DEMOCRACY, some would say the country, is poised on a knife-edge. Why boding of such a disaster so soon after democratic elections that were hailed to be reasonably free and fair?
It is only because transition from old to the new regime has fallen prey to the machinations of party bosses who are either revengeful or ambitious. Had the restored leaders taken the divisive issues straight to the National Assembly instead of secret chambers, the political parties and their defectors, Musharraf loyalists and turncoats and all the rest would have coalesced to vote for or against. The majority view would have prevailed and that is what distinguishes democracy from dictatorship and mob rule.
The tenure of the government thus formed, based on instincts rather than on shared long-term goals, could have been short but that is the strength not weakness of the parliamentary system. If a government falls another is not long in coming so long as the National Assembly remains in existence. The bedrock of stability is parliament and not the cabinet or the party.
The life-long wish of our politicians has been that the army chief or the president should have no right or power to dissolve the National Assembly whatever the crisis. Now when that goal was in sight the very people who had suffered prison and banishment in this cause, or had fought it out in the courts, have chosen to undermine the supremacy of the parliament. It keeps one wondering how the parliamentarians, lawyers and judges, howsoever hurt they might be or just their cause, would react if the labourers and peasants who are perpetually wronged were also to start marching on the roads to seek justice? The sophisticated men of law and wealth may manage to remain peaceful but not the poor rustics who have nothing to lose and, in any case, no one would take notice of their grievance if they were not to riot.
Last week’s long march and more and longer marches to come, say that the Bar chief Aitzaz Ahsan, intends to pressurise the parliament to impeach the president and reinstate the judges. Pir Pagara, longer and wiser in politics, thinks Mr Ahsan is inviting only another martial law. And this time round, says the wisened Pir, it would not be a martial law of religious avowals as was Zia’s or of Musharraf’s moderation but ham-handed and untempered by religiosity or enlightenment.
Nawaz Sharif may not share the Pir’s alarm but, it seems, Asif Zardari does. He is prepared to be taken for a coward because, he says grandiloquently, on his shoulders lies the burden of feeding 160 million people. The future even in term of days and weeks ahead remains a guessing game but a safer bet would be on Asif’s caution rather than on Nawaz Sharif’s recklessness of the kind that had brought Musharraf into power and sent him into exile.
Hopefully another coup, or anarchy, doesn’t lie ahead but it is hard to see peace and order returning to the country except through a settlement in the parliament. Musharraf’s presence or exit is immaterial to the enormity of the task that awaits the new government that is so far recognised only through its teeming ministers, grizzling pundits and cronies.
Musharraf as constitutional head (he would be one as soon as the parliament repeals Article 58-2(b)) can neither help nor hinder solutions to inflation, insurgency in Balochistan and lawlessness in the tribal areas, criminals on the rampage or unemployed restive youth all over. These problems were there even when Musharraf was in the forefront but have been fast aggravating since his retreat.
After all, whatever else might have to be said against Musharraf and the technocrats and bureaucrats on whom he relied, it cannot be denied that in their time the national income had doubled — in nominal terms if not in purchasing power. Though the benefits of growth had not travelled down to one-third of the people at the bottom of the pile living on no more than Rs150 a day, the professional class indeed had expanded and prospered.
As it is the time ahead is difficult for the world economy as a whole, the democratic government should not make it more difficult for Pakistan through its compromises and incompetence. An independent judiciary is important to justice and the wrong done to the judges must be undone but it should not bring the business of the state to a standstill while the misery of the poor and jobless grows and life becomes insecure even for those who are more fortunately placed.
Let it be said for the common man that the chain of injustice for him begins from the constable on the beat to the police station and runs through a long hierarchy of offices and courts. Hardly ever does he get to reach the high court or Supreme Court to taste justice. Let it also be added on a personal note only to illustrate this point that a case of kidnapping for ransom in which this writer was the victim took seven years to decide and a revision application against the order of the sessions court is waiting to be heard in the Sindh High Court (SHC) for another seven years now.
In a bid to get it heard the writer twice saw the Chief Justice of SHC and also addressed a personal petition to the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. It caused a mild stir but only for a while. For the last one year the registrar does not even acknowledge reminders.
Lawyers Aitzaz Ahsan, Ali Ahmad Kurd, Athar Minallah and a thousand others who are holding the government to ransom for justice to the common man perhaps would agree that injustice runs much wider and deeper than they would like the same common man to believe.
Meanwhile, amid fiery rhetoric and sacred vows the judicial crisis seems to be heading towards a solution conforming to the spirit of the times which is compromise at the cost of the institutions and the common man. All the judges — ‘theirs and ours’ — are going to stay to make Pakistan’s Supreme Court with its 29 judges the largest in the world — some distinction! Just to recall, the US has nine and India 13.
Source: Daily Dawn, 15/6/2008