Pakistan – a dream gone sour

Nation, Lahore
March 28, 2005
Pakistan – a dream gone sour
By Roedad Khan

47 years after the first military coup, we are back to square one. The country is under military rule for the fourth time and going down the tubes. When I heard Secretary Rice, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “It is not the Pakistan of September 11, 2001”, she said and, “not even the Pakistan of September 11, 2002”. It is a ghost of its former self. If Pakistan were to look into a mirror, it won’t recognise itself.
Today say: “Pakistan” and what comes to mind: sham democracy, fraudulent referendum, rigged elections, a General in uniform masquerading as the President of this sad country, a rubber stamp parliament, a pliant judiciary and a figurehead Prime Minister. “Pakistan”, Dr Rice said, “Is in transition to a democratic future”. Sadly, our democratic future is not in front of us.
It is far behind us. Democracy in the west means a political system marked not only by free, fair and impartial elections, but also by rule of law, a strong, independent judiciary and an independent Election Commission. All these institutions are non-existent in Pakistan today. Since the days of Herodotus democracy has meant, first and foremost, rule of the people. In Pakistan, the people do not rule. The sovereign power of the state does not reside with the people. “Where ought the sovereign power of the state to reside”? Ask Aristotle. “With the people? With the propertied classes? With the good? With one man, the best of all, the good? With one man, the tyrant”? One thing is clear. The sovereignty of the people is a myth. To apply the adjective sovereign to the people in Pakistan is a tragic farce.
Whatever the constitutional position, in the final analysis defacto sovereignty in Pakistan (Majestas est summa in civas ac subditoes legibusque soluta potestas i.e. ‘highest power over citizens and subjects unrestrained by law in the words of French Jurist Jean Bodin’) resides neither in the electorate, nor the parliament, nor the judiciary, nor even the Constitution which has superiority over all the institutions it creates. It resides, where the coercive power resides.
It is the ‘pouvoir occulte’ which is the ultimate authority in the decision making process in Pakistan. Even when an elected government is in power, it is the COAS who is the ultimate authority in decision-making. He decides when to abrogate the Constitution, when it should be held in abeyance, when an elected government should be sacked and when democracy should be given a chance. Behind the scenes, it is he who decides whether an elected Prime Minister shall live or die. No wonder, General Musharraf is clinging to the post of COAS and refuses to doff his uniform.
“Ruin comes”, Plato said in 347 BC, “When the General uses his army to establish a military dictatorship”. The army of Pakistan struck Pakistan’s nascent democracy four times and has been in power for nearly half the country’s existence. It has cast a long shadow over politics in Pakistan even during the period of civilian rule. Repeated army intervention in the politics of Pakistan has been a recipe for disaster.
It has thwarted the growth and development of parliamentary democracy and destroyed whatever little faith people had in their political institutions. What is worse, it has eroded people’s faith in themselves as citizens of a sovereign, independent, democratic country. The country is in a mess. Today Pakistan presents an image of a country plagued by political, ethnic and sectarian conflicts. The country appears to be adrift, lacking confidence about its future. Never before has public confidence in the country’s future sunk so low.
The army has shown a greater willingness to grasp power than to give it up. None of the first three army chiefs who ruled Pakistan gave up power voluntarily. There is no reason to believe that General Musharraf will act differently. A few days after the 1999 coup, his spokesman insisted that: ‘while others may have tried to hang on to power, we will not. We will make history’.
Gen Musharraf agreed: ‘All I can say’, he assured a television interviewer in January 2000, ‘Is that I am not going to perpetuate myself … I can’t give any certificate on it but my word of honour. I will not perpetuate myself’. Later in 2000, Musharraf went a stage further and said, he would respect a Supreme Court judgment that stated he would remain in office for just three years. In June 2001, Musharraf performed a complete U-turn. Following the examples of Ayub, Yahya and Zia, he made himself President. And in May 2002, he held a dubious referendum that is the basis of his rule today.
It is not morning in Pakistan. It will take us more than faith to get us through this dark night. All the trappings of democracy are there but everyone knows where vital decisions are made. All the pillars of state have collapsed. One of the most serious injuries the state can inflict on its subjects is to strip the country of its Constitution, aptly described as a “transparent garment clinging to the body politic”, and commit the people to lives of perpetual uncertainty. This kind of existence, as we know very well, is like a journey full of dangerous obstacles and risks undertaken in total darkness.
General Musharraf, following the example of his military predecessors, has defaced, disfigured and decimated the Constitution. The result is what we have today. One doesn’t have to be a great constitutional expert to realise that we are back to pre-independence government of India Act 1935 with a powerful President, a non-sovereign parliament and a puppet Prime Minister. Parliament is one of the chief instruments of our democracy. Is it consistent with the principle of parliamentary democracy to empower the President at the expense of the Prime Minster? And is it consistent with the principle of parliamentary democracy to divest the parliament and pass on its functions to an un-elected body like the NSC dominated by the armed forces.
Not surprisingly, the parliament is cowed, timid, a virtual paralytic, over paid and under employed. In Pakistan political principle is a flexible commodity. Pragmatism and artful dodging are not seen as flip-flopping. They are savored far more than loyalty, consistency and steadfastness. Parliamentary membership is the key to material success, a passport and a license to loot and plunder. No wonder, it is not a check on the arbitrariness of the executive and nobody takes it seriously.
Today judiciary is the weakest of the three pillars of state. It has suffered a steady diminution of power and prestige. Its image is tarnished. Things have been downhill ever since the infamous Munir judgment. Regrettably, judiciary has been turned into a fig-leaf for unconstitutional and illegal practices. It is a matter of great regret that judges have been collusive in the erosion of the Constitution and the rule of law in this country. Today nothing prevents the executive from court-packing and appointing party loyalists with limited knowledge and experience.
If the idea was to degrade the superior courts and to find the worst men, some of our governments succeeded brilliantly in doing so. “The President may slip”, Tocqueville wrote in 1837, “without the state suffering, for his duties are limited. Congress may slip without the Union perishing, for above the Congress there is the electoral body, which can change its spirit by changing its members. But if ever the Supreme Court came to be composed of corrupt or weak or rash persons, the Confederation would be threatened by anarchy or civil war”.
One of the lessons of history is that when judiciary functions at the behest of authority and allows itself to be used against the citizens, the dykes of law and justice break and revolution begins. The history of Pakistan might have been different if judges of the superior courts had stood their ground and refused to collaborate with the usurper. Pakistan will be Pakistan again the day a judge of the superior court, in exercise of his awesome powers, interposes the shield of law in defense of the Constitution.
General Musharraf’s authoritarian regime, far from being temporary, is acquiring the mantle of permanence. Unless checked, the country will settle into a form of government with a democratic façade and a hard inner core of authoritarianism – an iron hand with a velvet glove.
This is not what Mr Jinnah envisaged for Pakistan. If anybody in this country or abroad thinks that General Musharraf will hold free, fair and impartial elections in this country in 2007 and retire; that a genuine transfer of power to a civilian government will follow the election and the army will return to the barracks, he must think again and have his head examined. The lesson of history is that a person who possesses supreme power, seldom gives it away voluntarily. “No devil”, Trotsky wrote long ago, “has ever cut its claws voluntarily”. “No man”, President Roosevelt once remarked, “ever willingly gives up public life – no man who has ever tasted it”.
As the public mood shifts from fearful to defiant, the 1999 coup seems more of a farce than a tragedy. Our window of opportunity is getting narrower by the day. I believe that if only all the intellectuals could get together and blow their trumpets, the walls of ‘Jericho’ would crumble. The walls of autocracy in Pakistan will not crumble with just one good push. The present order will not go quietly. It will be an uphill struggle to redeem our democracy and fashion it once again into a vessel to be proud of.
If democracy is good for Georgia, Ukraine and now Krygyzstan, why is it not good for Pakistan? Why is Secretary Rice asking the people of Pakistan to be patient and wait for elections in 2007? America gave its full support to pro-democracy Orange and Velvet revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. Why is it perpetuating authoritarianism in Pakistan? Why this double-talk? Why this double standard? Isn’t it shrieking hypocrisy? Isn’t it just Realpolitik? Isn’t it sacrificing democracy, freedom, supremacy of civilian rule on the altar of self-interest? Isn’t it a repudiation of everything America claims to stand for?

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