Mar 21, 2011

SharifsÕ about turn

Is the PML-N serious about inviting the military and judiciary in national politics?

By Salman Abid

What are the Sharifs up to? This is the question that comes to oneÕs mind while looking at the statements they have given in the recent past. But first let us peep into Pakistan political history which is marked by military regimes.

The political process in Pakistan never gained a sound footing, especially during the military regimes such as that of Gen Ziaul Haq the agenda of de-politicisation very badly affected the political process.

The process suffered a huge setback during the long military regimes, starting form Gen Ayub Khan and ending (hopefully) with Gen Pervez Musharraf. Direct and indirect intervention of military in different eras in politics resulted in weakening of democratic and political institutions. As a matter of fact, militaryÕs role under democratic governments has remained dominated.

During Gen Pervez MusharrafÕs regime major political forces Ñ PPP and PMLN Ñ became victims of military leadership and later also admitted of their own mistakes in national politics. That was why both the parties signed the Charter of Democracy and resolved not to repeat the same mistakes. They showed strong commitment for strengthening political institutions in the country and avoid any military and any other non-democratic forcesÕ intervention.

Once driven out of power, Nawaz Sharif and his party strongly criticised military role in politics, to the extent that his being vocal against the military regime of Gen Pervez Musharraf was seen as a personal reaction. But today, their stated position seems to have changed as, interestingly, the PMLN leadership has suggested engaging the military and judiciary to cope with the current political and economic crisis in the country.

In Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz SharifÕs words, ÒPakistan is in a critical phase and is facing internal and external threatsÓ and that Òcollective efforts are needed to resolve the problems faced by the countryÓ.

One major question that arises here is that if military and judicial leadership becomes a party in national politics then their credibility and neutrality would be at stake. And more importantly, what message are we giving to the international community?

The issue here is the strengthening of institutions under the rule of law. Can we justify military leadership and judiciary sitting with political forces? As a matter of fact, the Constitution does not allow such forces to directly intervene in political decision-making process. Why are we so reluctant to take decisions though parliament and others political institutions?

Parliament is the best place for political decision-making and all parliamentary parties are major stakeholders. By justifying military and judiciaryÕs participation in political decisions we admit our political failure.

One agrees with Shahbaz Sharif in that the country is facing a serious political and economic crisis, requiring a political consensus. But, if we agree with ShahbazÕs view, why did we fail in the past in forging military and civilian collaboration?

Ironically, our political forces talk about democracy and elimination of military role during the military regime, but once under democratic rule some political forces try to engage the military. Actually, the idea put forward by the PMLN is still not very clear. If it only prescribes consultation then we already have the defense committee of the parliament where matters about national security issue can be discussed.

Secondly, the President, Prime Minster and chief ministers meet regularly with military leadership as per requirement. So, when forums are available why are we insisting on inviting these forces?

If we are talking about some idea on the lines of the National Security Council, we should not forget that the idea had failed during Gen MusharrafÕs regime. The positive aspect is that a majority of the political leadership has criticised the idea of PMLN and declared that this step would be dangerous for the country as the idea is unconstitutional. We cannot link this idea with 1973 ConstitutionÕs Article 62 and 68. In the past, the experience of military and civil leadership working together provoked conflicts instead of resolving them.

Is it a message to the establishment forces for jointly working once again in a clear shift in PMLNÕs own policy? This is interesting that the PMLN leadership has strongly criticised MQM leadershipÕs views on military to play a pro-active role to resolve the crisis. If the MQM is wrong, how the PMLN can be right on this issue? This can also be seen as an attempt in the direction of holding midterm elections. It seems the PMLN has been left in isolation and major political forces have reservations to engage other forces.

PMLN fears the ÔestablishmentÕ is forging an alliance of political forces against the PMLN and is also conscious about the efforts of Maulana Fazalur Rehman for the joint alliance of opposition parties.

The partyÕs leadership and party should seriously evaluate their stance because they have changed their slogan of democracy and civilian rule to military and judiciaryÕs role in politics. If the PMLN wants to build social harmony and resolve countryÕs acute political and economic problems it must try to engage more with political forces. There is no other option in a democratic framework.

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