La Patrie en Danger
The Nation, April 26, 2007
Pakistan was born free, sovereign and independent. Today it is in chains, under military rule for the fourth time and in deep, deep trouble. Once we believed we were possessed of a unique destiny. Today our country is dysfunctional and sleepwalking toward disaster. It is, in the evocative French word, “Pourri” – rotten to the core.
On March 9, the die was cast. On that day, General Musharraf crossed an invisible Rubicon. The ‘suspension’ of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was seen by the people as an affront. Pakistan’s fledgling democracy hit rock bottom. That was the moment when Pakistan lifted its head and began to fight back against military fiat. Chief Justice Iftikhar has ignited a flame that would soon engulf the entire country. General Musharraf thought himself poised on the cusp of power but is sliding down a slippery slope. That is for sure.
General Musharraf’s fateful decision to ‘suspend’ the Chief Justice reminds me of the late, unlamented Adolf Hitler. He was replying to a Goring complaint that the Judges had behaved disgracefully in the Reichstag Fire Case. “You would think that we were on trial, not the Communists”, said Goring.
“It is only a question of time. I know how to deal with them”. Replied Hitler. “We shall soon have those old fellows talking our language. They are all ripe for retirement anyway, and we will put in our own people”.
Today Pakistan is a shadow of what it used to be. After seven years of military dictatorship, with no voice in the election of their President, people feel alienated. The sense of public frustration is palpable. What is there to celebrate? The Federation is united only by a ‘Rope of sand’. 59 years after independence, Pakistan is torn between its past and present and dangerously at war with itself. The state of the federation is chilling, thanks to poor, illegitimate leadership and inept handling.
Pakistan is not the country it was seven years ago. Back then, the country was settled, stable, democratic and free. Today, Pakistan is a “rentier state”, under military rule, ill-led, ill-governed by a power-hungry junta. Even the most incurable optimists, as some of us are, are deeply worried. Today “Democracy” in Pakistan is a mask behind which a pestilence flourishes unchallenged. It has a disjointed, lop-sided, hybrid political system – a non-sovereign, rubber stamp, cowed, timid and paralytic parliament, a powerful President in uniform, a weak and ineffective Prime Minister appointed by the President. Political institutions established at the time of independence are still there, albeit now in anemic form. One by one, all the arguments for military rule and dismissal of an elected government are tumbling. They are falling like skittles in a bowling alley. Bit by bit, the foundations of this regime are crumbling to dust. The coup against Nawaz Sharif and the imposition of military rule seven years ago, was, in my view, only a holding operation, a postponement of history. It cannot last. History is against it.
Today say Pakistan and what comes to mind, a ‘corpse in armour’, a military elite perched on top of a mass of poverty – stricken populace. Their brilliant courts are centers of conspicuous consumption. An army of servants, hangers – on, a vast array of bodyguards, meaningless visits to obscure countries, all at the expense of the poor tax-payer, with no constitutional or other checks.
The most important three words in the American Constitution are: “We The People”. Democracy means rule of the people, by the people, for the people. It means the right of the people to elect their ruler in a free, fair and impartial election. General Musharraf has denied the people the right to elect their President in accordance with the constitution. They have no say in the affairs of State either. In furtherance of its political ambitions, the military government defaced, disfigured and mutilated the Constitution in violation of the condition imposed by the Supreme Court. It has turned the parliament and the judiciary into a fig-leaf for unconstitutional and illegal practices. And last but not least, General Musharraf reneged on his promise to give up the post of Army Chief and doff his uniform.
General Musharraf said recently that Pakistan faced the biggest threat to its security from religious extremism. This is not true. Religious extremism is not peculiar to Pakistan. It is a global fact, which has surfaced in every major faith in response to the problems of modernity. Religious extremism in Islam is not a new phenomenon. It is an old dispute with liberalizers and secularists, within our religion, pre-dating Attaturk’s secularisation of Turkey. General Musharraf is merely parroting and mechanically repeating what George W Bush has been saying since 9/11. It is intended only to deflect attention from the challenge to his title to rule. It leaves people cold. Today the real threat, the only threat to Pakistan does not come from across the border or religious extremism. It stems from military rule.
The failed assassination attempts targeting President Musharraf in Rawalpindi are a grim reminder of a very real threat the country faces. In the absence of an agreed constitution, a genuinely democratic political order, a binding law of political succession and transfer of power, who would take over as President once General Musharraf leaves the stage? Much more important: who would takeover as army chief? Who would appoint the army chief? The entire political structure would come tumbling down and collapse like a house of cards. It is scary.
What was the content of the Pakistan Dream? Democracy instead of dictatorship, Rule of Law instead of rule of man, law instead of lawlessness, press freedom instead of censorship. And most important, we dreamed of a human right to dignity. This dispensation is waging a war on the Pakistan’s Dream. It has robbed us of all our dreams, all our hopes, all our expectations. It has robbed us of everything: Our past, our present, our future, and is bent on lowering Jinnah’s Pakistan into its grave.
Today Pakistan is trapped in a political stalemate. Inflation is spiralling out of control at a truly dizzying rate. The last seven years have proved to be miserable, depressing years for Pakistan. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The two don’t even speak the same language, let alone breathe the same air, eat the same food or wear the same clothes, they live on different planets.
Military rule sows the seeds of its own downfall because military rule is an anachronism, lacks legitimacy and is doomed to failure. It is now abundantly clear that Pakistan cannot survive except as a democratic state based on the principle of sovereignty of the people, Pakistan cannot survive except under a constitution which reflects the sovereign will of the people, not the whims of one individual person, Pakistan cannot survive except under a system based on the supremacy of civilian rule, Pakistan cannot survive except as a federation based on the willing consent of all the federating units and lastly Pakistan cannot survive unless army is taken out of the arena of political conflict and supremacy of civil power is accepted in letter and spirit? “If there is one principle more than any other”, Morley, Secretary of State for India, once said, “that has been accepted in this country since Charles I lost his head, it is this: that civil power must be supreme over the military power”. The British learned this lesson only when Charles I lost his head. Will our military rulers ever learn this lesson?
Today we have only one dream. That dream is a Pakistan free of all military dictators. This nation asks for change and change now.