Pakistan now has a sovereign Parliament in place. The newly elected members have taken their oaths under the 1973 Constitution, and have also elected, by two-thirds majority, a new speaker and deputy speaker. Despite all of the backstage attempts to rig the 18 February elections in defiance of popular will, the new National Assembly is now set to move ahead with the agenda agreed upon between the leaderships of the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) in their Bhurban (Murree) Declaration of 9 March.
The 30-day countdown has already started for the reinstatement of those Supreme Court judges who were illegally removed by then-General Pervez Musharraf, in his capacity as army chief, and for those who refused to take oath under his unconstitutional PCO – an acronym that should stand for ‘Personal Constitutional Order’ rather than ‘Provisional Constitutional Order’. But questions still abound as to how all of his wrongs will be undone. Will it be through an executive order of the prime minister, or by a resolution of the National Assembly? No matter how it is to be accomplished, though, through the general elections the people of Pakistan have delivered a clear verdict: they want an end to one-man rule in their country. In its stead, they have opted for democracy and moderation, and have declared a firm ‘no’ to religious extremism and violence.
The Pakistani populace has also shown the world that, contrary to what President Musharraf had been telling his Western audiences in recent months, it is fully capable of embracing real democracy as practiced elsewhere. They have voted for the restoration of the 1973 Constitution, independence of judiciary, rule of law and fundamental freedoms – including media freedom. Although the full restoration of these rights may still take some time, one thing has become clear: in Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf and democracy cannot co-exist. The people have overwhelmingly voted against President Musharraf, and want him to go as soon as possible. Indeed, the strong anti-Musharraf verdict of the recent elections must in no way be mistaken or obfuscated. It is a clear mandate to the two mainstream parties, the PPP and the PML (N), to deliver on their commitments to put the country back on the path of democracy, based on constitutional supremacy, institutional integrity, rule of law and good governance as envisioned by these parties in their Charter of Democracy – the pact signed in London between Mian Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto in May 2006.
This is a formidable challenge. In the near future, the two parties must transcend all factional considerations, and join together in implementing the verdict of the people in letter and spirit. They also need to evolve a national consensus on a time-bound ‘recovery roadmap’ by which to salvage Pakistan from the chaos and confusion that it has experienced over the last eight years. Indeed, the success of the post-election process is now predicated on the ability of the newly elected leadership to forge a government of national unity.
The mainstream political parties have already joined hands in building an unprecedented grand coalition. This is an important, and laudable, first step, but now there can be no middle way, half measures or balancing acts in the process of restoring real democracy in Pakistan. After the crucial restoration of the judiciary, the next issue to tackle will be President Musharraf’s unconstitutional re-election. This process, it must be remembered, took place on 6 October 2007, while Gen Musharraf was still in uniform, and was accomplished through the same assemblies that had previously elected him – thus in firm violation of Articles 41 and 63 of the Constitution. It will have to be revisited by the new Parliament, which will need to remember not only that President Musharraf continued to canvas for the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) – best described as the Queue League – till the very last day of electioneering, but that the people then resoundingly rejected the ‘king’s party’, the only party to have voted for his re-election as president.
In the absence of a vote of confidence from the newly elected assemblies, Musharraf’s presidency would remain devoid of legitimacy or moral authority. Pakistan and its people do not deserve such a glaring illegality at the level of their head of state. Regretfully, however, as with any other wilful ruler, President Musharraf seems determined to hang on to power, no matter what happens to the country or its people. Unwilling to accept that, in a parliamentary democracy, the sovereign power rests with the people alone, President Musharraf was still exploring ‘power-sharing’ deals at the end of March.
In any parliamentary democracy – including in India – the president is merely a ceremonial head of state, and has no powers either to distort the will of the people or to change the country’s constitution. Instead, the figure of the president must act upon the advice of the true head of government. Likewise, Pakistan’s newly elected government and Parliament are also obliged to carry out the inalienable will of the people. No doubt this will be a formidable task.
Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani, a veteran politician and a former speaker of the National Assembly, nominated on 22 March by the PPP to be the next prime minister and head the coalition government, has a particularly challenging task ahead. His leadership qualities will be judged on the basis of his skills, as well as the policies that he will make and implement. At this point, the toughest challenge looks set to be tackling the twin menaces of violence and corruption. In both instances, this will need to be done through a steady, comprehensive and measured approach on both short- and long-term bases.
There is one particular glimmer of hope amidst the continuing violence – particularly suicidal bombings – that Pakistanis are enduring even after elections. It is widely felt, after all, that if President Musharraf were to step down, most of the ‘reactive’ violence that has erupted in recent years – largely in retaliation to his‘externally dominated’ policies – would also disappear.
If he does not choose to step down willingly, what of President Musharraf’s chances of political survival? It will be recalled that Musharraf’s previous “extra-constitutional” measures, including the removal of an elected prime minister on 12 October 1999, were brought before the subsequent legislature for “validation” and “indemnity”. In 2002, he finally managed to receive these from the newly elected National Assembly, by a two-thirds majority vote. This time, he is not expected to be so lucky. President Musharraf has very little support in the newly elected National Assembly, and a similar bill would be doomed to fail. It might even be defeated unanimously, something that has never happened before in the history of Pakistan. This would certainly be the death knell for all post-3 November actions that Gen Musharraf had taken as army chief, including his re-election and the dismissal of the judges. It might even prove to be the end of Pervez Musharraf’s political life.
The month of April will be crucial for Pakistan’s future as a democratic, moderate, forward-looking and progressive state. The best thing that President Musharraf could do in the current context would be to respect the voice of the people and avail himself of the opportunity for an honourable exit. Despite all that he has already done to the country’s Constitution, judiciary and institutions, he could perhaps still save himself from ignominy. Indeed, this one gracious act of stepping aside could change the course of Pakistan’s history, and the ‘war of one against all’ could finally come to an end for the beleaguered country.
The time has come for the people of Pakistan to renew their faith in themselves as the final arbiters of their destiny. Pakistan owes its existence to a courageous and visionary lawyer and constitutionalist, wedded to the rule of law. The survival of the country now lies in keeping the Quaid’s legacy alive. The people cannot afford any further unanticipated debacle. The current situation might be the last chance to pull the country out of its politico-judicial morass.
Image: Penguin India
Penguin India withdraws The Hindus
On 11 February 2014, Penguin India decided to recall and destroy all remaining copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History. The decision was part of an agreement between them and Shiksha Bachao Andolan, a Hindu campaign group that filed a case against the publishers in 2010, arguing that the book was insulting to Hindus and contained “heresies”.
From our archive:
Diwas Kc reviews The Hindus: An Alternative History. (March 2010)