Homecoming — and exit
Dawn Editorial, September 11, 2001
THE action-packed drama surrounding Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan ended on Monday afternoon after the former prime minister was forced to go on his second exile to Saudi Arabia in a manner that was questionable. Obviously, deception and an utter disregard for written agreements are the hallmark of the style of politics of our leaders, whether they are in uniform or without it. If the Sharifs violated the agreement and the pledges they had made to the Saudis and the Hariris way back in 2000, the government behaved no differently at the Islamabad airport on Monday when it finally achieved what it wanted. Shown a warrant of arrest, the former prime minister was escorted out of the arrival lounge, hoping to be sent to prison; instead, he was put on a Jeddah-bound aircraft. The political and legal implications of the episode will stay with us for quite some time. It is now for the Supreme Court to decide whether the government violated its judgment that said that every Pakistani had “an inalienable right” to return home and remain here. The military government appears not to have abided by the spirit of the SC decision.
Monday’s events, including the use of force against PML-N leaders and workers, seem to be part of the chain of events occurring in rapid succession, as if with an inexorable force, to rock Pakistan. At stake is not just the survival of a military regime that has been shaken to the core but the very fate of the ongoing movement for freedom and democracy. The people want democracy — as it is understood the world over — and the government has pledged to hold a fair and free election. But the way things are moving, one cannot but develop serious doubts even about the near future. After all who will fail to note the lack of an election schedule even now, the continued uncertainty about Gen Pervez Musharraf’s re-election as a president in uniform or otherwise, the periodic talk of emergency by the ruling party’s president, the unabashed involvement of foreign powers in Pakistan’s domestic affairs and the pre-election search for a ‘moderate’ regime with US State Department officials parked in Islamabad at this critical juncture. Over and above this is the menacing rise in suicide bombings by the religious militants.
The heavens would not have fallen if Nawaz Sharif had been allowed to return and taken to court for his alleged malfeasance. His return would have served to strengthen the political process, encouraged other personalities in exile to return and paved the way for what could possibly become one of the most hotly contested general elections. This opportunity has been lost. The country faces grave economic and security problems: inflation is squeezing the people dry, and acts of terrorism have added to the public’s sense of insecurity. Only a government truly deriving its mandate from the people can meet these challenges. That looks a mirage because of the shenanigans on the part of all those in whose hand lies the fate of Pakistan. Essentially, it is lust for power, family fame and fortune and self-aggrandisement that appear to be guiding our leaders’ actions and policies. All this because we have failed to evolve and hone a political system to run a country founded by a constitutionalist like Jinnah. By a strange coincidence we are lamenting the absence of democracy and constitutionalism in Pakistan on the 59th anniversary of the Quaid’s death.