Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ijaz ul Hassan on Dynamics of Political Crisis in Pakistan

Mian Ijaz ul Hassan's talk in Boston on June 8, 2007
By Beena Sarwar

Mian Ijazul Hasan, member of the PPP's federal council and former secretary general of the PPP Punjab (and chairman policy planning Punjab and Manifesto Committee member) is currently in America as Benazir Bhutto's special envoy (he's also a well known painter and professor of art). Anwar Hakam and Khalid Mahmood (Friends of South Asia) organized a gathering to meet him in Boston on June 8, attended by some 40 or so Pakistanis living in the area.

I'm jotting down the main points brought up in his talk and in the ensuing discussion. It's a bit long, so here's a summary:

- The political process must be allowed to continue - this is the only way to strengthen moderates, marginalise the extremists, reverse talibanisation
- Military action and the army are the cause of Talibanisation - The US must stop propping up the Pakistan army with aid and loans
- The army and its budget must be accountable to parliament
- There is no room for the army in the country's politics
- The Chief Justice must be restored.


We went wrong from the very beginning. Pakistan was envisioned as a federation. The federating units joined the federation on this promise, but it has not been implemented. It was meant to be a parliamentary democracy, but the people's right to establish and dismiss governments has also been violated. The Constitution clearly
lays out the powers of the executive, the judiciary and the parliament.

Someone who is otherwise considered a 'good person' may through his actions have a negative impact on society – it is irrelevant whether he is good or bad, liberal or extremist.

The army's role became central in Pakistan's politics as early as 1948. The India threat was exaggerated in order to develop Pakistan as a national security state rather than a state concerned primarily with the welfare and development of its people. They used billions to build a nuclear weapon to protect against India, and argued that we would not need to spend as much on a conventional army any more. We got the nuclear weapon but the conventional army still gobbles up a huge chunk of our budget.

Currently there is no writ of law in the country and criminals are better off. There is an insurgency on the north-western fringes of the country, a rebellion in Baluchistan, and the Taliban are re-grouping and even taking over cities.

Rather than the army, Musharraf is relying on units like the Frontier Constabulary and Rangers, and two commando units for his security.

Current judicial crisis:

The judicial issue is the tip of the iceberg. It is a unique movement in which all sects and political parties are coming together. There has been spontaneous and massive support for the Chief Justice (evident in the 15 mile long rally from Islamabad to Lahore; between 60,000-100,000 people are estimated to have thronged the recent rally in Abbottabad – where normally the maximum crowd that can be gathered is normally 25,000).

The Chief Justice is the spark that lit the prairie fire. The image of police grabbing him by the hair to push him into the police car was flashed in all the media and caused great outrage. The whole nation felt brutalized and people united on this issue. The lawyers stood their ground and wore their black coats in 114 degree heat. As PPP Gen. Secretary for four years, I know how much it costs to organize rallies – to hire buses etc to arrange for a rally of 60,000 people
costs around Rs 70 lakh. This time, the rallies have been spontaneous, and people have flocked on their own in the thousands to see and hear the CJ. And most remarkably, there has been no violence at all, no public property damaged (There are fiery political speeches, but the CJ only quotes from the Constitution. He believes that information is key, simply reads out the people's rights and they listen with rapt attention.)

For the first time the higher judiciary is working with the people rather than with the army or the bureaucracy. And right now there is only one issue in Pakistan – the restoration of the Chief Justice. If we empower the Supreme Court now, it will never again legitimize the army.

The CJ took suo moto notice of some 6000 cases involving the auction and sale of companies, rape and disappearances. Musharraf feared that the CJ would not allow him to go for a re-election of the office of President (Deposing before the Judicial Council hearing this case recently, Supreme Court advocate Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim has already said that the Constitution has no provision for a referendum like the
one of 2002 that gave Musharraf a mandate to be President for five years – so Musharraf has no legitimacy as President and nor did he have the authority to 'suspend' the CJ).

Some people have criticized the lawyers for coming out on the streets. There was one photo showing a lawyer flinging a stone at police. There is something fundamentally wrong with the state when those who protect the law are in conflict with the law-enforcers. People say that this is not the role of lawyers. But that is precisely what their role is, to resist efforts to tamper with the Constitution.


The army enabled the MMA to form government by accepting seminary graduates to be accepted as BA equivalents (and by not allowing the mainstream political parties to participate in the elections). In the NWFP, the issue of Pakhtun nationalism can only dealt with politically. As for the issue of Talibanisation – it is there because of the army.

The army's principle aim was to marginalize the two major political parties that Musharraf saw as the principle threat. The religious parties know they can never form a government in Pakistan. The Jamat-e-Islami's strategy has always been to penetrate the state. The US is a force to reckon with. Many US policies are based on
disinformation to the people. (It reminds me of what Chomsky says, how when he was young, they had war drills in school and children were made to 'shelter' under their desks in case of a nuclear attack. Obviously, hiding under a desk is not going to save anyone if there's a nuclear bomb. The idea was to inculcate fear.)

How can the US be so naïve as to think that Musharraf will restrain the Taliban – the army is the cause of the taliban.

What we need to do is to ensure that there are free and fair elections that bring in legitimate representatives of the people. Otherwise the extremists will gain – as Senator Joe Biden correctly wrote in his recent letter to Condoleeza Rice.

It is not sensible for the US to lose moral high ground – they slam Chavez for curbing the media but not a word about Pakistan's attacks on the media (although the PM has withdrawn the PEMRA regulations, possibly after a word in the ear from Washington) Only civil society and politicians can handle these issues. But there are many problems. There is political corruption, although only a small percentage of the budget goes through the politicians' hands in the first place. Aslam Beg has talked about how the army used money to form the IJI and the case has not even come up for a preliminary hearing. Elections are rigged, and those people elected who cooperate with the establishment.

The Indian army gets its salary from parliament, and has to report to parliament, there is accountability. In Pakistan, the army's salaries are paid from US aid. Why there is no counter coup and the generals support Musharraf – they are benefiting as an institution, ruling and robbing. There is never any debate on the military budget in the Pakistani parliament, no accountability (that's why there has been such an uproar over Ayesha Siddiqa's book on military economy. As one of the other guests there, Dr Abrar Syed commented later, Musharraf is only hanging by a thread that is held by Washington)

PPP has made many mistakes. But there is a need to ensure an uninterrupted political process because this is the only way that we will move forward.

Responding to a comment that civilian rule is worse than military rule: When I was imprisoned under civilian rule, I would be out on bail. When I was arrested during Zia's time, it took Aitzaz Ahsan four weeks to even find where I was, being interrogated by civil and military personnel in the Lahore Fort (at least the PPP dismantled that).

When elections are rigged, the establishment forms an alliance with local goons, and strengthens criminal elements.

We need to strengthen civil society and rule of law, uphold the constitution and remember that Pakistan is a federation; even the army is under moral pressure to prove they are not being unconstitutional. There is a basic need to strengthen the judiciary and for accountability. The political process has to be strengthened. It's
only when moderates are in power that there will be a de-talibanisation.

Bottom line:
- There is no room for the army in the country's politics
- The Chief Justice must be restored.

Beena Sarwar is a journalist and documentary filmmaker based and currently is a Research Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

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