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Pulling Pakistan Back From The Brink – OpEd


By S. Tausief Ausaf

Pakistan’s political drama is on center stage. The government of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), after locking horns with the powerful army and judiciary, is battling for a graceful exit as the voter is furious over unparalleled corruption, inflation, shortage of basic necessities, the government’s tacit approval for hundreds of US drone attacks inside Pakistan, and above all a revelation that the government was seeking Washington’s support to avert a possible coup by the military.

Fair play and uprightness cannot be expected in realpolitik as it is based on “practical” rather than moral or ideological considerations. But our minds agitate when a politician of principles brazenly shows double standard after compromising his integrity for political compulsions. The first casualty in the government’s current confrontation with the judiciary was the probity of Aitzaz Ahsan — a loyal soldier of the PPP and considered incorruptible until a fortnight ago.

Ahsan, a legal luminary, who led the lawyers’ campaign to restore judiciary after Gen. Pervez Musharraf sacked Chief Justice Iftekhar Mohammad Chaudhry, has given his detractors ammunition by maintaining that the country’s extremely unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari enjoys full immunity inside and outside Pakistan as long as he is the head of state. Ahsan’s U-turn has left his admirers baffled, as it was he who fought tooth and nail against President Musharraf’s immunity claims under Article 248.

Ahsan’s brilliant argument was: If Caliph Umar could be questioned by a commoner about his longer-than-usual robe, why can’t Musharraf be held accountable? He added: “According to Article 248, the president and the governor could not be made party in criminal cases, they could not be arrested; but if any of their acts are contrary to the law, they have no protection under Article 248. They enjoy no immunity in this case.” Ahsan has lost his professional integrity and this has reflected badly on the PPP’s leadership material. This is just one example of moral bankruptcy of public figures in the country.

The stolen $60 million stashed in Swiss accounts doesn’t actually belong to Zardari. It is public money and Ahsan is defending Premier Yousaf Raza Gilani for defying the apex court by not writing a letter to Swiss authorities asking them to reopen cases against Zardari. Ahsan, toeing the party line, would obviously say it is a campaign to malign his leader. But how on earth can he convince Pakistan watchers that $60 million is the hard-earned money of Zardari, who used to be called Mr. 10 Percent for taking a ten percent cut in every government deal during his wife Benazir Bhutto’s tenure?

It now looks that Pakistan could never achieve stability because of over-adventurous generals, leaders with a feudal mindset and mega graft at ministerial and prime ministerial levels. It was a conspiracy of circumstances against the Islamic republic that democracy was never allowed to take root there. Barring some brief periods of calm, the last six decades have regrettably seen political crises, deadly sectarian clashes, Taleban-sponsored suicide bombings, energy crisis, target killings, honor killings, abductions for ransoms. The country has fought wars against self-created enemies during the regimes of Ayub Khan, Zia ul-Haq and Musharraf. Coup d’état was the generals’ favorite pastime.

But Gen. Ashfaq Kayani should be commended for exercising maximum restraint when Gilani, in a provocative move, sacked the defense secretary. If Gen. Kayani had done a Musharraf, which everyone was expecting with bated breath, the country would have slipped back into darkness again.

Army’s role in any forward-looking country is to protect borders. But Pakistan’s is perhaps the only force in the world that has had conquered its own capital three times. A repetition of such a misadventure would have killed the nascent democracy again and the country would have to suffer the gestation period before democracy is born anew.

Pakistan has tried everything in the bag and there is no denying that genuine rule of public has no alternative. While the realization is growing that the ballot and not the bullet can save the country from falling apart, there is an urgent need to launch civilian disarmament to purge every city and town of unlicensed guns and ammunition. The Kalashnikov culture has never allowed the state machinery to function effectively.

Although there is no love lost among Pakistanis for India (barring some hormone-driven affection for Bollywood stars), a great deal can be learned from the neighbor. Until Indian Army Chief V.K. Singh’s row with the government over the age issue surfaced recently, very few Indians knew how he looked like. Out of 10 Indians in any megapolis, eight would most probably say, “don’t know” if asked about the name of the country’s navy chief or air force chief. The reason is in India armed forces keep themselves completely out of political arena. They know full well their job is limited to protecting the borders.

In India, Parliament is the supreme governing body and no government in New Delhi can imagine taking Supreme Court directives lightly. The apex court’s interpretation of the constitution is considered the last word and there is no dilly-dallying over the implementation of the court’s verdict. Pakistanis can also benefit from the experiences of successful democracies like Turkey and Malaysia.

The intelligentsia should make the masses aware about the usefulness of the country’s status as a nuclear-armed state. Pakistani nukes are effective deterrents against any foreign misadventure and hence the country should come out of the insecurity complex. Men in uniform in the General Headquarters know India can never cast an evil eye over its nuclear-capable neighbor. Having taken big financial blows because of three unfortunate wars with India, the country should now focus on developing institutions. Education about the judicious use of the nuclear-power status will help the country divert funds to development projects that are the need of the hour. The Kalabagh Dam could never be constructed because of internal bickering.

The country must get rid of the atmosphere of suspicion, as trust deficit among different arms of governance creates obstructions at every step. Although the government has lost the moral authority to continue at the helm, it must realize it cannot sustain brinkmanship with the army.

Zardari, who chose to become the president rather than the premier in order to enjoy immunity in corruption cases, can salvage whatever credibility is left of him by accepting the supremacy of judiciary.

And if the PPP leaders do not budge, the slow bleeding of the country will continue till next elections.

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Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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