Success or Suicide?

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With an odd and rather anomalous birth of seventeenth amendment consequent upon the deal, a strange marriage of convenience between Musharraf and the religious coalition, which had won unprecedented support in 2002 general elections on the strength of an anti-American, anti-Musharraf platform, a yearlong stalemate came to an end. The parliament was paralyzed since late 2002 because of opposition legislators mostly led by the MMA shouting down speakers, banging on their desks and staging mass walkouts. MMA claims victory in forcing Musharraf to leave the army post eventually by December 31, 2004, while the general who had won a five-year presidential mandate in a highly controversial 2002 referendum in which he was the sole candidate comes away with a one-year pass as military-cum-political boss and clearer sailing in his bid to serve out the final 3 1/2 years of his Presidency. Above all, the President has been conferred again by the National Assembly sweeping powers to dissolve the National Assembly albeit to refer the matter to the Supreme Court within 15 days of the dissolution.

What will you say about a man who cuts the same branch on which he is sitting? Such is the example of our Parliamentarians who so earnestly passed the 17th amendment. When the clause of the 17th amendment giving powers to the President to dismiss the elected government, and the national and provincial assemblies was being passed, a warning went thereby to both the government and the MMA not to “commit suicide”. Yet not a single voice from the treasury benches was heard. The government benches remained silent on the transfer of sweeping powers to the President; none of them had the moral courage to stand on floor of the House and oppose it although many of them did opine that they were going to commit a suicide. Sanity did not prevail and the poor Parliament was taken aback why all the politicians were committing suicide by giving this power once again to the President to send all of them home as and when he is fed up of them. Is it not strange that the bill containing the powers of the President to dismiss the government and Assemblies was being so willingly passed also by those members of the Parliament who had earlier voted so ardently to abrogate the 58(2)b clause during the Nawaz government in 1997? Many of them had been jumping with jubilation when the Article 58(2)b was then removed and now the same people were over the moon to make the same provision a part of the Constitution. How credulous are our voters to elect such incredible MNA!

Sending a reference to the Supreme Court after dismissing the government and assemblies seems to be quite meaningless since the judges have already been politicized because of contradictory verdicts on the dissolution of previous assemblies or rather muffled as once the judiciary decided to restore the Junjeo government but was hushed up by the then COAS. Then why the very clause everybody knows was regularly abused by every president has again been made an ominous part of the Constitution? In the past it had actually led to palace intrigues and played havoc with five political governments that were not allowed to complete their tenures despite the fact that they were given powers to rule the country by the people. Have our politicians declined to groom and show maturity and lost the capability to learn from past mistakes? Are they not taking us backward as far as the evolution of democracy is concerned? It is reported that a Pakthoon nationalist leader while slating sweeping powers for the President remarked: We all are really stupid people on earth because we are giving a serving general powers to send all the elected people home without any remorse it is a shameful day for all the politicians who are not ready to stand on their own. From 1985 till to date, the country has achieved nothing democratically. This time the blame is on the MMA. The MMA that was Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal is now being widely known as Mullah-Military Alliance that played its vital role for betraying democracy, the political forces and people of Pakistan by supporting the passage of LFO on the floor of the House.

It is an open secret that another major opposition party had been vying to strike a deal with the General but since it wanted a bigger slice of the pie by seeking safe return for its leader and the release of her spouse, the deal could not get through. Now it continues to sit on the opposition benches not to be blamed for compromising on principles. From the very outset, the MMA had been deadly against the LFO as part of the Constitution, a President-in-uniform, National Security Council, the result of the referendum, or Article 58 (2-B) with Presidential power to sack both the government and the assemblies. But by supporting 17th amendment to the Constitution the MMA has accepted the same LFO as part of the Constitution. All his acts and more than 300 ordinances from October 12th 1999 to date stand indemnified. A seal of approval on his Afghan, Kashmir and domestic political and economic policies and decisions have been stamped. He has also been accepted as an elected President through referendum and further confirmed by a vote of confidence. The ill-famed Article 58 (2-B) has become a part of the Constitution and NSC will be enacted through an Act of Parliament. In exchange for undisclosed concessions, with reduction of judges age to 65 years and a mere pledge for the separation of President and Chief of Army Staff posts by December 2004, has the MMA not bartered its religious and political principles showing a total departure from the their stated position on the LFO and dishonoring the commitment made with their own voters during the election campaign? All the claims of the MMA leadership and their harsh words against the Generals policies towards the United States and Afghanistan have turned out to be hollow slogans exposing the contradictions in their words and deeds. Not only his political and foreign policies were rejected, they also questioned Musharrafs allegiance to the religion Islam because of his role in war against terror where he was siding with Christians and Jews. During the yearlong negotiations the MMA voters were not going to believe that their leaders, who lay sole claim over the interpretation of right and wrong, would prefer disrepute to esteem and dishonor their words and pledges so blatantly. A bad precedent, which was earlier set under a martial law, has now been endorsed during a highly controlled and managed democratic dispensation.

Politicians have nothing learnt from the last 18 years. All the prospects of democracy in Pakistan look rather bleak, as precedents of repeated validation of one-man amendments in the constitution have been established. They will not be dependent on the parliament to validate constitutional amendments, meant for their self-aggrandizement. There remains no difference between the kings party making the government and the religious alliance falling from elegance. Both have reinforced the doings of a military ruler despite their claim of being democrat. For the sake of argument the PML-Qs seem to be rather in a better moral standing for they proved that there is no difference in their words and deeds since they had already accepted the LFO as part of the constitution and always dub General Musharraf as their leader and the most respectable “boss”.

The Q party is a part of the long thread in our politics that began with the Unionist party in pre-partition days, and then morphed into Ayubs Convention League, and later into Zia supporting Muslim League. It is now making the Quaid turn in his grave by using his name for its cynical pursuit of power while MMA also repeats history. Once again the clerics have been termed as the B team of martial law. Earlier they were pro-Zia and now have made General Musharraf strong, sound and secure. He has got the veneer of legitimacy that he so desperately needed. Our Ulema are most probably used to compromise with the ruling forces and do not like to develop major differences and create chaos among the people. The Ulema, writes A. Aziz in his book, Pakistan from Crises to Crises, the flag-bearers of the Abbasids Despotism and Abbasid Civilization, the intellectuals who had hither filled and dominated the public conscience, were least disturbed at the dissolution of the Mughal power, and the consequent anarchy. History shows that they were not unused to such upheavals. Despots came and perished; new dynasties arose on wreckage of the old ones; but the fortune of the Ulema remained ever unaffected. They just walked from the fallen patron, wiped off the dust from their feet and fell on their knees to worship the rising sun. The revolution was complete, gone and past. With complete governments and being the bosses of the administration and the police in two provinces out of four, MMA could hardly stand in the opposition. Their weakness lies in the fact that they could afford to lose power and all their perks and privileges. The government made full advantage of this situation.

Will Pakistan return to genuine democracy and the Parliament secure its sovereignty since we have been introduced with a new form of democracy termed as sustainable democracy. There are optimists, however, who see this Mullah-Military-Alliance a blessing in disguise. Some analysts take this amendment as a marathon piece for coming to terms with each other since the Establishment is not going to subtract military control. Some believe that their joint venture in power is the only way to expose them completely, which will finally pave way for people to rule their country according to their own desires. The question is, will we have enough time to sail the country to safer shores once this alliance stands exposed? President General Pervez Musharraf also made another promise not to sack the parliament despite being vested with powers to do so. Let us hope that he would again abide by his promise. But there is not any kind of long-standing assurance or undertaking that his successor will also bear the same spirit. Will he not become another Zia, GIK or Lughari???

What is in store for us? Ultimately the gigantic question is to be decided by our future if the latest amendment is success or suicide for the Parliament and the Parliamentarians.