The popular verdict of 18 February 2008 was clear: the people had overwhelmingly rejected General Musharraf’s policies that, in the name of ‘war on terror’, had plunged the FATA and NWFP into a war-like situation and, despite all tall claims about economic progress, had greatly widened the gulf between the rich and the poor. The people had also shown strong disapproval of Musharraf’s sacking of the superior court judges and the Proclamation of Emergency on 3 November 2007.
When on 24 March 2008, the National Assembly elected the PPP candidate Makhdoom Yusuf Raza Gilani as the Prime Minister, the hall resounded with the slogans of ‘Jiay Bhutto’ and ‘Go Musharraf Go’ and when the Prime Minister ordered the release of the ‘deposed’ judges, the applause was deafening. The majority of the elected representatives had expressed the sentiments of their electorates, viz:
- ‘Restoration’ of the pre-PCO judiciary
- Exit of General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf
On 29 March 2008 Yusuf Raza Gilani secured a unanimous vote of confidence from the National Assembly. On the floor of the House he declared that his government was not afraid of “innumerable challenges” that it would have to face and that “the restoration of law and order and total elimination of terrorism” would be its first priority. He identified unemployment, inflation and poverty as the second most pressing problem for his government. Referring to the crises with which the country was beset, the Prime Minister placed the problems of electricity, water, flour and high prices at the top and admitted that no immediate solution to these problems was possible.
In his address to the National Assembly on the occasion, he announced a number of steps that his government intended to take, including:
- Negotiations with “all those people who will lay down arms and adopt the path of peace.”
- Repeal of the Frontier Crime Regulations of 1901 that are still applicable to FATA.
- Repeal of Industrial Relations Order 2002 that imposes curbs on trade union activities.
- Revival of student unions.
- Formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to promote national reconciliation, particularly in Balochistan where excesses have been committed.
- Abolition of Concurrent List of the Constitution to devolve more powers to the provinces.
- Framing of a new freedom of information law and making of Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) a subsidiary of the Information Ministry.
- Bringing of National Accountability Bureau under the control of the judiciary.
- Creation of an Employment Commission to provide jobs in private and public sectors.Launching of a National Employment Scheme in 50 per cent of districts to provide job to at least one person from every family.
- Establishment of a Literacy and Health Corporation to provide jobs to young people for two years after graduation.
- Construction of more power plants and small dams for energy and irrigation purposes and taking of energy conservation measures.
- Setting up of a Madressah Welfare Authority to prescribe in consultation with the stake-holders a uniform syllabus for madressahs and to audit their funds.
- Building of a million housing units every year for low-income groups. Launching of five-marla schemes in villages where state land is available and of schemes to provide flats and 80 square yards plots to homeless in cities.
- Adoption of several austerity measures, including cut in the budget of the Prime Minister House by 40% and ban on renovation of government buildings and residences.
- Hundred days after the unveiling of the above-mentioned ambitious plan the government’s performance does not appear up to the mark in making progress towards the achievement of most of its goals.
Let us see where the government actually stands:
During the election campaign all the parties except the MQM and PMLQ, had declared their support for the lawyers’ movement. Before her assassination Benazir Bhutto had publicly demanded the ‘restoration’ of the pre-PCO judiciary and visited the Judges Colony as a gesture of support. BB’s wish notwithstanding, the ‘restoration’ of judiciary has not taken place. The PPP has backed out from the Murree Accord / Bhurban Declaration concluded by Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif which contemplated ‘reinstatement’ of ‘deposed’ judges within a month through a resolution of the National Assembly followed by an executive order.
The PPP has assumed the position, (ironically rightly so), that this can only be done through a constitutional amendment, which it has made a component of its proposed ‘constitutional package’.
The PPP has taken the stand that the individuals are not important and it wants to ensure the independence of judiciary as an institution.
However, the PPP’s proposed constitutional package provides for restriction on the Supreme Court’s power to take up matters of “general public importance” suo motu.
It also provides for fixation of the tenure of the Chief Justice of Pakistan.
By making it conditional that the ‘restoration’ of judiciary and that too after retaining the post- PCO judges can only take place if the constitutional package is passed by the Parliament, the PPP has betrayed its intention of not reinstating Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry as the Chief justice of Pakistan.
The payment of salaries to the pre-PCO judges and budgetary provision for 29 Supreme Court judges, appears to be an ad-hoc measure to cool down the lawyers’ movement and gain time.
But this policy has put the PPP-PML (N) coalition in danger. The PML (N) has withdrawn from the federal government creating uncertainty about the future of present dispensation.
The PPP’s proposed constitutional package provides for giving validity to the Proclamation of Emergency of 3 November 2007 and actions taken under it, including the Provisional Constitution Order.
Under pressure of public opinion the PPP leaders claim that they do not consider Musharraf as lawfully elected President but are not prepared to do anything to remove him. The PPP does not want to jeopardize its ‘deal’ with Musharraf under which it had agreed to accept Musharraf as President and Musharraf on his part promulgated the so-called National Reconciliation Ordinance to clear the PPP leadership of all corruption charges.
On the issue of ‘war on terror’, it seems that some qualitative change has taken place because of the policy of the NWFP government led by the ANP and due to the fact that the cost of military operation against the Taliban has proved to be unbearable. Otherwise there is not an iota of difference between the approaches of Musharraf and the PPP on the issue.
In his address of 29 March 2008, Prime Minister Gilani had stated: “The war against terrorism is our own war because countless of our innocent children and jawans have fallen martyrs as a result of it.”
He conveniently forgot that these jawans were killed while fighting the American war. The premise that the so-called ‘war on terror’ is our war is reflective of the policy which was categorically rejected by the people on 18 February.
The Prime Minister had promised in the same speech that his government would announce a new package for the tribal areas as an “important pillar of our strategy in the war against terrorism”; however, to this date it has failed to come up with any such package.
Hailing the announcement of the Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani that the army personnel would be recalled from civilian departments, Gilani had stated: “It is necessary for the solidarity and progress of the country that every institution fulfils its specific responsibilities.” He had added, “Governance is the responsibility of only the people.”
However, with regard to FATA, the Democratic Government has abdicated or conveniently passed on the ultimate authority, (one may say the buck) to deal with the militants, to the army chief.
- No repeal of the Frontier Crime Regulations has taken place. The FATA is still subject to this colonial and archaic piece of legislation.
- No repeal of Industrial Relations Order 2002 has taken place. The restrictions on trade union activities exist as before.
- Although ban on student unions has been lifted, the conditions do not appear conducive for holding of elections in educational institutions.
- No progress has been made towards the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The idea derived from South African experience would have enabled the nation to realize its past mistakes, in particular in dealing with the Balochistan situation. Although the government has released some Baloch leaders, much is needed to be done.
- The PPP has proposed renaming of the NWFP as Pakhtunistan and included this proposal in its constitutional package, but the matter rests there.
- Virtually no debate is going on concerning the abolition of the Concurrent List of subjects. If there is sincerity of intention, it is not necessary that every amendment should be made through a ‘constitutional package’.
- Except for Eighth, Thirteenth and Seventeenth Amendments which were packages, all other amendments to the Constitution of 1973 were issue specific. Constitutional matters on which a general agreement is forged can be isolated from the proposed constitutional package and passed as separate amendments.
- Although the Pemra laws have been amended, there has been no freedom of information law on anvil.
- NAB has not been placed under the control of judiciary.
- There has been no visible progress towards creation of Employment Commission or Literacy and Health Corporation. No launching of National Employment scheme is in sight.
- The energy conservation program is not working satisfactorily. The construction of more power plants and dams is a long term issue. The government has announced it would not proceed with the construction of the Kaka Bagh dam.
- The Madressah Welfare Authority has not been set up. The ulema have already rejected the idea of any such authority.
- On the positive side, the government has only taken some austerity measures, including a 30% cut in the budget of the PM House. It has raised the minimum salary in public sector to Rs 6000 and given a 20% increase in running basic salaries and a 100% increase in conveyance allowance of the public sector employees which is a joke in the face of inflation that has gone out of control.
The cost of energy and food items is rising without respite, whereas the value of rupee is steadily declining and $ is now worth Rs 73. Due to a 30% increase in gas price, the textile mills have threatened to shut down and the transporters are clamoring for a rise in fare.
The internal security situation is grave. The law and order has nearly collapsed. The FATA and NWFP are in turmoil. There has been no let up in the insurgency in Balochistan. The stock exchanges are on a downward slide.
There is a constant outflow of capital to foreign countries. Industrialization is on a standstill. Poverty is on increase, abject reality all around.. Unemployment is rampant. Suicide rates have doubled over the last couple of months. Pakistan will become a hell for the poor if subsidies on fuel and food are withdrawn by the end of the year as envisaged by the government.
On a different note, in the absence of a serious repair job, through political means and immediate substantial economic inputs \ from the Government in the Tribal Area and FATA, Pakistan is fast heading towards radicalization of vast parts of its society, leading to societal conflicts, erosion of writ of the State, chaotic conditions and collapse of established order.
At the end of its first hundred days in power, the PPP-led coalition gives the impression of a ship adrift in the high sea without a sense of direction.
At a time when the dire need of Pakistan is to have a strong leadership, it has a President who has fallen from grace, a Prime Minister who lacks authority, a Parliament that has chosen to remain insecure and a Judiciary, waiting to be resurrected. 100 days shows, how people have been empowered to be the beasts of Burdon.
The people are aghast to see the ship without a captain. They are clueless as to whether someone is steering the ship or it is being remotely controlled from Washington, DC, or is headed in the dire straits.