May 022008

The PPP has carried the cross of injustice more frequently than the other mainstream parties and yet, ironically, it is the party now suspected of protecting that ultimate source of illegitimate power. If not allayed convincingly, this perception can do great harm to the body politic.

The optics could not be worse. Endless rounds of consultations between the leaders of the two principal coalition partners in the new elected governments fail to produce an agreed set of measures by which the judges made dysfunctional by General Pervez Musharraf would be restored.

Veterans as they are, the politicians continue to rely on language that conceals rather than reveals. Mr Asif Ali Zardari is a clear exception as he progressively abandons the caution of the early weeks of an extraordinary coalition and re-opens in small but unambiguous instalments the question of the sins of omission and commission of higher judiciary in Pakistan to justify a different set of priorities. .

He argues rightly that we need a comprehensive and far-reaching bill of reforms to ensure that there is no miscarriage of justice in future though the measures designed by his experts to attain this laudable objective cannot create a firewall to check the brute force that overturns democratic order again and again. Good in themselves inasmuch as they provide internal checks and balances to discipline judicial activism itself and perhaps also strengthen ethical restraints on judiciary, these measures cannot stop the hand that is not stayed by Article VI of the Constitution.

The power that brings down elected governments, sends an elected prime minister to the gallows and makes a mockery of every institution of the state as, indeed, of the entire value system of the society has always been able to protect the judges — apart from an army of other state functionaries — that collaborated with it.

We live in a land where nobody has ever been held accountable, except at the bar of public opinion — for scuttling half the country and for untold atrocities committed in the process of doing so, for executing a prime minister whose innovative approach to our problems remains unrivalled despite what General Musharraf wrote about him in his own autobiography, for repeated dissolution of parliaments and for countless acts sanctioned neither by law nor by morality.

The PPP has carried the cross of injustice more frequently than the other mainstream parties and yet, ironically, it is the party now suspected of protecting that ultimate source of illegitimate power. If not allayed convincingly, this perception can do great harm to the body politic.

It is not that the PPP lacks a rationale for its recent shifts on the issue of the judges. In his widely watched GEO TV interview, Mr Zardari offered it robustly. For him and his main counsellors, his arguments were unassailable. But they would be wrong to ignore a credibility gap that is opening up fast. Nor would it be in the interest of the party to dismiss this problem with an imperious wave of hand.

I have just spent two days with an impressive segment of our educated class. Eminent academics, a raft of serving and retired diplomats, journalists and bright-eyed students of international affairs were debating the formulation of our foreign policy during the last sixty years in a superb conference organised by the Karachi University.

The PPP had an edge over other parties as the panel of key note speakers included Fauzia Wahab who expresses herself candidly and forcefully. Yet, each time a formal session broke up participants forgot about the theme of the conference and talked in an animated manner about the ostensible crisis in the PPP-PMLN coalition.

There is no gainsaying that misgivings about the PPP outweighed those about the PMLN. In a reductionist summary it boiled down to the fear that the PPP was performing a “counter-revolutionary role” by resisting the change demanded by the electorate on February 18. Allegedly, it was payback time and the PPP was hurting its own long term claim of the loyalty of the people by quietly restoring the power of General Musharraf. The arch villain in this litany of rather wild charges was always the United States.

The PPP can choose to be dismissive of criticism and maintain that it would not be intimidated by coalition partners and their allies in the lawyers’ community and even in the largely non-aligned civil society. But this course of action would add to the fragility of the present coalition even if the current inter-party consultations in Dubai produce a compromise that buys time.

In India coalition politics is ubiquitous and mature. Nevertheless its inherent problems have hobbled Manmohan Singh’s deal of the century on nuclear collaboration with the United States.

The PPP can wantonly under-estimate the advantages of the present coalition only to discover that its dependence on two forces—a president who still takes pride in his decisions of November 3, 2007 and the MQM—increases by the day. There is no earthly power that can change the fundamentals of General Musharraf’s political thought which does have a long historical lineage of its own.

The MQM is challenged not only by political rivals but also by a large percentage of the “Mohajirs” who are possibly ahead of most other population groups in Pakistan in education and intellectual sophistication. The MQM can perpetuate its present power only by relentless mobilisation of its followers and that enterprise forces it to maintain a culture of demagoguery and punitive compliance with the directives of its sole leader.

The real danger, however, lies in factors that seem to be under-estimated at the moment. Locating the present acute economic distress faced by the people in the callous policies of the ancien regime would not take us far. When the volcano explodes the hot lava would first engulf the present rulers.

The drift towards violence and anarchy rooted in social inequity and injustice has not been halted as yet much less reversed. If the new coalition cannot hear the ticking of the clock its rule will be no more valid or durable than the unholy alliance it has supplanted with the generous help of a nation that has been asked to forget and forgive a little too often. It may not do so in the future.

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email:

Courtesy: Daily Times, 2/5/2008

 Posted by at 10:57 am

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