hadith for them to be binding on him, the message that goes out is that since the nation was duped into electing him, he now feels unfettered by all norms of acceptable political and ethical conduct and that the people have no further part to play in this so-called democratic setup. Along with a self-induced credibility crisis, this government also suffers from a serious capability crisis, as unqualified and incapable people find themselves in positions of high authority and have to make decisions about the country's future. It has displayed scant respect for the mandate of the people, having surrendered Swat to the militants to avoid further humiliation and having sent the elected government of Punjab packing and imposed governor's rule in the province. Parliamentary sovereignty too stands sullied, as the resolution passed unanimously by the joint session of both houses regarding army operations in the northern regions remains unimplemented. Presidential ordinances are passed with impunity during parliamentary sessions, which later have to be embarrassingly rescinded. Though the People's Party was part of the popular movement against Musharraf's PCO, it now propagates the same disgraced law.Reconciliation, or "mufahimat," embodies all that is wrong with Pakistani politics today and is very rapidly destroying the country like a cancer. Instead of rooting out maladies such as corruption, dishonesty, deception, lotaism and destruction of vital state institutions, it seeks to institutionalize these evils and make them the norm. All manner of crimes, such as loot, plunder, graft and embezzlement and even murder are forgiven in the name of mufahimat and the same culprits are once again unleashed on the nation. Power hungry politicians who have no reason for being in politics other than an unquenchable hunger for self-aggrandizement enter into shady drawing room deals to share power, making a mockery of the popular mandate, also in the name of mufahimat. Where are principles and ideology in all this? Where is the distinction between right and wrong? Where are national interests? Do the solutions to the heap of crises the nation is facing lie in shady drawing-room deals for sharing power? Recently, fearing that the newfound bellicosity of the Sharif brothers might upset the applecart, the wily brokers of mufahimat have swung into action to salvage the cushy status quo and retain the perks of power. Not a word is heard about principles and what is right or about pivotal issues like the restoration of the judiciary, implementation of the Charter of Democracy or the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment and Article 58(2)(b). All that matters in mufahimat is the preservation of the existing power structure. But even in this there is hypocrisy: On the one hand they talk of resolving differences, on the other they have unleashed their hatchet man in Punjab to drive a wedge in the PML-N by buying out its members to forge a majority in the Punjab Assembly. What happened to honour among horse thieves? Mufahimat has come to represent the hideous face of democracy the nation has been gifted as revenge for Benazir Bhutto's murder. Her killers and enemies of democracy are safe and secure, but the nation is bearing the brunt of this revenge.If Benazir's killers have been allowed to get away with their heinous crime, and if the Sri Lankan cricket team with VVIP security arrangements is not safe, it is no wonder that the ordinary citizen finds himself more insecure than ever before. People are not safe even in their homes, let alone outside. They feel like hunted prey with nowhere to hide. Add to this the ravages of the fundamentalist militant insurgency up north, against which the only strategy the administration has is beating an ignominious retreat and abandoning the people to their fate, and the severe economic crisis that is driving educated young men to suicides and leaving no other option for poor mothers but to sell their children, and one can begin to see that while the brokers of mufahimat wrangle over their share of the power pie, life has become unliveable for the ordinary citizen.Some rulers, particularly in Muslim states, make the mistake of isolating themselves from their own people and alienating them to do their foreign masters' bidding, counting on their foreign overlords to sustain them in power. The present Pakistani government too is counting on finding succour and solace in President Barak Obama's much awaited new Pak-Afghan policy, hoping that, given the renewed American focus on this region, they can ensure continued American support by identifying themselves with American interests and objectives. But history shows that sometimes rapidly deteriorating domestic conditions get so out of hand that they overtake the resolve of the superpowers, leaving them little choice but to step aside and allow events to unfold. This is partly why Pervez Musharraf found himself alone and abandoned when the PCO hit the fan. In less than a year, the stench has once again become insufferable. It is this telltale stench that heralds the beginning of the end for the dispensation of the day.

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