Of dirty dictators and polluted politicians

By: Shahzad Chaudhry

The real reasons for our plight may be many but the elitist nature of politics distances itself from the masses after the politicians have been brought into power on the basis of their electoral votes

Just as the 19th Amendment gets mentioned with an increasing frequency when the 18th has yet to become a law, I have chosen to make a break from my follow-up piece on ‘Forging Pakistan’s economic future – I’, (Daily Times, April 5, 2010) to discuss the fallout of this significant constitutional achievement by the Raza Rabbani Committee. It borders on being great only for the consensus it gained from the 16 participating political parties, and for adjusting some critical Centre-province matters, though a lot is left to be said and done within.

It is rare that a parliament, given Pakistan’s peculiar political culture and a non-serious approach to basic legislative and governance issues, chooses to grapple with matters as grave as constitutional reforms. After all the hullabaloo is done and over with, we should rewind to the basic intent of initiating the constitutional review. There were two underlying reasons to a common cause of the PPP and the PML-N in initiating the 18th Amendment. The PML-N had a serious gripe with Musharraf for understandable reasons and would therefore wish for a complete abolition of any and everything that he may have done during his rule – they, in particular, still clamour for an exemplary first-time treatment of the since retired and self-exiled general under Article 6 of the constitution dealing with ‘high treason’.

The PPP, though grievously harmed and one may add absolutely justifiably on the judicial murder of the brilliant Zulfikar Ali Bhutto under direction by the then ruler Ziaul Haq, had chosen a more amenable consensual route towards nation building. They were, however, burdened with some weighty baggage of the past that just would not un-stick. The Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed between late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif with an intention to control and discipline the judiciary, and as an agreement between the two to end backstabbing and sniping at each other disabling space to non-political interventions, became a popular cry of the PML-N when the PPP government dithered unendingly in implementing the provisions of the CoD. The weight of a promise unfulfilled, suitably augmented by the self-generated pressure of inept governance, burdened by a constantly lurking judiciary reinstated with greatest reluctance under some visible nudging from the feared quarters, forced PPP’s hand in the reformation act. The PPP needed some escape clauses provided in the CoD to manage a reactivated judiciary and the 18th Amendment seemed the most kosher way of legalising some, if not all, means to balance the judiciary’s spite as evinced in their proclamations on the NRO.

The second compulsive dynamic for the PPP to reform the constitution was the most popular gripe of involved quarters on the unfettered powers that were bestowed on a beleaguered President Zardari via a carry-over from the Musharraf regime. In the name of balancing powers between the president and the prime minister, and a more popular demand to restore the parliamentary nature of the governing structure, the 18th Amendment became a sine qua non for restoring credibility to a democratic dispensation. While the prime minister now owns those unfettered powers and becomes the centre-point for ensuring deliverance of policy and governance, the move has brought to the PPP some desperate breathing space and accolades, while taking the spotlight away from the president, at least for the moment.

These are all tactical gains meant to assuage ingrained animosities bequeathed by the unfortunate political history of Pakistan. And yet, the most rewarding bouquets of the entire process are but the sense of rare consensus and maturity that the political parties have shown in working together on issues of national import, and bringing into balance the Centre-provinces relationship that should augur well for the future of the federation, only if each rises above their current levels and takes on the responsibility of service to the people. The cry of the times is an inevitable need for politics to change course and grapple with its real reason of existence – service to the people and service alone; never politics for the sake of power only.

What were equally notable were some deliberate omissions from the amendment. The binding nature of intra-party elections as an essential requirement got booted out, hurting democracy no end. The real reasons for our plight may be many but the elitist nature of politics distances itself from the masses after the politicians have been brought into power on the basis of their electoral votes. Once safely ensconced, the politicians retain the rather thin veil of reverting to the electorate for a performance check; this, however, comes with a lapse of five years, leaving the masses to continuous suffering with no recourse to an early succour. Such magnificent failing in the redrawn clause is also a virtual passage to dynastic politics. With those on display, it only portends equally magnificent dismalness. None is a Benazir, or even a distant close; and this is true of all heirs-apparent. On a recent TV talk show, an anchor tried in vain to dig beneath the flashy exteriors of a couple of such aspirants and came up with empty holes on the inside. When the poor and the middle-class are not represented in a party’s leadership, or have no hope of upward mobility, the political classes and their structures become irrelevant to the people. In this alone may lie the biggest threat to the political structures of the state, rather than the possibility of another ‘dirty dictator’ spoiling the party. Kyrgyzstan is too recent to forget.

Military bashing has been a natural instinct in these euphoric times. I carry no brief, nor apology for the doings of a few who deserve what history will mete out to them, but seriously detest the easy way out of introspection when major failures of leadership, organisational inadequacies and intellectual voids amongst the rulers tend to be brushed under. It will be instructive to objectively view the prevailing political environment before each military dictator found the inviting chink or cleavage and plonked himself with no sense on how to exit. All, except Musharraf, were assisted by colluding politicos and a rapidly destabilising environment. Ayub may have started the rot but the foundations were laid far before him of a disintegrating political structure; his biggest blunder though was succumbing to Yahya and not taking the constitutional route to abdication. While Yahya was a pervasive disaster, Musharraf is an ongoing story that has yet to see its end. It is interesting to review the political environment leading to Zia’s intervention, as it could be the most abiding lesson for our politicians to heed.

The religious flavour incorporated in Zia’s 8th Amendment is now difficult to dislodge and continues to be a source of debate. And, pray, for what reason did we miss out on instituting a National Security Council (NSC) – not because Mian sahib hates the term. Had we had one, the five secretaries of various ministries may not have had to visit the GHQ for parleys with the army chief.


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