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Friday, January 30, 2009

Pakistan’s Transition to Democracy
amicus • Jan 30th, 2009 • Category: Lead Story • 3 Comments •
At the inception of 2007, General Musharraf’s roadmap was quite clear: to get himself elected for another five-year term from the outgoing assemblies and then to hold general elections in the country. He thought he could have manipulated the election results to ensure the return of PML (Q) to power or, at the most, could have struck a power-sharing deal with the Pakistan People’s Party on his own terms. This would have ensured continuity of General Musharraf’s foreign and domestic policies with minor adjustments. But that was not to be.
General Musharraf’s move on the fateful day of 9 March 2007 to make Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry ‘non-functional’ proved to be a catalyst that robbed him of the initiative.
The ensuing lawyers’ agitation backed by political forces, popular clamor for restoration of the ‘deposed’ Chief Justice and the legal battle in the Supreme Court on the issue unnerved the PML (Q) government. The ‘reinstatement’ of the Chief Justice by the Supreme Court on 20 July 2007 brought General Musharraf to a point where he became desperate to find some political ally who could help him wriggle out of the crisis.
At about the time, number of Think Tanks in the United States, were pressing their government to work for establishment of a civilian-democratic order in Pakistan. They contended that in the American ‘war on terror’ a popularly elected government could be more supportive and willing to deliver.
They hinted that Musharraf might be playing a double game, and that there was a mullah-military collusion in Pakistan that hindered the US efforts to curb religious militancy.
Since General Musharraf was not prepared to concede the US demands beyond a certain point, the US Administration bought the argument of its think tanks and started applying pressure on Musharraf to negotiate with Benazir Bhutto on future political dispensation.
By early October 2007 it was understood that the Benazir Bhutto had agreed to accept General Musharraf as president if he gave up his uniform and that General Musharraf had given assurance of holding free and fair general elections in which the PPP was likely to emerge as the largest party in the National Assembly.
On 5th October 2007, just a day before the scheduled presidential elections, General Musharraf promulgated the ‘National Reconciliation Ordinance’ that provided amnesty to the holders of public offices between 1 January 1986 to 12 October 1999 in corruption cases. Its real beneficiaries were to be Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari against whom many cases of this nature were pending.
On 6th October 2007, General Musharraf won a one-sided presidential election securing majority of votes from an electoral college that was marred by resignations from the newly formed opposition alliance, All Pakistan Democratic Movement (APDM).
Unlike the APDM, the PPP obliged General Musharraf by confining its protest against the election of a president in uniform to boycott of voting. This imparted a degree of legitimacy to the electoral exercise.
The power-sharing formula having been finalized, on 18th October 2007 Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile. She was accorded a historic welcome by the people but, as she was leading a huge procession towards the Mausoleum of the Quaid-i-Azam, two blasts sabotaged her plan to address the public meeting scheduled on the occasion.
Nearly 200 people were killed in the blasts which shook the confidence of Benazir Bhutto in Musharraf’s assurances that she would be offered a level field.
Although the Supreme Court had allowed the polling to take place for presidential elections, the candidature of General Musharraf was under dispute. Anticipating that the Supreme Court was likely to disqualify him for presidential election with retroactive effect, General Musharraf decided to preempt it. On 3rd November 2007 he issued Proclamation of Emergency, suspended the Constitution and promulgated Provisional Constitution Order.
A hurriedly formed bench of the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice Mr. Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, declared the Proclamation of Emergency, unlawful and without constitutional authority. The members of the bench were forcibly evacuated from the Supreme Court building. Most of the judges of the superior courts declined to take oath under the PCO and resolved to launch their movement afresh for the restoration of pre-PCO judiciary.
However, a newly constituted Supreme Court headed by Mr. Abdul Hamid Dogar, conferred legitimacy upon the Supra Constitutional Instrument Proclamation of Emergency and PCO of 3rd November 2007, which was a self serving subjective pronouncement against all Cannons of Law.
General Musharraf’s action was universally condemned. Faced with domestic and international pressure, he announced that fair, free and transparent general elections would be held on 8th January 2008.
He had to allow former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to return from exile and relinquish the office of the Army Chief. On 28th November 2007 he took oath of office as a civilian President and on 15th December 2007, he lifted the state of ‘emergency’ and revived the Constitution.
As a result of the action of 3 November 2007, Benazir Bhutto distanced herself from Musharraf. She vocally condemned the sacking of the judges and pledged to restore Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry as the Chief Justice.
Amidst all uncertainty, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, in cold blood, on 27th December 2007, while she was leaving Liaquat Bagh, after addressing a election rally.
With Benazir Bhutto no more on political scene, the virtual control of the party went into the hands of Asif Ali Zardari.
In the general elections, those were postponed till 18th February 2008, the PPP emerged as the largest single party in the National Assembly and the majority party in the Sindh Assembly.
Apart from the sympathy wave for the PPP, Musharraf’s actions of 9th March and 3rd November 2007, soaring prices of food items, energy crisis, deteriorating law and order and the popular perception that Musharraf was implementing American agenda in the region led to the routing of the ‘King’s Party’, the PML (Q).
Under normal circumstances, the informal ‘troika system’ would have been restored with Musharraf as President, PPP Prime Minister and General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, as the Chief of the Army Staff.
But Musharraf was no more acceptable to the people and the COAS publicly announced that army would maintain a distance from politics and concentrate on its professional duties. Mr. Makhdoom Amin Fahim was not acceptable to Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, who had an eye on presidency which he could not have secured if premiership had already gone to Sindh.
Immediately, after the election results were announced, Sardar Asif Ali Zardari initiated efforts to form broad-based coalition governments, at the centre and in the provinces, comprising the PPP, the PML (N), the ANP, the JUI (F) and the MQM.
On 9th March 2008, the PPP and the PML (N) signed a Six-Point Murree Declaration which, inter alia, provided that the two parties would be coalition partners at the Centre and in Punjab and that the ‘deposed’ judges would be restored on the positions they were holding on 2nd November 2007, within “30 days of the formation of the federal government through a parliamentary resolution.”
On 24th March 2008, the National Assembly elected the PPP candidate Makhdoom Yousuf Raza Gilani as the Prime Minister. In his maiden speech as the Prime Minister, Gilani ordered the release of the ‘deposed’ judges who had been put under house arrest by Musharraf.
The next week he formed a coalition government with the PML (N) as the senior most partners.
It seems Mr. Zardari was never sincere about the restoration of pre-3 November 2007 judiciary. Apart from personal reservations about Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who had not given Zardari relief during his incarceration, he understood that the ‘deposed’ Chief Justice was under the obligations of Nawaz Sharif for sustaining the lawyers’ agitation.
The PPP, therefore, adopted the position that it was not possible to restore the sacked judges through a parliamentary vote or executive order. This led to much controversy among the legal experts.
On 25th May 2008, the PPP Federal Minister for Law, Farooq H. Naek, floated a very comprehensive draft Constitutional Package which, inter alia, addressed the issues of legality of Musharraf’s PCO and the restoration of pre-3rd November 2007 judiciary.
The PPP’s proposed Constitutional Package provided for restriction on Supreme Court’s Suo-moto powers to take up matters of ‘general public importance’. It also provided for fixation of the tenure of the Chief Justice. The PPP wanted to retain the post-PCO judges, including appointees of Musharraf, even after the sacked judges were restored.
On the issue of the future of Musharraf, as President, Zardari came out openly on the same day i.e., 25th May 2008, saying that Musharraf should step down voluntarily, if he wanted to avoid impeachment.
He further stated that the PPP had never accepted General Musharraf as the constitutional President of the country. Zardari’s disclosure must have come as a rude shock to Musharraf who had granted amnesty to Benazir, Zardari; under NRO in the hope to continue as President.
After it became clear that the PPP was not prepared to honor the Murree Declaration, the only ground between the PPP and the PML (N) Coalition was their common agenda to ditch Musharraf. Mian Nawaz Sharif took the bait and joined hands with Sardar Asif Ali Zardari.
On 7th August 2008, the ruling coalition formally announced their plan to impeach the General. One after another, the provincial assemblies passed resolutions calling upon him to seek vote of confidence, resign or be prepared for impeachment.
The proposed charge sheet against Musharraf was to include violation of the Constitution, gross misconduct and economic mismanagement.
The armed forces had decided to remain neutral — in fact the ex-servicemen’s society openly condemned him — Musharraf had no option other than to step down. On 18th August 2008, he resigned as President. On 22nd August Pakistan Election Commission announced that presidential elections would be held on 6 September and the next day Zardari declared his intention to stand for presidency.
Having gotten rid of Musharraf, the PML (N) pulled out of the coalition government at the centre accusing Zardari of reneging on his promise to restore the deposed judges.
On 6th September 2008 Zardari won the presidential election in which there was a triangular contest with Justice (retired) Saeed uz Zaman Siddiqui and Mushahid Husain Syed from PML (N) and PML (Q) respectively as other candidates.
On 9th September Zardari was sworn in as President completing Pakistan’s transition to democracy.
A recurrent and in a way, peculiar problem related to government and politics in Pakistan, is how to devise a politico-constitutional system that addresses the country’s national security imperatives to the satisfaction of its military establishment.
In other words, one of the crucial issues is how to make the civilian leadership amenable to the advice of the military leadership in the matters that fall within the realm of national security, a very vast concept in today’s world.
A partial solution of the problem was found in the much maligned article 58 (2) b which was first inserted in 1985 under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.
In the past, the mechanism of article 58 (2) b was used by the President on different occasions as a corrective measure if the military establishment perceived that the Prime Minister was not inclined to take its advice on sensitive issues.
Under the informal ‘troika system’ the President used to play a balancing role between the popularly elected Prime Minister and the Chief of the Army Staff. Many analysts believed that article 58 (2) b served as a good safety-valve to avert military take-over.
From 25th March to 18th August 2008, the civilian-democratic set-up remained under check of General Pervez Musharraf, who occupied constitutionally powerful Presidency and acted as the bridge between the civilian leadership and the armed forces.
On 9th September 2008, Asif Ali Zardari assumed presidency, invested with extraordinary powers, by the Seventeenth Amendment. It was for the first time that the leader of the ruling party had preferred to become President rather than Prime Minister.
Before he became Co- and Acting Chairperson of the PPP by the space created by elimination of Shaheed Mohtarama Benazir Bhtto, Zardari was never considered as prospective Party Chief, Prime Minister or President.
With the armed forces on tactical retreat from the corridor of power for obvious reasons, and vesting of party leadership and presidency in Zardari, the management of national security interests assumed a new dimension.
On assumption of office Zardari was faced with a host of problems that ranged from fast depleting foreign exchange reserves, energy and food shortages to rapidly deteriorating law and order, judicial crisis and the Talibanization of Pakistan’s North-Western territories.
To face these challenges, an exceptionally mature and popular leadership was needed and it was a big question if Zardari had that mettle to come up to it or would he rise to the occasion.
Mr. Zardari’s initial moves, after the 18th February general elections, had cast an impression that he wanted to take on board diverse political forces to overcome the hard times the country was facing.
His goodwill gestures towards the PML (N), the ANP, the MQM and the JUI (F) and formation of coalition governments earned him a lot of respect. It seemed that at last our politicians had learnt from history and the country was at the threshold of real democracy.
This impression was soon dispelled when President Zardari reneged on the promise of restoration of pre-3rd November 2007 judiciary, for which popular clamor was most visible.
Having signed Murree Declaration in flashlights, Zardari did not find any qualms in backing out of his undertaking, publicly stating that his words of pledge were neither verses of the Holy Quran nor traditions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
It divined upon his Ally Muslim League (N) and Mian Nawaz Sharif, President Zardari perhaps, was never sincerely committed to restoration of Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry who had declined to give Zardari proper relief during his days of incarceration and who had displayed extra-ordinary penchant for interfering in the domain of executive.
President Zardari probably feared that Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry might strike down the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance that had given a clean chit to the PPP leadership. President Zardari also understood that Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was under the obligations of Nawaz Sharif who was believed to have sustained the lawyers’ agitation for the restoration of the deposed Chief Justice.
In order to weaken the lawyers’ movement, Mr. Zardari created fissures within their ranks and resorted to selective reinstatements of judges. He even went beyond that and attempted to manipulate the seniority of judges in the superior judiciary through transfers, postings and promotions which amounted to blatant interference of the executive in the domain of judiciary.
His undue support to PCO-Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar who is quite pliable demonstrated that he wanted a docile, submissive and compliant judiciary.
Although the Murree Declaration was silent on the issue of Presidency, it was hoped that Zardari would prefer to develop a broad consensus on the candidate for the future President, if Musharraf had to step down.
Instead, after resignation of Musharraf on 18th August 2008, Zardari announced his own candidature without consulting the PML (N) and, perhaps, without taking into confidence the military leadership.
The PML (N) duly showed its disappointment and decided to field its separate candidate for presidential election. On 25th August 2008, the PML (N) pulled out of the coalition at federal level citing non-restoration of the sacked judges as the main reason.
After having withdrawn from the federal cabinet, the PML (N) called upon the PPP ministers in Punjab to resign. The PPP did not pay heed to the PML (N)’s request and remained in the Punjab cabinet.
The appointment of Salman Taseer as Governor Punjab with specific task to protect and promote the PPP interests had already vitiated the atmosphere; this reluctance on the part of the PPP to give Shahbaz Sharif a free hand aggravated the tensions between the two most popular parties.
Presently the situation has reached a stage where anything might happen: Governor’s rule, dissolution of the Punjab Assembly or shameless horse-trading for an in-house change.
The PPP –PML (N) conflict is likely to further exacerbate if the PCO-Supreme Court, which is not recognized by the PML (N), gives verdict disqualifying the Sharif brothers from holding elective public offices. Maybe the revival of the lawyers’ movement is directly linked to the concerns of the PML (N) that the PPP wants to take-over Punjab once an adverse verdict is out. On 23 January 2009, Khwaja Rafiq rightly warned the National Assembly that if this happens, “The sword of disqualification will not run on only two necks but on the entire system.”
The Charter of Democracy signed by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had stipulated that the true parliamentary character of the Constitution of 1973 would be restored. It was hoped that the PPP and the PML (N) would move in that direction.
But the Constitutional Package proposed by the PPP in May 2008 contained a number of debatable provisions making it apparent that the PPP was deliberately using delaying tactics.
Having occupied the presidency, Mr. Zardari only called for revisiting the article 58 (2) b instead of repealing it at the earliest. Apparently, he is unwilling to surrender the sword that hangs over the Prime Minister and is instrumental in asserting the presidential authority in the day-to-day affairs of government.
Lately some friction has apparently developed between Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani who wants the President to remain circumscribed in the exercise of power. There are reports that President intends to replace Gilani with Shah Mehmood Qureshi. If anything like this happens it would be a mockery of parliamentary form of government and the sovereignty of the parliament.
The passage of some constitutional bill validating, repealing, amending or substituting General Musharraf’s Proclamation of Emergency and Provisional Constitution Order of 3rd November 2007, is of vital importance to remove constitutional and legal anomalies, and to settle the issue of legitimacy of the present Supreme Court.
Even four months after the ouster of Musharraf no substantive progress has been made to resolve the issue.
The simultaneous occupation of presidency and party leadership has emboldened Mr. Zardari to make whimsical appointments benefiting his favorites and friends. Cronyism and political appointments in government departments, banks and various public sector corporations are undermining the importance of merit and demoralizing public servants.
Some observers have discerned a sectarian bias in his appointments which is unforgivable at a time when the society is already plagued with sectarian conflicts.
There is grapevine going on that Zardari intends to purchase a number of profitable industrial and business concerns at throw away prices through subtle intimidations. The rumors are rife that he is amassing wealth through impropriety and reverting back to questionable tactics for which he had acquired notoriety in the past. Although at present the revulsion of the business community is somewhat muted, it is likely to crystallize into a concentrated expression in due course.
The PPP government has failed to properly tackle the energy crisis. Frequent power outages and interruptions in gas supply are playing havoc with the industrial sector almost throughout the country.
International recession is likely to depress exports resulting in lockouts and unemployment. The inflationary trend in food items is hitting the low income groups the hardest. The Benazir Income Support Program has not been an effective solution to the problems of the poor who are fast getting disenchanted with the PPP and its slogan of roti, kapra and makan.
On the external front Zarsdari’s performance is far more dismal.
Mr. Zardari invited President Hamid Karzai, one of the most hated persons in Pakistan and man of no substance, to his inauguration ceremony as President.
Conforming to the tradition of Pakistani rulers, he announced that his first official visit would be to China; instead, he left for Dubai and Britain and called it a private visit. The credit goes to General Musharraf for having guts to say to the Americans that enough was enough and he would not concede to the US demands beyond a certain point.
Unlike Musharraf, Zardari practically prostrated before the United States and ordered launching of a massive military operation in FATA and NWFP that has virtually torn the country apart.
Practically the US enjoys a blanket permission to use drones to hit targets far inside Pakistani territory. Nearly one million people have become homeless and there has been a heavy collateral damage of life and property.
Mr. Zardari has demonstrated uncalled for softness towards India. Once he referred to Kashmiri freedom fighters as ‘terrorists’. On another occasion he announced that Pakistan would never resort to nuclear first strike, the ambiguity concerning which is the essence of nuclear deterrence.
After the Mumbai attacks, there were reports that it was President Zardari who conveyed to the Chinese not to block the UN Security Council’s move to include Jamaat ud Dawa in the list of banned organizations. If allowed, he would dismantle the jehadi infrastructure in no time.
It was the prompt intervention of the army that rescued the situation after Mumbai attacks otherwise Zardari might have even agreed to surrender alleged terrorists to India.
Recently Zardari made some gestures towards Iran without fully comprehending the sensitivities of Saudi Arabia. His government’s response towards Israeli aggression of Gaza was quite belated mute to put it mildly.
Mr. Zardari’s top priority or compulsion is to ingratiate the US Administration. The US think tanks believe that the ISI is the source of all evil. A very crude attempt was made by the PPP government to place the ISI under the Ministry of Interior.
On the occasion of the Mumbai attacks Gilani agreed to Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh’s demand to send the DG ISI to India. Presently an attempt is being made to establish a cell parallel to ISI in the FIA.
In the present scenario salvation seems to lie in the PML (N)’s movement to bring about constitutional reforms that strips Zardari of his powers. But the question is: is the removal of article 58 (2) b a permanent solution? There can be no definite answer.
Today it is President; tomorrow it could be Prime Minister.
One doesn’t have to go into the details of what went wrong with President Hamid Karzai’s government in Afghanistan — a lot of that has been done by everyone in the past — to understand that America would like to have him replaced in the next elections coming up later this year if he doesn’t mend his ways.
The new American president Mr Barack Hussain Obama has voiced his dissatisfaction with the old American approach to Afghanistan and no one would be surprised if Mr Karzai loses the elections if he doesn’t bow out himself.
The real problem Washington will face will be the choice of his successor. It is being conjectured that Washington is looking at the Jalalabad governor Mr Gul Agha Sherzai, but what happens in the coming days in this regard will be determined by American efforts to prepare the political grounds for the projected change.
For this reason, President Obama has appointed Mr Richard Holbrook as his special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mr Holbrook is a tough-talking man who likes to work with a lot of decisive policy leverage at his back.
Some “analysts” say he would have to confront the Pak-India tension if his aim was regional peace. They insist that Mr. Holbrook should have been appointed to the region of South Asia as a whole, with unspoken reference to the Kashmir dispute that President Obama has referred to.
Some such “analysts” in fact spoke up on a TV channel on Friday night. The attitude, of course, was that of umbrage at the PPP government for not having protested at the curtailed remit of the Holbrook mission.
The constant accent is on Kashmir, as Pakistan would like to make any trouble-shooting in Pakistan’s western neighborhood conditional to the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
Mr. Holbrook will be effective in proportion to the American leverage over Afghanistan and Pakistan, the former literally occupied and the latter surviving economically because of the past American packages as well as the big future one expected shortly.
In the absence of any help from the “friends of Pakistan”, the American aid plus the IMF loan — also thanks to American support — will be Pakistan’s survival kit as it fights the Taliban in Swat and the federal Tribal Areas.
The “troubled region” is not South Asia but its two western states of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mr. Holbrook may not willingly operate in India because the US does not have comparable leverage there.
India will be in a way part of Mr Holbrook’s assignment only because of its presence in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is not happy with what India is doing in Afghanistan and “from” Afghanistan into Balochistan. Hence one can expect that he will deal with the “proof” we have or may provide to the US of India’s “interference” inside Pakistan, including our tribal areas.
By extension, Central Asia too will feature. Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov said on Friday that he feared that rising tensions in Pakistan could trigger unrest in Central Asia.
Contrary to the good tidings given by the incumbent government in Pakistan that –Come Barak Hussain Obama the drone attacks on Pakistan will come to an end, it’s made clear by new American administration that Aerial Incursions will continue, the Al-Qaeda will be pursued, where ever they are (read Pakistan).
What’s the endgame.
President Asif Ali Zardari and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif met in Islamabad on Friday but could not reach any agreement to end the growing confrontation between the PMLN and the PPP. This was on the cards because Mr Nawaz Sharif had declined to meet Mr Zardari, which meant that Mr Shehbaz Sharif had to allow the talks to make predictable shipwreck on his insistence that Mr Zardari must remove the 17th Amendment and reinstate Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
In terms of real politik, the PML wants the PPP to go away so that mid-term elections can be held at a time when the Sharifs are riding high on opinion surveys in the country. The big thing is the powerful lawyers’ movement which is willing to go to the extremes that professionals are normally not expected to go.
The movement has announced a most aggressive Long March for the 9th of March, the day President Musharraf fired the chief justice in 2007. But March is the month when a part of the Senate is up for elections through collegial voting; giving the PPP the numbers it needs to consolidate its rule further.
If the PMLN is relying on the lawyers to pull its chestnuts out of the fire, has it planned the Long March in such a way that it forces a crisis big enough to force the PPP to bow out of political power?
The PMLN is not letting on but others like Mr Imran Khan of Tehreek-e-Insaf Pakistan are threatening to make the Long March dangerous enough.
There are also some like the highly organized Jama’at-e Islami that are willing to be more aggressive during their show of strength on the Constitution Avenue in Islamabad on March 9.
But will it be enough of a storm to cause political change in parliament? Will it result in violence, confrontation on the streets of Punjab and elsewhere in the Country?
Is the opposition banking on the army once again to intervene after the opposition has created a law and order problem?
The only time a political party enjoying a majority in parliament can be sent packing is when the army wants such a change. Not even Article 58-2(b) is effective unless that happens.
The PMLN cannot join forces with the breakaway PMLQ to deprive the PPP of more Senate seats; the PPP has just got the MQM to join the government at the centre.
One is bent on winning through inflexibility; the other is endlessly adaptive. Unfortunately, all the parties prefer to gamble without thinking of the endgame as they go on ignoring the constitutional requirement of giving a ruling party its five years in the driving seat.
May be creation of a National Security Council as a constitutional body with representation of army, navy and air chiefs and authority to exercise something like article 58 (2) b can work.
Essentially Pakistan is a security state and we can not dream of undiluted democracy or true federalism in foreseeable future. First it is national security; the federalism and democracy come after it.
It seems our politicians have not learnt from the past. It’s back to square one.
About the author: Amicus is the pseudonym of Advocate Mohammed Yousuf. With sixteen years in legal practice. He has written extensively on Politics. Current affairs and Militancy.

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