Challenge legislators face in Pakistan

By Zia ul Islam

THE biggest challenge before the new National Assembly is neither the restoration of judges nor bringing down prices. The future of President Musharraf and 58-2(b), questions about a ‘simple majority’ or ‘two-thirds’ vote and other juicy matters being raised by the media are downstream issues that can be tackled later.
The first challenge for the men and women sent to parliament by the people of Pakistan is to secure the existence of the National Assembly and thus the future of the people of Pakistan.

This challenge is the essence of all challenges being debated because none of the other problems can even begin to be solved if the assembly fails to ensure an inbuilt, sovereign existence for itself. ‘Experienced’ wheeler-dealers are already in action, trying to find middle-of-the-road solutions through clever compromises. If the new assembly decides to start functioning under the dark shadow of being dissolved, even as an interim measure, it would have failed in its challenge for existence.

And how can the assembly find sovereign existence? There is only one way: undoing the ignominious rape of the country and constitution that ripped them apart on Nov 3, 2007. If this country is to live without eternal shame, every shred of the fallout from that dishonourable act has to be removed. If the new assembly does not have the courage to erase Nov 3, 2007 from the pages of history, its members better leave now, because sooner or later they will be booted out any way. Those who say it will not happen this time were uttering the same gibberish in Oct 1999 and on Nov 2, 2007.

Pundits in the media and the political arena who have links with the evil forces of the status quo are vigorously advocating the need for peaceful give and take, the sensible approach to compromise and measures that would not rock the boat now that ‘democracy’ has been achieved. They are deceiving the public once more. The democracy received by the nation as a gift is nothing but a mirage. It will take moments to disappear in thin air.

Their best argument is that it is impossible to put the clock back and that there is no way the nation can go back to Nov 2, 2007 without creating more problems than it can solve. They are saying the new government should get on with solving the problems of poverty and inflation and with fighting terrorism instead of getting bogged down in constitutional issues of the past. Let this assembly not forget the fate of earlier houses that fell for this fallacious argument. Each paid the price with its head.

In 1971, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto compromised by not completely undoing the great artwork of the two earlier usurpers. He let them be. The artificial parliament of 1985 went one step further and legitimised all the illegal actions of a usurper. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif digested all the legitimised illegalities without trying to undo them in 1988, 1990 and 1993.

The only assembly that tried to undo some of the shameful vestiges of the past was the one elected in 1997. It did make parliament supreme but failed to complete the job by systematically demolishing all the illegal acts that the usurpers had committed over the years.

Today’s assembly members may ask, “So wasn’t that assembly sent home?” Yes it was. But it was the sacrifice of its members that has brought us to this historic moment. It was essentially the dissolution of that assembly that united the two biggest political parties of the country against further usurpation of people’s rights.

By now there is no doubt in any mind that the only reason usurpers have been dissolving elected assemblies is their lust for power and the knowledge that future parliaments will let them get away with it, just as earlier parliaments allowed their predecessors to go unpunished.

Let the present members be sure that no assembly in Pakistan was ever dismissed because of corruption or bad governance. It is important that the people of Pakistan clear their minds and collective conscience of this guilt that they and their elected leaders are corrupt. This guilt has been deliberately created by usurpers to give them an excuse to grab power. Corruption and mal-governance exist universally and the dictators are as guilty of it as the elected rulers. Many countries have died because of dictatorships, none because of corruption, real or perceived.

Thus, members the new assembly should understand clearly that the only reason they could be sent home in shame would be their failure to undo the acts of Nov 3, 2007. The question is how?

At the outset, the assembly should declare through a simple resolution that the action of Nov 3 was illegal. Next, it should prepare an action plan to undo each and every action taken under the shelter of the proclamation of that day. This will not be an easy task. For example, the power under which the ‘president’ lifted the so-called emergency imposed by the COAS was itself gifted under that proclamation.

A strong multi-party parliamentary committee aided by legal experts will have to examine each and every action, law or order passed between Nov 3 and the restoration of the constitution to recommend to parliament how it can deal with each.

This is not rocket science and simple solutions exist. Once agreed to by the sovereign parliament, they will become law. The restoration of judges, the future of the PCO judges, the fate of the president, the relationship between the presidency, parliament and judiciary will all happen legally and objectively through an act of parliament, one by one and should be completed in one month.

Objectivity is important. Personalities should not come in the way. The aim should be to destroy everything done during the illegal interregnum and save only that which is necessary to avoid vacuum and is in the interest of the nation as determined by parliament. The second step would be to take up the 17th Amendment, examine each and every law, order, ordinance and action validated through it and purge all of them, saving only those that are considered in the national interest by parliament.

This screening has to be based on the principle of elimination rather than retention. Only the most important pieces of legislation should be retained. NAB, NRB, the Police Order, Local Government Order and all other laws and their consequences must be scrutinised clause-wise by parliament.

It is also important to redress the grievances of those victimised during the last eight years or so and to take back undue advantages given to cronies during this period. This is necessary to make people think twice before toadying up to would-be dictators. In time, this parliament should also reopen illegalities validated through the 8th Amendment.

All this is doable. It is neither witch-hunt nor revenge. For 60 years dictators have forced us to live under the dishonourable principle, “First commit illegal acts, then get them validated by force.” Destiny has given the power to this assembly to end this shameless practice. If some heads roll, so be it.
Courtesy: Daily Dawn, 27/3/2008

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