March towards Democracy Reaches Interesting Stage
By Dr Nazir Khaja and Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi
The latest episode in the ongoing power struggle drama in Pakistan, of people, politics, and prospects has reached an interesting stage. The Supreme Court and the Chief Justice’s repeal of President Musharraf`s NRO — the National Reconciliation Ordinance under which Amnesty was granted to many of Pakistan’s current leadership is not helping the present weak government. President Zardari who on account of his own weakness has been seen lately to secede ground to the Army and also the judiciary in transferring some of the presidential power and authority to others, finds himself even more vulnerable.
He knows fully well that in Pakistan’s fragile political system “horse trading,“ which does not bind anyone in politics to be bound to any principle or party loyalty, is a fairly common practice. Since he occupies his position not because of any significant contribution to the ruling Party or through normal processes which define a party’s governance but through the “the will” of his assassinated wife Benazir Bhutto. Outside the group of his few “loyalists” who hang-on to his coat-tails for their own benefit and safety support and loyalty for him in his own party, much less the nation, hardly runs deep at all.
The high stake political drama that we are witnessing in Pakistan serves to underscore the weakness of Pakistan’s political system and its struggle for democracy.
In the precarious state that Pakistan finds itself now when there is very little trust in the integrity and ability of Pakistan government what can help maintain the nation’s quest to evolve into a true democracy? Can the inept civilian government and politicians set aside their personal agendas and vendettas to support an orderly progress towards a democratic change in Pakistan? Is the Judiciary acting beyond its purview and encroaching on the executive and legislature’s turf? The future of Pakistan depends on answers to these questions.
This public anger and mistrust isn’t healthy for our democracy. The present turmoil could be traced to those first years after its independence from British Empire when the nation could not formulate a constitution for 6 years. Even after that, the Constitution has been at the mercy of those who in order to stay in power and not in the national interest have amended and re-interpreted the constitution with the collusion of the Judiciary. This is also the reason that the Army has ruled Pakistan for most of the years since independence. After three constitutions the country is still struggling to erect stable political institutions and achieve a balance between the three pillars of state, i.e. parliament, executive and judiciary. The recent efforts to repeal the 17 th amendment and introduce the 18 th is being seen as a process to achieve this fine balance.
‘Who do you most trust to protect your rights, government, Parliament or the courts?’ is the question on the minds of the people of Pakistan.
The "coalition" that came into being and which is in power appears now to be unraveling. Regardless of the spin and daily utterances of mutual respect and accommodation by each of these factions there remain deep differences among them which have more to do with the acquisition of power than principles. This is hardly unexpected considering the history between them. The party system in Pakistan’s politics remains dynastic and personality-controlled and driven; deep rooted principles or policies which shape a nation’s destiny are hardly the basis of any of the partyies’ focus, agenda or action.
A prerequisite for the task of nation-building is the rule of law. And the "rule of law" implies that NO ONE is above the law or holds himself above the law. In Pakistan's history of 60 years this has been unobtainable. Consistently throughout Pakistan's history those who have been in control of the country’s destiny have deemed themselves above the law and "transparency" is an unknown entity in the political culture and governance. And whenever the leadership has raised the slogans of "law", "justice", and “constitutional rule" to yet again arouse the people it has only been to support and enhance their own power base and not to create a path out of misery and backwardness that seems to be now chronically endemic in Pakistan. If we have transparency and accountability then it would be easy to trust the government and also if we had those two things, the government would be in a position to do something about our lack of trust. More and more for politicians and the government in Pakistan it should be clear that trust is never given, it has to be earned. The judiciary through the 18 th Amendment is trying to address the issue. There is need to consider the balance of power and accountability between the government, parliament and judiciary, and examine the potential for constitutional reform.
Democracy is work-in-progress. Its avowed promise for the masses to be the masters of their own destiny can only be fulfilled if transparency, accountability and rule of law are the guiding principles. A free press and an informed electorate are its prerequisites. Political parties need to be organized along rules that do not favor dynastic control or vantage based on any other criteria except principles and merit. Building strong and healthy institutions to deliver the fundamental rights of the people are a must. Democracy cannot be brought down from on-high but has to be nurtured as a grassroots effort from the ground- up. And it cannot be a genuine democracy if it is being constructed to serve the interest of anyone else but the will and desire of Pakistan’s own people.
What is needed is a new governance model that empowers people so that they are not afraid to challenge their leaders or the government.
The primacy of constitutionally based civilian rule in Pakistan is possible only over a period of time, and with patience. Coalition building transitions with interim establishment and strengthening of processes of accountability and transparency must be put in place. This will allow institutional building which are the essential building blocks of a functioning democracy. The lawyers and the courts can play an active role in strengthening these processes to help Pakistan move forward.
The people of Pakistan have suffered enough on account of corrupt civilian leadership and recurrent self-serving army rule. They have been patient despite enormous hardship. They may yet have to remain patient.
Therefore the lesson from all of this for Pakistanis at this critical time of turmoil is to realize that shouting of slogans and demonstrating for democracy will not bring in true democracy. The transitions from a corrupt, dynastic and autocratic political culture towards a genuine government of the people will need interim strategic steps in which power-sharing and confidence-building may be necessary.
All Pakistanis now seem convinced of curtailing the role of the Army in Pakistan’s politics. They need, however, first a gradual establishment of processes that will lead to the desired outcome of the primacy of constitutional rule. The lawyers and the judiciary must be given a lot of credit for stepping out boldly to draw attention to the issue of governance and the rule of law in Pakistan. They must continue to remain in civil discourse with the government on the issue of rule of law, human rights and freedom.
In the wake of recent controversies, there is now an ideal opportunity to explore wider constitutional reform to help reinvigorate democracy and our sense of who we are. However at a time of grave internal threat to Pakistan’s viability and survival, all, including the judiciary, the politicians and others must recognize that recriminatory politics will not only be counterproductive but even more harmful. Democracy has been established in Pakistan; the challenge continues to be exercising it, and strengthening it.
Pakistan ’s future hangs in the balance
(Dr. Nazir Khaja is Chairman, Islamic Information Service, US. He is the founder of Council of Pakistan-American Affairs (COPAA). Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi is President of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce-USA)