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November '07: Pakistan Deserves Better

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Pakistan Deserves Better
Pakistan is going through a turmoil. Amidst this chaos, when the country is hotage to the whims of a few individuals , citizens have been reduced to mere puppets.For the November individu spotlight, we wanted to focus on the message Pakistan deserves better. Its people deserves better. This thought is best expressed in this article which , through special permission , is being reproduced as the November spotlight. It first appeared in the Dawn. As always, feedback will be most welcome.

On Nov 3 the fifth martial law was clamped on Pakistan by General Musharraf. It was for the first time in history that a military ruler had imposed martial law against his own rule.

The arguments he presented to justify his extra-constitutional action turned out to be a charge-sheet against his own person. If Pakistan was really on the brink of destabilisation then who is to be blamed? It was Musharraf who was at the helm of
affairs for the last eight years. He had sweeping powers.

When he launched his coup against the elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Oct 12, 1999, after he was dismissed from the post of army chief in the wake of the Kargil crisis, he promised a panacea for all the problems faced by the nation in the form of a seven-point agenda. He promised the Supreme Court to implement this agenda within three years. After 9/11 he re-packaged himself as a warrior against extremism and terrorism and promised to purge all forms of extremism from the country.

After eight years, General Musharraf is now telling us that the relations between organs of state had become unmanageable and the wave of extremism had assumed alarming proportions. Instead of accepting his failure to deliver the much promised seven-point agenda and eradicate extremism, General Musharraf usurped the fundamental rights of 160 million citizens, the independence of the judiciary and freedom of media. He has put Pakistan on the title pages of major international papers and magazines not for any innovation, breakthrough, or miracle but for a crackdown on civil liberties.

His actions are serving those lobbies well which are all out to project Pakistan as a dangerous country. General Musharraf is telling the world that even after sixty years Pakistan cannot be governed by a constitution. The irony is that to justify his extra-constitutional step he quoted Abraham Lincoln, whose entire life was dedicated towards making rule of law the bedrock of the US federation. After this do we need external enemies?

Pakistan was created out of a historic democratic struggle by Muslims of South Asia under the dynamic leadership of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, an eminent constitutionalist, whose vision was to establish a modern Muslim state based on rule of law, social justice, and equal citizenship regardless of religion, caste, or creed. He categorically declared that the role of the military was restricted to defending geographic boundaries of the country.

But unfortunately after Mr. Jinnah’s demise and Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination, an ambitious general, Ayub Khan, began intriguing to realise his ambitions. He abrogated the constitution by staging a coup in 1958 and showed the way to his successors, Yahya and Zia. On Oct 12, 1999 General Musharraf imposed the fourth martial law after he was dismissed as army chief. Initially he was under pressure from the international community but after 9/11 he jumped on to the bandwagon of the war against terror acquiring the role of a frontline state in the US war.

On Mar 9, he dismissed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in a pre-emptive strike to safeguard his next term in office, a move which backfired resulting in an unprecedented struggle of lawyers, civil society, and political activists to get the chief
justice restored. This gave the judiciary for the first time an aura of independence that raised public hopes that finally the ‘General-Judge-Jagirdar’ troika was about to break. This had held the state hostage since 1958. It was the finest moment of our history with the people’s confidence in the judiciary being restored.

What Musharraf called paralysis of the executive was actually a sense of accountability that overtook the top echelons of the administration for the first time. But this dream proved to be short lived as the judiciary and the media became the principal targets of his fifth martial law to show that the barrel of the gun was still heavier than the rule of law in Pakistan.

There are three clear motives behind the Nov 3 action. First, fear of a judgment against General Musharraf’s eligibility in uniform for the office of president. Secondly, apprehensions about securing desired results in the next election through rigging in the presence of an independent judiciary and media. Thirdly, the Supreme Court’s contempt proceedings in Nawaz Sharif’s
deportation case in which clear evidence against the prime minister had come on record and the Supreme Court had directed the government to submit a written assurance before Nov 8 regarding the implementation of its judgment to allow Nawaz Sharif entry into Pakistan.

The questions which arise are: is General Musharraf above the law and the constitution? Can’t the Supreme Court give a decision against the head of state? Is the court only for the common man and the powerful and the mighty are outside its scope? Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) described the secret of the rise and fall of nations as being the application of their laws. Those who had separate laws for the common man and another set for the mighty could never succeed.

Is it not strange that here we have a system in which the president’s apprehension of a court ruling allows him to roll over the courts and constitution. Who has given one man the authority to be the final arbiter of national interest? Nations can endure poverty, malnutrition and hunger but no nation can survive without the supremacy of rule of law.

General Musharraf may be a necessity for President Bush but the Pakistani nation’s agenda is to achieve the supremacy of the constitution, an independent judiciary, free media and transparent democracy. The president has become incompatible with Pakistan’s agenda. These are defining moments for every Pakistani, who must decide whether he/she is on the side of the rule of law or dictatorship. If General Musharraf succeeds in thrusting a rigged election upon the nation then we will be pushed back to 1958 and all the sacrifices made for the independence of the judiciary will go in vain.

This battle is not about who will stay in power or who will come into power. It is about what legacy are we going to leave for our children. Will Pakistanis be entitled to self governance or will they remain colonised by the ambitions of one man? It is a testing
moment for all those who have been blessed by this country with big offices, businesses, houses and titles. The poor are already struggling, with thousands of them facing the regime’s brutality on streets and in jails. Fifty judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts have shown the way by refusing to take the oath under Musharraf’s PCO. They should be brought back. Our future will depend on whether the privileged heed the call of their motherland or are guided by vested interests.

The writer Mr Ahsan Iqbal is Secretary Information, PML-N, and a former Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission of Pakistan.



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