May 5, 2012

Timely interlude By Raoof Hasan Notwithstanding the apparent non-partisan approach of the speech, there are a few things in General Kayani’s written address at the Martyrs’ Day Ceremony that stand out by way of their relevance to the fast deteriorating situation in the country. It not only outlines the reasons why we are plunging into an unfathomable pit, it also shows the way to salvage national pride and dignity. Strictly speaking, the occasion did not warrant this intervention, but the rapid pace at which the country seems to be plunging into chaos and anarchy must be pressing hard on his mind as, indeed, it is on that of every conscientious citizen. Reiterating his faith in democracy, General Kayani said: “We believe in the stability and continuity of the democratic system in Pakistan. Pakistan’s progress, prosperity and uplift are linked with respect for the democratic traditions”. He elaborated: “The constitution of Pakistan has clearly outlined the role and responsibilities of all state institutions. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us that we conduct ourselves in accordance with the parameters as defined so that it would enhance respect and dignity both of our country and ourselves”. It is towards the end of his speech that he cautioned: “We should never forget that the singular purpose of the democratic system is to work for the welfare, prosperity and self-respect of the people as also to strive for a society that affords equal justice to all. This is the only way to further strengthen national security”. A telling indictment, indeed, interspersed with meaningful advice! Viewed in the backdrop of a government that has utterly failed in delivering to the people and which has literally abdicated governance at the altar of salvaging the ill-gotten billions of its leaders and their associates, the message is both a timely reminder and a warning: it is a reminder about the existence of a constitution and the need for all state institutions to work within their due limits as prescribed and it is a warning that democracy would not work if it does not provide avenues for the welfare, prosperity and self-respect of the people and ensure equal justice for all. Where does the government stand on the scale as outlined by the COAS? And why is that an army chief has to remind a democratic government about its responsibilities and failures? It would be interesting to note that, in the past, military commanders have taken over the reins of government for much less than what the incumbent administration has offered repeatedly on a platter. Be it’s intransigence in restoring an independent judiciary, or its dismantling of all state institutions, or its inherent spate of corruption, or its vile and wicked confrontation of the judiciary that has brought the country to the brink of paralysis, or a crude exposition of its self-inflicted persecution complex, there is a vast repertoire of grievances that would have brought down any government in the past. The fact that this government is still there and we have an army chief who is reminding it of its responsibilities rather than ordering the appropriate brigade to march in is a tribute to the sagacity and wisdom that marks the military mind today. This is so in spite of the numerous occasions when the so-called democratic government has tried to put the military and intelligence agencies’ command in the dock, accusing them of running a ‘state within a state’ as also to scuttle their authority and viability by promising organisational and personnel changes in exchange for longevity of its corrupt rule. After four years in the saddle, the government has virtually exhausted all avenues for initiating a reform of mind and mechanism. It is so deeply stuck in its errant ways that there is no hope for salvation. Practically, it is at war with every institution that is advocating the espousal of priorities that the army chief rightly outlined in his speech. On the other hand, the government appears determined to precipitate conditions leading to embracing political martyrdom so that it would score some precious points to ‘buy’ votes at the next elections as and when they are held. Mr Gilani’s conviction in the contempt of court proceedings was an opportunity when the government could have initiated the long overdue process of putting things right. This would have not only helped it erase the record of a not-too-impressive past, but may also have created propitious conditions for it to move on and complete its tenure. But, when the prime objective is to safeguard the illicit and fraudulently earned monies by its leaders, no such thing can go beyond the realm of a desirable possibility. So deeply sunk is the government in its own misdeeds, that there is no prospect of retrieval or reform. The likelihood is that it would continue going deeper into the quagmire with an over-riding concern that it may take the country along, too. It was hoped that better sense would prevail in the face of judicial injunctions and an effort would unfurl to reshape the national course in conformity with the parameters of the rule of law. In the wake of an outright announcement of war with the judiciary and blatant refusal to accept its verdicts now and in the future, what are the options that can still be used to extricate the country out of the mess that it is mired in? This is the context in which the army chief’s timely intervention should be viewed. His words do not reflect a desire to intervene or take over. On the contrary, they are a reminder to the incumbent government of its responsibilities to keep the democratic system afloat which would come about by ensuring the welfare, prosperity and self-respect of the people of Pakistan as also by creating conditions for affording them equal justice. It can’t be that while the ‘prime minister’ would refuse to submit before the dictate of the apex court, it would be expected of the ordinary mortals to continue doing so. In the event they also refuse to accept the judicial edicts, and when the state apparatus has been rendered dysfunctional because of rampant corruption and nepotism, the slide into anarchy would be the only prospect remaining. The environment is being further vitiated by raising divisive and controversial issues as a lead-up to the next elections. This vicious agenda includes the creation of new provinces drawn along linguistic and sectarian lines and using the state institutions to scuttle possible anti-government agitation. The NAB chief’s statement that President Zardari had asked him not to open cases against Nawaz Sharif when he took over the charge of the accountability bureau (and, understandably, he did not!) is extremely disturbing in this context. Now that there is a threat by the same Nawaz Sharif of starting a long march against the incumbent government, the interior minister has boasted publicly to file corruption references against the PML-N leadership. Why should corruption be hidden in the first place on whosoever’s behest? Why should the NAB chief toe a line that is not in conformity with the established principles of justice and fair play? From the ‘president’ to the ‘prime minister’ to the cabinet ‘ministers’ and a vast coterie of servile attendants, it is a bunch of crooks and convicts that rules the country today. What is even more gruesome is that this system, in its present shape and formulation, would continue to throw up people of dubious backgrounds and intentions to crowd the legislatures for an unending fun time. The army chief appears acutely aware of what ails the country. With a government failing in fulfilling all its primary responsibilities and with the prospects of agitation growing, are we headed for another intervention on the lines of what led to the restoration of an independent judiciary? After all, there is Article 190 in the Constitution binding all executive and judicial authorities throughout Pakistan to act in aid of the Supreme Court. Are we ever going to learn?

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