You have to stand guard over the development and maintenance of democracy, social justice and the equality of mankind in your own native soil. [Mohammed Ali Jinnah]

Friday, March 6, 2009

Back to Square One?

The following was written on 28th February - before the “mobile justice” Presidential Ordinance (finally withdrawn on 3rd March) and before the attack on the Sri Lankan national cricket team - in response to the promulgation of Governor’s Rule in the Punjab and the official obstruction of the Punjab Assembly sessions by the provincial executive authority.

Some observations:

1. Why does the dis-qualification of the incumbent CM lead to the siege of the PA by the police? Imposition of Governor’s Rule - even if ordered by a democratically elected government - is an attack on democracy, on the right of the people to govern themselves through freely elected representatives. A simpler alternative would have been for the PPP to have said that decisions of the judiciary were not in its control, that they valued the alliance with the PML-N and that they would encourage the PML-N to pursue the case through proper channels - for example, the appeals process.

2. Why do our civic liberties (freedom of speech, freedom of association, etc.) suffer because of a quarrel among the power elite?

3. Democracy needs to be allowed to take root and the anti-democratic measures taken by the central executive authority - imposition of Governor’s rule, disruption of normal proceedings at the provincial assembly - at such a sensitive time may provide just the right conditions (dissatisfaction with performance, overwhelming disapproval of government actions, power vacuum) for the Army to carry out yet another coup.

4. These two points taken together lead to criticism of both the PPP and the PML-N’s handling of the situation: Given the incredibly fragile condition of democracy in Pakistan, it is quite irresponsible of PML-N and PPP not to have worked out a better power-sharing formula. Irresponsible or simply incompetent. Some would say that it was impossible, that the rupture was inevitable. We simply do not have enough information but if some day the story of the behind-the-scenes negotiations between June 08 and February 09 comes out, it may well reveal missed opportunities and/or lack of vision on the part of our “leaders”.

5. A 100g roti need no longer be sold at Rs. 2 - the price ceiling was removed the day after the so-called Supreme Court handed down its disqualification ruling. Why should the completely de-politicised and alienated poor pay the price of a power struggle?

Pakistan is definitely at a critical juncture in its history. Swat has broken away from the jurisdiction of the Pakistani state after more than a decade of intermittent civil war [1] while at the recent CCP seminar on the situation in Swat, speakers claimed that upward of a million citizens have been displaced from their homes in FATA and Swat, forced to seek refuge in de-humanising UNHCR camps or accept the charity of relatives in “safer” cites. This adds to the existing crop of critical issues threatening the country:

  1. Hijacked superior judiciary
  2. Religious extremism
  3. Army operations in Balochistan and FATA
  4. Missing persons

It can be reasonably argued that these are merely the most critical manifestations of deeper issues such as:

  1. Lack of socio-economic justice
  2. Absence of the rule of law / accountability
  3. Independent military intervention in the political and economic life of the country
  4. Lack of national sovereignty, i.e., inability of the people to influence the important decisions that determine the environment in which they exist

The events of the next few days - the farce that was the “mobile courts” ordinance and the horror of the attack on the Sri Lankan national cricket team - have strengthened our belief in the essential correctness of our stance on the restoration of the independent judiciary and of the pre-Nov. 3rd. Constitution.

While many people would say that they are heartily sick of the lawyers’ movement and their continuous agitation, we maintain that at the moment, it is the only movement that holds out a chance to resolve one of the basic problems facing us, i.e., the absence of accountability. We further hold that we are, in fact, extremely fortunate to have a second chance to force the elected representatives of the people to respect their campaign promises and the overwhelming popular mandate to revoke the policies initiated by the Musharraf regime.

The Long March 09 is a historic opportunity that we cannot afford to waste. Join us in the struggle to make a positive difference!

[1] Excellent compilation of information on the troubles in Swat

Source: Emergency List

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