Saturday, August 14, 2010

Is it the point of no return? by Shamim-ur-Rahman

Amid prophesies of Balkanization and restructuring of Pakistan in the on-going Great Game, a perception was growing after 63 years of independence that the country was breaking from its seam due moral and political bankruptcy, lack of good governance and adherence to the oath of allegiance to the country, and its constitution. The various military interventions and connivance of the judiciary in putting its seal of approval to extra-constitutional acts of the dictator has no doubt ruined Pakistan, but the political leadership was equally responsible for the plunder of the country and mortgaging its sovereignty.

The recent killings of nearly 100 human beings in Karachi following assassination of Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s MPA in the ongoing curse of target killings, was shocking and condemnable. It was a shame that those involved in this genocide are least bothered. They are only concerned with extending their fiefdom and flying their party flags high on corpses while making call for peace and shedding crocodile’s tears, which is so shameful. The failure of government and the law enforcement agencies in controlling the situation is all the more worrisome. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and our fore fathers had certainly not envisioned nor struggled for this kind of Pakistan.

Democratic dispensation is no doubt based on rivalries among competing interests but political leaders have provided the space to dictators because of their lack of experience and enabled the Establishment and its surrogates to exploit it to discredit them. Some of them are playing Trojan horse to the Establishment and to off-shore Masters. That is exactly what we are witnessing today.

In the context of the ongoing war on terror, the suicide bombings and indiscriminate attacks on various elements of the society, there is obvious damage to the national psyche and questions continue to arise about the viability of the state. The nature of pre-meditated killings of political rivals every now and then under the garb of action against land mafia and terrorists, and failure, rather lack of will of all the stake holders and the law enforcement agencies, has raised many questions about the ability of the ruling coalition.

It is because of that we are being branded as `terrorist state', and `a failing state'. The growth of Talibanization has generated debate about the nature of dispensation suited for Pakistan. We need to engage in self-introspection and sincerely examine our conduct and causes of debacles and look into the future. Many believe that there has been an “unnecessary debate, amongst the weak minded, on questioning the very genesis of Pakistan; the way it was conceived, propounded, struggled for and finally, achieved”. It is the general belief that present problems arose because we deviated from the original philosophy and nature of the state of Pakistan as it was conceived i.e. "Pakistan to be a democratic state following the parliamentary system, based on Islam and the Holly Prophet's best injunctions, amidst moderate, enlightened progressive conditions, with wisdom and tolerance, not following the theocratic cleric, and mullahs”.

Pakistan’s current political scenario is not different. Even today we see that only politicians are maligned and discredited for corrupt practices, be that in the context of fake degrees or financial corruption, or war on terror. But even the most outspoken and critics of the government do not have the courage to use same adjectives against military leadership or members of judiciary who claim to be omnipotent despite deviating from their oath owing to which we see military calling the shots while politicians serve as garnish. Such group of politicians is jockeying for Bangladesh formula for derailing elected government and some elements were openly encouraging military intervention by using the clichés of “bloody change”.

We are living in an era when there is no sanctity of the oath on which father of the nation Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had laid so much emphasis. It was shocking for many to see that while the people of Pakistan were devastated by floods and were enraged by the British Prime Minister Cameroon’s malicious remarks against Pakistan in India, the President chose to go ahead with his visit to Britain. On top of it was the surprising public reaction of the ISI on Cameroon’s uncalled for allegations. The ISI is supposed to work under the Prime Minister. But its chief, who was recently given one year’s extension, chose to cancel visit of the security experts to Britain in protest against the British Prime Minister’s remarks. He chose to make it public with a design to generate public debate and exert pressure on the government which had decided to deal with it diplomatically. Did the ISI take the decision without the consent and knowledge of the government? Was it another attempt to subvert the elected government as was done when long march of was engineered by the Bonapartist to achieve their objectives. Can the democratic institutions survive in this situation?

Politicians are often blamed for instability between 1947 and Ayub Khan’s military takeover in 1958. What is often is forgotten, however, is that political instability was caused by Liaquat's death. Politicians entered their “period of irresponsibility after Ghulam Mohammad dissolved the first Constituent Assembly and Munir stripped it of its sovereignty”.

The current democratic dispensation that owes much to the supreme sacrifice of Benazir Bhutto is also facing functional problems as we see that PML (N) trying hard to bring down the government led by Mr. Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party and to hold mid‑term elections. The scenario of domestic politics is very similar to that of the 1990's when there was constant‑bickering, accusations and counter accusations, and conspiracy, with very little focus on genuine national problems, especially the bread and butter issues. It seems that democratic leadership has not learnt lessons.

Because of this behaviour of the politicians General Pervez Musharraf was able to topple the elected government in 1999, taking the nation back to square one by scuttling democratic dispensation. After 9/11 Pakistan was turned into a client state of the US, just as it had happened in 1980, for Washington’s military operations in Afghanistan. Pakistan became the front line state in support of the U.S. for the 'War on Terror. Musharraf thrived on his might and lies.

Like any dictator Musharraf also fell prey to his desire to wear both the hats of President and as Chief of Army Staff. In a reckless move he dismissed the Chief Justice and the entire superior judiciary of Pakistan, appointing judges of his own choice. It generated public upsurge against his misrule which was spearheaded by lawyers and some political parties, civil society and media that brought about his exit. The elections in 2008 that were held after his exit and assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan Peoples Party emerged as the largest party on sympathy votes. Asif Ali Zardari was elected President by the newly elected parliament.

It was hoped that new elected political leadership would focus on bread and butter issue and revisit its war on terror policy to prevent further destabilization of the country. But their inept behaviour has further plunged the country into a deep crisis. While internal and external security environment remain precarious, Pakistan has been experiencing major financial crisis, mainly due to high oil prices and mismanagement in the last two years of Musharraf's rule.

It is generally believed that the present problem has aggravated because of Pakistan’s role in the on-going war on terror and the rise of Taliban insurgency in the Tribal Areas and Swat Valley where the remnants are still active despite a big military offensive launched by the army against Taliban in these areas. As a consequence we see rise in suicide bombings in the settled areas also. Both civil and military leadership was trying to establish writ of the government in these areas while public opinion has also turned against the Taliban. But the people are not generally safe.

But much of the problems that we face today are due the distortions created by Ghulam Mohammad/Justice Munir axis. It was Justice Munir who made military rule permissible and paved the way for successive military interventions, be that of Ayub Khan, Yaha or General Ziaul Haq and Musharraf.

Munir Report criticized the religious leaders and blunted their support for the new constitution. According to McGrath “Munir's distortion of the past created an oddity in the history of decolonization. The people of Pakistan were told by Munir that they remained subject to the prerogative rights of the English Queen exercised through her representative, the Governor‑General. Munir justified the use of the Queen's prerogative rights to uphold the dissolution of the Assembly on the ground that the Assembly had failed to produce a new constitution, a constitution which he in fact knew existed”.

Munir in fact laid the foundations of authoritarian law in Pakistan His Law of Civil Necessity was stab in the back of democratic dispensation as he advocated that those in command of the coercive powers of the state had the ,'right, to suspend constitutional government when and for however long they thought necessary.

While Munir-Ghulam Mohammad axis eroded foundations of democratic and constitutional polity in Pakistan, those politico-religious elements, who were nowhere to be seen in the freedom struggle, rather they were among those who openly opposed it, gradually gained ground and started asserting themselves. It started with the anti-Ahmadi Movement and became more pronounced and powerful when they succeeded in modifying the Objectives Resolution by inserting the religious clauses in it, violating the Quaid's wise advice, "Religion has nothing to do with matters of the state."

Over the years these elements became stronger and reached the pinnacle in the days of General Ziaul Haque who had reportedly claimed that he had “set in motion a trend which would be irreversible." Talibanization of Pakistan is the result of his short sighted policies for which the nation is paying heavily today. Some retired Generals of the Pak Army who served with Zia think that during the days of military dictator the corner stone of the professional thinking of the army was gravely shaken by the philosophies of Jihadism and getting involved in counter-productive proxy wars. These lofty ideas still prevail, they believe. Once the army entered the political arena, commencing with Ayub Khan, its “senior leadership got infected by ills of sycophancy, unlimited power, authoritarianism, and acquisition of perks and privileges” While political leadership got corrupted over the years, sycophancy and establishing of personal fiefdoms particularly affected the selection of the top commanders. This phenomenon had started in early 1960s.

Religion was used as a crutch by various governments to find easy solutions to their political difficulties, instead of opting for a pragmatic approach to solve problems as they arose. There was an obvious lack of statecraft in handling the affairs of the state.

It is the general belief that all the problems and tragedies that we faced as a nation; be that the 1965 war, engagement in Afganistan war, or Kargil episode etc, were the outcome of such a mindset that was not based on sober and well thought out strategies. Contrary to the general perception the 1965 war retarded progress the country was making; whereas the intervention in Afghanistan, during the Zia era, overlooked the later fall-out of destabilized Afghanistan, whose four million inhabitants, Pakistan had been hosting for more than two decades, and which has not even agreed to accept the Durand line as the international boundary between the two countries. Its leadership is more closely allied to New Delhi than to Pakistan. Be that as it may we have failed in the realm of governance, be it civil or military. The ideas of progress and well being of the populace, combined with modernism, are not part of their Lexicon. Their philosophies are restricted to winning elections by fair or foul means and accumulating wealth for themselves.

But there is hope due to emergence of a vibrant media which has exposed many ills, though it also needs to refine its methodology, especially in electronic media. Unlike the past today young journalists are questioning authorities and looking into their eyes directly. The civil society which played crucial role in the movement for the restoration and independence of judiciary is also a major positive development. Together they can act as a catalyst to a more lasting and liberal democratic dispensation rooted in ideals of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. ENDS

This article appeared in Dawn's Independence Day supplement on Aug 14, 2010 - Mr. Shamim-ur-Rahman is a Senior Correspondent with Daily Dawn - Pakistan.

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