Centres of power in Pakistan

M B Naqvi
Pakistan’s legal fraternity has done a tremendous job. It has conclusively shown that most of the country stands behind their demands. Their demands include the recreation of the Supreme and High Courts that Gen. Pervez Musharraf had destroyed on Nov 3, 2007. That naturally excludes the 29 judges’ formula; this is meant to preserve the appointment of 60 new pliant judges and to give constitutional validation to an illegal action.

The sad fact is that the legal fraternity has not achieved its real objective. It has to press on. The objective was a free and independent judiciary that could stand up to any dictatorial or illegal action of the executive – as a step to achieving three autonomous pillars of state – the judiciary being the third. The powers that be, or the establishment, have to be made to change their stance of linking the restoration of the deposed judges to possibly desirable constitutional amendments. These two things remain separate. Reforming the constitution is an important subject and needs to be pursued for its own sake. The particular judges’ issue that arose from the unconstitutional and illegal Emergency of Nov last year that included courts’ packing with Musharraf loyalists is another issue that can immediately be set right – and by a simple executive action: restoring old 60 judges and sending home their replacements.

The Gilani government, no matter from where it got the inspiration, has messed up the issue. The PPP and the PML-N were committed to doing the right thing. That remains the right thing. After the Long March, it is imperative that the government climbs down from its high horse and should see the matter the way the most of the country perceives it. This means telling the new judges that were recruited on Nov 3 or after that the Nov 3 actions were contrary to the Supreme Court decision by the seven member bench delivered on the very day Nov 3, 2007. Unless these men go back home the Supreme and High Courts cannot be restored to the pre-emergency situation.

What obtains is a case of profound confusion and a paralysis of decision-making in what has loosely been called the establishment. The various constituents of the establishment and its functional pillars are not working in coordination. It is necessary to analyse as to who needs to do what. This creeping paralysis of decision-making has to be ended. It is obvious that the old single decision-making centre has lost that privilege. A new factor has been introduced by Feb 18 election: It is the Parliament. It means its net results have to be focused on. One has to note what the election results were and what the Parliament is now doing. There is a disconnect here.

Let’s first specify the new decision-making actors in Pakistan: (i) there is the bureaucratic structure of the government, comprising civil and military bureaucracy, with provincial governments included. (ii) The offices of the president and the top army commander, used to remain in coordination and often functioned as the top of the bureaucratic structure; now they are separate. (iii) Parliament is now a factor in its own right and since the decision by the people is split, the top leaders of the larger parties constitute separate decision-making centres of considerable importance. Thus today the first among equals is Asif Zardari, followed by Mian Nawaz Sharif and then not to be ignored are the residual supporters of Mr Musharraf. There is also the ANP. It works with the PPP but like the PML-F is not anxious for Musharraf’s blood. (iv) Not to be ignored are those that are not represented in the Parliament but hold their own ground in provinces; the chief among them is Taliban and various other Islamic militant groups. There are also nationalist parties in Balochistan, Sindh and NWFP that count. (v) A large number of MNAs, MPAs and party leaders constitute the top layer of political class and their need and preferences should be recognised, not so much as decision-makers but as necessary supporters of significant decisions. (vi) A number of economic elites have traditionally supported the government such as the feudal-minded big landlords, industrialists, bankers and other businessmen. (vii) Over and above all these, there is one centre of power outside of Pakistan: that of Washington and its proxies. This is an important decision-making centre in its own right because it has now been obviously micro-managing the political developments in the country. America’s alliance with Pakistan has operated through the prism of American domination of Islamabad’s foreign policy and economic decision-making and the close cooperation between the Pentagon and GHQ. This is the most important centre today, more so as there is wide dissonance with what the election results have been and also the old military-to-military relationship between the two countries may now be under strain.

All these centres of power are on different wavelengths and there is no longer the same chain of command as in the past. Parliament is now superficially claiming supremacy, though it has not shown any ability to make independent decisions and carry them through. It is also about time that relationship with the Americans is sorted out and decision-making in Pakistan must remain the privilege of elected Pakistanis and day-to-day inputs from the Washington need to be ended once for all. If a relationship of political equality with the US is possible, well and good; otherwise an unequal alliance is not acceptable.

The writer is a veteran journalist and freelance columnist. Email: mbnaqvi@cyber.net.pk
Source: The News, 26/6/2008

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