How the Charter of Democracy Was Signed
By Dr Ghayur Ayub
London, UK

My mobile buzzed, I rubbed my eyes feeling very groggy and looked at my watch. It was 5 a.m. The mobile stopped ringing after a few buzz. After spending a tiresome and long night, I had difficulty focusing and dosed off again. The meeting which should have started at 11 am the previous day started at 8.30 pm and went on uninterrupted well over midnight. The reason for the delay was simple.
Makhdum Fahim informed Zafar Iqbal Jhagra at 11 a.m that their team was reaching London at 3 p.m. and from there they were going straight to see the Chairperson following which they were calling on us. It was the day before the signing of the Charter. We had no choice but to wait, and we waited all day. In the late afternoon, I saw Syed Ghaus Ali Shah dozing off on the sofa while Mr Jhagra went out to have a stroll in Oxford Street. Mr Ahsan Iqbal, as usual, kept himself busy with the computer going through the clauses which were discussed earlier with Mr Mohammad Nawaz Sharif. He is basically workaholic and likes to go through the minor details. In the late afternoon we were told that the PPP team had arrived from Pakistan and, as expected, went straight to Rehman Malik’s residence where Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was staying. We kept on waiting. By the time they reached at PML-N Secretariat at Duke Street, it was 8.30 pm.
They looked tired. After the initial pleasantries, it was 9 pm when we sat to give final touches to the document now known as the Charter of Democracy. I admire Aitezaz Ahsan’s legal wit; Raza Rabbani’s levelled intelligence; and Dr Safdar Abassi’s political acumen. There were visible expressions of tiredness on their faces but they showed no tempers or frustration while discussing contentious clauses. Aitezaz Ahsan took two extra pillows putting them against the wall to support his apparently aching and tired neck.
On our side, Syed Ghaus Ali Shah despite his growing age, looked comparatively fresh. Mr Jhgara demonstrated his usual political charm and Ahsan Iqbal was in his usual conversational mood. By the time we finished going through the document, clause by clause, it was 1.30 am. There was not much disagreement on the already grilled clauses except for three.
The first one pertained to repealing the 17th Amendment and restoring the 1973 Constitution. We agreed on the principle of repealing the amendment but had slight problem interpreting it linguistically. Our combined aim was to put the country back on the constitutional path. The second was related to the selection of judges to higher judiciary. Again, both the teams agreed on having a system through which judges with clean and spotless characters are selected. There were a few details on methodologies that needed further exploration. Again our intention was to introduce the rule of law which was seen to be applied by non-corrupt judges whose track record was unblemished. The third was linked to the election commission and selection of its chief. Again, both the parties agreed on establishing a system through which free and fair elections are held in all future elections. Yet again, our aim was to introduce real democracy in the country by having an independent election commission headed by an election commissioner who was powerful, honest and a man of integrity. There were one or two points on the Local Bodies Elections also. After going through them a few times, both the parties decided to discus them with respective leaders in the morning. Thus the meeting came to an end. I took the train from Victoria and by the time I reached home at Purley it was 3.30 am. That was the gist of the day before.
The mobile buzzed again. This time it was in the text mode. I rubbed my eyes again and rolled over to see the screen. The message was from the ever-energetic Imran Khan. He is the nucleus of activities in PML-N Secretariat at London. He was reminding me of the early morning meeting with our Quaid. After praying Fajr, I made toasts and tea as my wife was in North Wales looking after her ailing mother. It took me another hour or so to go through the morning newspapers on Internet and posted them to our PML-N office. At 7.30, I left the house and reached office at 9.00. I saw everyone was immaculately dressed. After all it was a historic day.
The actual meeting between the two leaders was planned for 11 am at the residence of Mr Rehman Malik. Talking of Mr. Malik, a day earlier, when the venue was discussed, someone objected to the venue because of his past actions as DG FIA against late Mian Sahib. I was watching Mr Nawaz Sharif’s face to see his reaction. He remained calm and showed no expression. Then he slowly turned his head and looked at Mr Jhagra. Mr. Jhgra told him that as Muhtarema was staying there she thought it to be appropriate to invite him there as a reciprocal gesture for he invited her to his residence. Mr Nawaz Sharif thought for a while and said softly ‘Let’s be absolutely clear about one thing.’ He leaned forward and picked up the document from the table. ‘This Charter of Democracy is not mine or anybody else’s. It belongs to the people of Pakistan. I’ll go anywhere if I find even a flicker of hope for the betterment of Pakistan and its people.’ The message was loud and clear. The discussion on the venue ended up there.
He went through the document again in view of our previous night’s discussions and gave his opinion on the contentious clauses. Soon, Mr Jhagra rang up Mukhdum Fahim and told him that we were ready. He asked us to go to their place. After seeking permission from our leader; off we went. It was 11 am when we reached there. The place was flooded with media people, flashing their cameras and running their TV rolls. They were expecting Mr Nawaz Sharif with his team. Obviously, the actual meeting between the two leaders was pushed to a later time. We were greeted by Sardar Asif, Aitezaz Ahsan, Razza Rabani, Dr Safdar Abbasi, Rehaman Malik and Wajid Shamsul Hassan. After a great hustle we entered the house. I couldn’t stop noticing a porcelain replica of the ‘Last Supper of Jesus Christ’ placed skilfully on the hearth in the lounge we were going to have the meeting.
The meeting started once again and continued for two hours. At one stage, we were told that in Pakistan the news was circulated that the negotiations had broken down. It turned out to be disinformation spread by you know whom. We just laughed. It was about 1.30 pm when we came to an understanding. Dr Safdar Abbasi took the document to Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in the next room, and Mr Jhagra spoke to our Quaid on the phone. Half an hour later Dr Abbasi came up with some more suggestions. We had discussion on them and Mr Jhgara rang up Mr Nawaz Sharif again about the new changes. He asked us to go to the PML-N office where he carefully read the modifications. “I’ll discuss these with Mohtarma Bhutto myself. Let’s go” Then he looked at Mr Shahbaz Sharif, and asked, “Did you say we should exchange pens at the end of the signing ceremony?” He replied in the affirmative, “Yes I did, it’s a good gesture,” and then he handed him a pen. Mr Nawaz Sharif took it and put it in his side pocket. It was decided that Ahsan Iqbal would present the document and when it was finalised he would print it there and then in the room on a special paper bought for the purpose. It meant we had to take laptops and printer to have the facilities ready at hand. Meanwhile Makhdum Fahim rang up to inform that he was on his way to give proper protocol to Mr Nawaz Sharif by joining his entourage. That was indeed a good gesture on behalf of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.
Again in the brightly sparking flashes, Mr Nawaz Sharif and his team were received by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and her team. Once again we had difficulty entering the house. The actual meeting started four hours late at 3 pm. Showing palpable cordiality, the two leaders went through the items one by one with a positive mindset and determination to make things right. After all, they knew the future of Pakistani politics vis-à-vis real democracy was in their hands. It seemed, they had put their past bitterness behind and were looking forward to a future healthy and tolerant political set-up. They wanted to bring proper rule of law by strengthening the judiciary through a transparent selection of judges. They wanted to have real democracy in the country by making the election commission an independent institution. They wanted to methodise procedures to alleviate poverty, reduce unemployment and give real hope to those who had been ignored in the past. Lastly they wanted to block the military takeovers of civilian governments and making the army subservient to the civilians as in other civilised countries.
While the two leaders were sorting out matters for the good of the country, three students appeared from nowhere outside the house, with hurriedly written slogans and started chanting. They were quickly taken away from the scene. Later we were told that one of the boys confessed they were paid £50 each to create a scene so that it could be broadcasted on TV channels. One doesn’t have to be Plato to know who was behind this act. Except for the times when Mohammad Nawaz Sharif went out during prayer break; they remained glued to their chairs. It was 8.30 in the evening when sweets were distributed. The deal was done. It was skilfully written on the laptop by Ahsan Iqbal and carefully printed by Imran Khan. Now, the Charter of Democracy was ready for signature. It was time to call the press and media people to cover the historical event. The doors were opened and in no time the room was flooded with print and electronic personnel. The document was signed in the middle of flashing lights. The event was shown live on many channels. Those disillusioned pundits who predicted that it would never be signed must have felt bitterness at the back of their dry throats as if they were swallowing a sour pill.
For me, the last few hours that led to signing the document were indeed an experience of a lifetime. I could imagine the feelings going through the authors when they signed Pakistan Declaration in 1940 or the Constitution of Pakistan in 1973. The declaration of 1940 gave birth to Pakistan, 1973 gave a constitutional identity to the country and May 14, 2006, Inshallah, would give real democracy to this democracy-deprived land.

 

 


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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