The latest round of negotiations in London between the PPP and the PML (N) could not settle some critical and complex issues relating to the modalities of restoring the judges deposed as a result of the Nov 3, 2007, Provisional Constitution Order (PCO). But the two parties agree on their continued commitment to their earlier decision of working together for constitutional democracy and the greater good of the people of Pakistan. The leadership of both the parties took great pains to communicate to the nation that disagreement on the modalities to restore the deposed judges did not mean that they would go back to confrontation of the 1990s.
For its part, the PPP wants to continue to work with the PML (N) and define a process for undoing the extra-constitutional measures that accompanied the unlawful imposition of last year’s state of emergency. From the PPP’s point of view it is important to ensure that the steps initiated in Parliament and subsequently implemented by the elected government do not result in a cycle of legal challenges and political wrangling.
Since the shahadat of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto the PPP co-chairman, Senator Asif Ali Zardari, has maintained that reconciliation between all the major political parties and consensus on major issues is necessary to save Pakistan from fragmentation and disintegration. Pakistan could go downhill very fast if political forces start picking fights. It is far easier to create an environment of instability than it is to ensure that pressure on a single issue, however critical it might be, does not disrupt Pakistan’s democratic renaissance. In the immediate aftermath of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, Mr Zardari called for calm and asked all elements to act peacefully and not behave destructively to prevent Pakistan’s descent into anarchy. This sense of reconciliation and national rebuilding today guides the PPP in its policies and its actions.
The Bhurban Accord, signed between the PML (N) and PPP leaderships on March 9, once again expressed the political will of the PPP’s co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, and the party itself, for the restoration of the deposed judges on the one hand and the larger process of national reconciliation on the other. Instead of understanding and implementing the spirit of the Bhurban Declaration, it has been interpreted only as setting a deadline for the restoration of the judges. But as important as the prospective date for the restoration of judges is the need to find a mutually agreed method of reaching that shared objective.
There is no doubt that the PPP wants to see the judiciary independent and considers the actions of Nov 3, 2007, as illegal and unconstitutional. But the PPP argues that it wants to address all constitutional and legal questions before the deposed judges are restored so that the judicial crisis that began in March last year does not drag on in a circular manner. In fact, what we are suffering from now and will continue to suffer in future is that the purely constitutional and legal question of how to restore the judges has been made the subject of soapbox oratory.
In legal matters there are always multiple opinions. Aitzaz Ahsan (who is a member of the PPP) agrees with the PML (N)’s preferred method for the judges’ restoration, but Khalid Anwar (who served as Law Minister in the PML-N’s 1997-1999 government) argues that the actions of Nov 3 cannot be reversed without a constitutional amendment. Should the future of the democratic order be put at stake on the assumption that one legal opinion will somehow automatically prevail and there would be no resistance by anti-democratic forces?
The political parties and other sections of civil society need to understand that a fledgling democracy cannot afford to flirt with adventurism. We must not forget how in 1993, after being reinstated to office by the Supreme Court, then prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif secured a proclamation from parliament to remove the government of Punjab and appoint an administrator for the province. The proclamation, supported by a clear parliamentary majority, could not be enforced because of resistance from the Presidency and other centres of power. Consequently the political crisis generated by the proclamation, and the failure of the executive machinery at the elected federal government’s disposal to enforce its writ, resulted in the simultaneous resignation of President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the dissolution of the national and provincial assemblies.
More recently, some leaders of the lawyers’ movement, media analysts and activists in the post July 20, 2007, period (following the return to office of the Chief Justice) boasted that “no one can impose martial law now.” They were sadly proved wrong when Gen Musharraf imposed one on Nov 3, 2007. The people’s struggle and the strategic negotiations by Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto resulted in Gen Musharraf giving up his uniform but the scars of martial law disguised as proclamation of emergency remain. With such history behind us, it should not be difficult to understand the PPP stance that the judges be restored in a manner that leaves no flaws that could be used by anti-democratic forces to derail the democratic process. The PPP leadership is certainly cautious, but it cannot be deemed ill-intentioned.
One may also remind the readers here that the PPP’s Shaheed chairperson Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had signed the Charter of Democracy (CoD) with Mian Nawaz Sharif and the PPP stands committed to that critical document. The Bhurban Declaration was in fact a continuation of the process started by the two leaders. The constitutional package proposed by the PPP is based on the CoD. The Charter of Democracy had discussed in full detail the reforms that needed to be introduced to strengthen the institution of the judiciary. Such a package would improve the working of the judiciary in a comprehensive manner and ensure quick and affordable dispensation of justice to the masses.
With its vast experience of politics both inside and outside the government, the PPP leadership fully understands that confrontation would be very harmful for the country, its stability and its economy. The PPP’s effort to take all democratic forces onboard and to focus on strengthening institutions has been received well in most sections of the society. The need to take reconciliation efforts forward are far more important than generating unnecessary conflict with different state institutions to score political points and increase popularity.
In the spirit of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s book titled Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West, the PPP believes in working for a new future for our nation. Mr Zardari wants to build bridges between members of all opposition parties, civil society and the people of Pakistan to repair the damage of the past and take us forward to a better tomorrow. Instead of attacking him for allegedly dragging his feet on the issue of restoring judges, everyone committed to democracy in Pakistan must appreciate his commitment to national reconciliation and avoiding confrontation.
The writer is an MNA and a member of the PPP media team. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The News, 13/5/2008