The General discontent

As Pakistan enters the 62nd year of its collective national existence we are about to achieve a new milestone.

By Nasim Zehra (Vantage Point)

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Published: Sun 17 Aug 2008, 12:59 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:12 PM

If 2007 was the year of the peoples' awakening, peoples' realisation that the only and only way we could live peacefully and ensure justice, progress and prosperity it could be through rule of law, through unadulterated adherence to the Constitution of Pakistan, in 2008 we are at the verge of ensuring that even those in power and authority will adhere to the word and the spirit of the Constitution.

The controversially elected president, who managed the country to the best of his own personal, institutional and contextual limitation entered his second presidential term through unconstitutional means. He did so in violation of the word and the spirit of the Constitution. A uniformed candidate, who made adjustment with his political foe Benazir Bhutto, negotiated the controversial NRO to make his election process appear legitimate, sent the judiciary packing, imposed impartial law, tried his best to keep political leaders out of the country during the national elections, made a public commitment to get a vote of confidence from the electoral college i.e. the new elected assemblies, will soon be exiting from Pakistan's presidential slot. Whatever the back door negotiations that went on between the Presidents' men and the PPP leadership the net outcome has not been a dignified bowing out of the President. It should have been. In the May and subsequent July, indirect and direct, communication between the President and the PPP did not lead to the president's departure. The Americans were also part of the May communication.

Where do we stand today? Impeachment in the works but still a serious behind the scene effort is on to ensure general Musharraf's dignified exit. His failure to bow out has brought matters to the impeachment point otherwise his blunders notwithstanding he is still a candidate for a dignified exit. He has done his best for Pakistan — he was the man in the wrong profession, in the wrong mode and in violation of the Constitution ever since he set foot on the political stage. But then on each occasion there was a section of politicians and we from civil society and media who supported him in many of his actions. The MMA supported the seventeenth amendment, the PPP never stood out and roundly opposed the Lal Masjid operation, many of us supported him when he took over in October 1999, many defended his post 9/11 policy as one 'getting us out of the firing line', many parties argued he was not doing enough against "extremists" after 9/11, most parties agreed with his India policy, after his government's unforgivable Bugti killing many political parties including the PPP engaged with him.

Such is the nature of politics. Power games operate within the realm of the greys.

Musharraf is no Pinochet, who slaughtered, killed and maimed anything liberal or democratic that moved in Chile. He was a corrupt butcher who led, facilitated by Washington, the one of the most brutal regimes in modern day history. Musharraf was a blundering, quasi democratic dictator who, supported by the army, and until January 2007 assisted mostly by different sections of the politicians, society and even media mutilated Pakistan's Constitution and politics. His cardinal sin was the way he handled Lal Masjid episode, the Bugti killing and the extradition of Pakistanis in the war on terror. But in that too he was partnered by many in high places in power and politics.

The main culprit, after Musharraf, of all of the questionable Musharraf era policies have been the PML-Q leaders, who incidentally are being welcomed in the ruling coalition's ranks. They are not being kept away because they partnered the crimes that the ruling coalition holds Musharraf responsible for. There can be no black and white.

But yes away from the world of politics we can state facts as they are. Those who publicly criticised Musharraf policies still opted to stay in what was essentially the Musharraf league. It always was his party — not much more. They criticised but they never resigned. Now they defend Musharraf with lame reasoning. Their criticism is that the coalition's attempt to remove the president is one of trying to occupy the presidency and to establish a one party system. One party system was what the president attempted and the Q greatly benefited from it. Today all of Pakistan's democratically elected, minus MQM, are more than 5 political parties who seek the president's exit. As for the 'occupation' of the presidency, the president sat there as an unconstitutional president and the parliament is completely within its rights to demand his exit. If it is the controversial PPP leader Asif Zardari who is vying for the presidency, although he has denied it, there are all the elected parties which will keep him out or bring him in. It will be a democratic process. And no civilian president will dare be the king almighty. That is the Pakistan of today. All power will be held incessantly and publicly accountable. Coup makers, kings, queens are out! Those who are tutoring the president that he has a case to fight back are not his friends. Yes the president must have the right to present his case. But case for what? Case of his nine year performance. He must have the right to recall what he believed was his contributions towards the well-being of Pakistan. He must have his say. His will not be the last word. The debates will go into time and space endlessly. But one which will have everyone's input.

The controversy over the president will Insha Allah pass without too much strain on the system, too much waste of time and too much antagonism among institutions and individuals who currently run the affairs of the State.

As we begin our 62nd year, with all the challenges notwithstanding there are clear signs that we are attempting to walk away from irresponsible exercise of power. At least that is what the awakening of 2007 is now demanding. In a nutshell what did we live with over the last 61 years? We carried on within a context of depleting respect for law, of increasing exercise of unaccountable authority, of weakening law enforcement systems and of continuing violation of democratic values. Business of the State and the government has been run mostly outside of the parameters laid down in the Constitution and the Rules of Business. Instead in the mode of emperors and empresses the khakis and the muftis have conducted have managed the state, government and society through clique 'wisdom' and 'wishes', non-transparent, illegitimate kitchen cabinets, personalised interlocutors and hand-picked favourites.

All that is changing. With the president's exit we will focus then on the exercise of authority by those we elected. No matter how powerful they may be, no parliamentarian and party leader is more powerful than the accountability of a responsible and aware society and media. Brighter even if complex days are ahead. We are on the right track. We need patience and perseverance.

Nasim Zehra is an Islamabad -based national security strategist

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