Washington meeting agrees on restoration of democratic rule in Pakistan
Daily Times, June 20, 2007
WASHINGTON: Speakers at a meeting on Pakistan at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Monday were agreed that the present movement is no longer about the restoration of the chief justice but restoration of civilian rule and the army’s return to barracks.
The meeting with the theme ‘The crisis in Pakisan: the end of the Musharraf era?’ heard from Lahore barrister and constitutional expert Dr Farooq Hasan, Prof Hasan Askari Rizvi of Johns Hopkins University and Murtaza Solangi of the Voice of America. It was moderated by Frederic Grare, Carnegie’s South Asia expert.
Dr Farooq Hasan said the target of the ongoing movement in Pakistan is military rule and Gen Pervez Musharraf, who triggered the present crisis by removing the chief justice. He recalled that this is not the first time a chief justice has been dismissed. Gen Musharraf got rid of Chief Justice Saeedul Zaman Siddiqi and six Sindhi judges were sent home with him. His replacement was a judge willing to do what was asked of him. Those who come to power through coups, he added, are not known for leaving the scene on their own. The struggle in Pakistan today is between those who support the rule of legality and the military which finds due process of law unsuited to its requirements. He said Pakistan is a failed state not because it has a weak economy but because it has no constitution. Gen Musharraf first amended the constitution, then got himself elected. He called the general a serial violator of the constitution. The future of Pakistan is in great trouble, he warned.
He said countries can exist without an army, as does South Africa, but they cannot exist without law. Pakistan does not need a vast army. “Who are we going to fight? China, India, Iran or Afghanistan?” he asked. He said the present movement is reformist as it is demanding the restoration of the original 1973 constitution and the repeal of the 20 amendments that have been made to it. He pointed out that if Gen Musharraf steps down as army chief, he will be subject to a two-year ban on seeking public office. He quoted various articles of the constitution to bring home his point. He said Gen Musharraf’s only agenda is himself.
When asked if a new “social contract” is needed between the army and civil society, he responded that the supreme and only law of the land is the constitution and it lays down the role and obligations of the army. He warned that if a “social contract” is signed with the army, it will open the door to “headstrong generals of the future” for subverting the constitution. He said a point has been reached in Pakistan where the rule of law should be established once for all. That is what the present movement is all about. He rejected a suggestion that the hearing in the CJ case will be a long-drawn one, predicting that the issue will be decided in July and the chief justice will be restored. He urged the United States not to continue its support of Gen Musharraf but to opt for the forces of democracy.
Solangi made a multi-media presentation, showing video images of the chief justice’s processions as well as his roughing up in front of the Supreme Court by security personnel. He also played the popular Punjabi ditty calling on “Uncle Musharraf” to take off his uniform and proceed on pension.
Prof Hasan-Askari Rizvi told the meeting that if Gen Musharraf gets himself re-elected from the current parliament, the movement against him will intensify. However, it appeared that the president was determined to “fight his way out of the crisis” but it was not certain if he will succeed. And even if he did, it will be a much weaker Gen Musharraf compared with what he was in 2006. He called the move to oust the chief justice a blunder that triggered the crisis engulfing Pakistan today. Had this not been an election year, the public reaction may not have been so severe, he added. Clearly, President Musharraf was not willing to live with an autonomous Supreme Court, hence the move against the CJ. The movement that began for the restoration of the CJ has since turned into a movement against Gen Musharraf and even if the CJ is restored, the movement will go on. The movement is not directed against the US as such, but if there is no change in Washington’s policy of support for Gen Musharraf, the movement will take an anti-American turn.
He warned that if an attempt is made to manipulate the elections, there will be chaos. At the same time, if Gen Musharraf leaves the scene, Pakistan will not descend into chaos, as some fear, nor will there be an Islamist takeover by a “jihadi general”. If Gen Musharraf continues to pursue his present policy of excluding political forces, Pakistan will continue to experience instability and even chaos. The next elections must be credible and they must have legitimacy, he urged.
Dr Rizvi said the US policy of working through Gen Musharraf for the conduct of the war on terrorism and a change in Pakistani society needs to be reconsidered. “This narrow-based policy is in trouble,” he added, and the US should bring a long-term perspective to bear vis-à-vis Pakistan. It must not pursue a “unifocal” policy that is not based on Pakistani society, as has been the case so far. US policy must not be at variance with the reality on the ground. Referring to last week’s visit of three US officials who “descended” on Pakistan, all at the same time, he said it was seen as an attempt to strengthen the Musharraf government. They met opposition leaders too but their later pronouncements do not reflect what they must have been told by “the other side”. He said the US must express its “serious concerns” to Islamabad and ask the government to address them. The least Washington can do is to exhibit support for democracy and make it clear that democracy cannot be established with the president also remaining army chief. If the US fails to do so, it will lose the sympathy of non-Islamist sections of society and any future government will find it difficult to reverse the process. If people become anti-American, it should be asked who makes them so, he added.
In answer to a question, Dr Rizvi said if there is a change, constitutional procedures will be followed as happened in the post-Zia period. The military, he added, will facilitate the induction of a civilian order. khalid hasan