Writing the future By Asif Ezdi
The News, December 13, 2007
The testimony given on Dec 6 by American Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee shows once again that Washington continues to oppose the democratic aspirations of the people of Pakistan and is supporting Musharraf in his plan to cling to power. Boucher predicted that the upcoming parliamentary elections are "not going to be perfect." In plain language, Washington knows that the elections will be rigged but is not unduly agitated at the prospect. He also expressed the hope for "an election that really does reflect the choices made by the people of Pakistan." In other words, Washington would not like Musharraf to rig the election so massively that it completely lacks all credibility. The election will be an important step in the country's transition to democracy, Boucher said. That is to say, the transition to democracy will be a long process and the people of Pakistan should not be under the illusion that the country will become a democracy quickly, at least not as long as Musharraf continues to support America's "war on terror."
The policy of the Bush administration has been to help Musharraf stay in power by legitimising the coup through a parliamentary election in which parties allied to him (first and foremost the PPP) gain the upper hand. Washington has therefore been urging Musharraf to hold the elections and to work out a power-sharing arrangement with Benazir Bhutto. It has also been pressing the major political parties, in particular the PPP, to participate in the elections. A lifting of the emergency has been the centrepiece of Washington's strategy after the coup. It would serve two purposes: give the elections the semblance of being free and fair, though not "perfect," and enable the political parties to claim that they had wrested concessions from Musharraf and thus provide a face-saving way for them to participate in the polls.
Noticeably lacking in American official statements after Musharraf's second coup has been any plea for a reinstatement of the judges that he has "dismissed" in his effort to neuter the superior judiciary. Privately, American officials are known to have shown understanding, if not support, for Musharraf's decision to fire them and have been saying that there could not be a return to the situation before Nov 3.
Under some prodding from Washington, Musharraf has now offered to lift the emergency but a formal decision to end the emergency will be meaningless unless it is accompanied by a full restoration of the Constitution in the form in which it existed before Nov 3. Musharraf, of course, has no intention of doing that and the Americans know it. What Musharraf will do is to "restore" it in a heavily mutilated form after incorporating changes to keep his hold on power. A demand for the lifting of the emergency is therefore not enough. There must also be a full restoration of the Constitution. Musharraf has no power to amend it and any changes he makes will be null and void.
Other western countries have followed Washington's lead in this matter. For instance, the British ambassador had the audacity to tell a "Youth Parliament" that London is not demanding the reinstatement of the deposed judges "as it was not going to happen and because unhappiness with the judiciary was the central issue in the imposition of the emergency." Instead of demanding the restoration of the past position, "we" are asking for an independent judiciary for the future, the British ambassador reportedly said.
The ambassador was more or less right when he said that Musharraf's unhappiness with the judiciary was the main reason for the declaration of emergency. More accurately, it was Musharraf's unhappiness with a judiciary that had become so independent that it had the cheek to demand that he respect the Constitution. As the Economist wrote in its issue of Nov 17, Musharraf grabbed power and replaced the judges with army-picked sycophants because Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had "developed a bad case of judicial independence."
When the British ambassador declares that there can be an independent judiciary "for the future" under the PCO judges or without a restoration of those "dismissed" under the emergency, he must be either naïve or he takes the people of Pakistan to be completely gullible, and our politicians to be so power-hungry, opportunistic, petty-minded and venal that they will go to any lengths at the prospect of power and a share of the loot. Since the ambassadors of Her Britannic Majesty are usually quite smart, the possibility that this ambassador is naïve should be ruled out. If the ambassador looks at the unanimous demand from civil society for the reinstatement of the "dismissed" judges, he will also realise that he is mistaken in supposing that the people of Pakistan are so credulous as to think that the judiciary can be independent "for the future" if the "past dismissal" of the judges is accepted.
But the British ambassador could well be right in assuming that most of our politicians are incapable of seeing any further than the end of their noses, which means thinking beyond their self-enrichment and self-aggrandisement. They have failed to grasp that the present crisis is not about a change of government; it is about putting the country on the constitutional path. The ordinary people of the country are not demanding only that the present set of rulers be replaced by another one; they are insisting that Pakistan be governed according to the Constitution, that one-man rule be replaced by democracy and the rule of law, and that elections be held under an independent judiciary and free media.
An independent judiciary lies at the heart of the matter. As Human Rights Watch has pointed out, it is hard to imagine how the country can have a credible election without an independent judiciary. If Musharraf can get away with sacking and detaining several judges of the Supreme Court and removing all checks to his authority it seems a bit much to expect hm to play by the rules in the election.
After having initially made noises to express support for the dismissed judges, Benazir changed her position under counselling from Washington, which told her that this would jeopardise her chances of gaining power. Since then, the PPP leader has carefully refrained from calling for the restoration of the Supreme Court and has only been speaking of an "independent judiciary." Benazir's demand that the question of restoration of the judges be left to the future National Assembly is not only politically wrong, it is also unconstitutional. The judges of the superior courts are appointed by the executive and can only be removed by the Supreme Judicial Council. The legislature has no say either in their appointment or in their removal. And that is just as well, because they are expected to be politically neutral.
As things stand, there is no possibility that Benazir would join in the demand for a restoration of the judges or for a boycott of the elections. In these circumstances, Aitzaz Ahsan's proposal that candidates be made to sign an oath pledging to restore the judiciary is a wise one. In addition, it is also important -- to discourage future coup-makers -- that the candidates also solemnly pledge themselves not to give any amnesty for unconstitutional actions taken on or after Nov 3.
Pakistan is today at a crucial turning point. The future history of the country is being written. This is too important a matter to be left to the political class. If instead we follow the lead given by the judges, the lawyers, the journalists and civil society, there is a good chance that we will succeed in burying dictatorship for good in our country -- despite our politicians.
The writer is a former member of the Foreign Service. Email: asifezdi@ yahoo.com