Jun 222008

The troubled situation on the western borders requires internal cohesion and effective governance in Pakistan, which may not be possible without resolving the judicial crisis and Musharraf’s future
June has been an eventful month for Pakistan. The federal government presented its first budget to the parliament. It represents a down-to-earth attempt to address a difficult economic situation with efforts to help agriculture and offer some relief to salaried and other less privileged classes.

The current economic predicament of the common Pakistani is the outcome of the flawed economic priorities of the financial wizards of the Musharraf era, who repeatedly talked about Pakistan’s economic turnaround. The Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan (now retired) claimed in an address at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, in October 2004 that Pakistan’s economic development did not owe much to liberal economic assistance and debt rescheduling after September 2001. Rather, Pakistan’s “economic turnaround” was produced by political stability; effective and forthright decision-making; structural policy changes; governance and economic reforms; privatisation; and other measures taken by the government.

Perhaps one can selectively pick up macro level data to show economic growth. But, an economy focusing only on improving Pakistan’s credit rating abroad, or serving the upper strata of society, or creating an artificial boom by proliferation of mobile phones, availability of private vehicles and electronic gadgetry through bank lease schemes hardly touches the poor. The lower strata of society have generally missed whatever economic rewards Pakistan reaped for its role in the global war on terrorism. Now, the present government faces an uphill task of changing the economic priorities.

Another significant budget related development is the military’s willingness to disclose some details of defence expenditure. Resource allocation data for the three services and some related areas is now available to the parliament. The improved transparency of defence expenditure will help rehabilitate the military’s image that suffered heavily in 2007 due to sharp criticism from the lawyers and other civil society groups.

The military’s image will improve further if its top brass adopts transparency regarding what Pakistan receives from the United States under the rubric of Coalition Support Funds. Similarly, the military’s economic and business activities should be brought under parliamentary control and the army personnel in active service or its corps should not directly manage any commercial enterprise, including education and training institutions, for civilians.

Lawyers and other societal groups provided further evidence of their capacity for popular mobilisation by staging the Long March to Islamabad from different cities, including Karachi and Quetta. Some activists, especially those belonging to political parties, were critical of the decision of the lawyers’ leadership for not staging a “dharna” (sit-in) in Islamabad to mount more pressure on the government. It is not clear if a sit-in would have achieved anything more. They lacked organisational resources and popular commitment to keep a large number of people on the road for several days. It was not known how many would have stayed for more than 12 hours.

Lawyers and societal groups face a dilemma. They want to pressure the government to reinstate the judges but if they opt for open confrontation with the civilian government, the current democratic experiment can be derailed. This does not serve the lawyers’ cause and they do not want non-democratic forces to benefit from their differences with the civilian government.

The proliferation of civilian organisations and their activism is a safeguard against the rise of authoritarianism or military adventurism in the civilian domain. However, they need to clearly articulate their priorities and the long-term agenda. If they turn themselves into a mob, they themselves will be the main losers. Civil society’s strength helps democracy if its constituent elements demonstrate patience and prudence and distinguish between change and chaos.

The PPP-led government is not impressed by the lawyers’ movement and it does not feel obliged to respond positively to the demand for the restoration of the judges and the removal of Pervez Musharraf. The variance between the disposition of the PPP leadership and the prevailing political sentiments has become very conspicuous.

The prime minister and the PPP co-chairman have issued statements for the restoration of the judges and the latter has periodically questioned the legality of Musharraf’s presidency. However, the spirit of their statements is not reflected in the government’s policies. There is a lot of unexplained ambiguity in the government policy.

It is clear by now that the PPP-led government neither wants to restore the judges in the near future nor remove Musharraf. However, it is taking halfhearted steps in order to deflect some pressure. For example, it has paid salaries to the deposed Supreme Court judges and the Finance Bill proposes to raise the number of Supreme Court judges to 29. It also plans to introduce an amendment in the parliament that will, among other things, restore the judges.

How can the government pay the salaries if the judges are not restored? If the government thinks that the judges continue to hold on to their positions, why are they not allowed to perform their duties? Why has a roundabout way been adopted to increase the number of judges? This should have been done by ordinary legislation. Will new appointments fill the additional vacancies or will the judges be restored to their original positions?

The co-chairman of the PPP has recently said that the ruling coalition does not have enough votes in the parliament to impeach the president. If the impeachment exercise is coordinated with the PMLN, the ANP and some other parties, including independents, the required number can be produced. A vote for impeachment of the president requires two-thirds of the total strength of the joint session, which is not difficult to produce in the current political context.

If enough votes are not available for impeachment, how can the PPP-led government think of moving a constitutional amendment in the parliament? A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in each house separately. If the government does not have a two-thirds vote in the joint session, how can it get over the number problem in the two houses when they meet separately? Does this mean that the constitutional amendment strategy is meant to postpone the restoration of the judges for an indefinite period?

As long as these two issues are not settled, the government will find it extremely difficult to devote itself fully to socio-economic issues and other problems that are hurting the common people.

Internal uncertainties will also compromise the government’s capacity to address the security pressures generated by Afghanistan and US/NATO troops based in Afghanistan. The troubled situation on the western borders requires internal cohesion and effective governance in Pakistan, which may not be possible without resolving these issues.

If the government thinks that any radical approach to these two problems may cause the president to dissolve the National Assembly, or the present Supreme Court may issue an injunction, or the army may get annoyed, what is the guarantee that inaction on the part of the government will secure its future? If civilian political leaders cannot put their house in order and fail to assert their primacy, they will lose the initiative.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

Source: Daily Times, 22/6/2008

 Posted by at 9:45 am

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