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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2590

Pakistan‘s Lingering Crisis!

By Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal

One feels like looking back: a bitter poll campaign was fought by the PPP-PMK (N) and removal of President Pervez Musharraf was on the top of opposition campaign agenda once polls were announced by President Musharraf. But less than two-thirds majority obtained by the opposition combine against their bigger expectations and the follow-up government formation strategies have shifted the focus of the opposition leaders from anti-Musharrafism to more important issues concerning Pakistan’s security, economic strength and common problems faced by Pakistanis.

The US has played a crucial role in convincing the coalition partners not to move an impeachment motion against Musharraf. With the rise of Yousaf Raza Gilani to power in Islamabad, the overall perspective of the Pakistani politics seems to be undergoing a sea change in favor of development and growth of Pakistan. However, the threats of axe on Musharraf’s presidency as well as the proposed Constitutional amendments have been kept alive, albeit in a low tone.

Amendments & Deposed judges

The new dispensation wants to revise a few decisions made by President Musharraf. The heads of parties in the ruling coalition are likely to approve a plan for reinstatement of deposed judges through an executive order immediately after the passage of a resolution in the National Assembly. PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and ANP head Asfandyar Wali will be meeting this week, to resolve the judges’ issue by finalizing suggestions put forward by different circles, including the lawyer community. Reports suggest the constitutional package is being given final shape by a committee of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) legal experts. This is in pursuance of the provisions of the Charter of Democracy signed between former prime minister and head of PML-N, Nawaz Sharif, and PPP Chief Asif Ali Zardari would be followed by the coalition.

According to the charter, the government will restore judges and will make the parliament independent and sovereign, which means Musharraf will not enjoy the powers he had since he overthrew Sharif’s elected government in 1999. The constitutional amendment proposes judicial and jail reforms while relief packages for lawyers and judges have also been included in the package. It seems there are some differences over the mechanism for restoration of judges between the two major coalition partners but they have been resolved. The package will also determine the status of the steps taken by Musharraf after he imposed emergency in the country on Nov 3, 2007. The draft package says that the power of the president to dissolve the National Assembly under Article 58(2)B of the constitution, appoint provincial governors and services chiefs, impose governor’s rule in any province or declare a state of emergency would be withdrawn. After the removal of Article 58(2)B, the president will not be able to impose emergency.

A significant suggestion under consideration is that all judicial appointments made since Nov 3 would be declared unconstitutional while the federal and provincial administrations would make official statements recognizing the restored judges as constitutional and legitimate. The draft also seeks declaration of the establishment of the Islamabad High Court as unconstitutional.

All deposed judges of the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, would be apprised about the plan and requested to make themselves available in Islamabad on the day the resolution was tabled in the lower house. The draft mentions there is a possibility that soon after the reinstatement, the judges may take up suo motu notices on steps taken on and after November 3, 2007, followed by an interim order facilitating the restoration of the judges of the superior courts to the position of Nov 2. Meanwhile, deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry dispelled speculations about his willingness to say goodbye as the top adjudicator under a government formula after being restored by Parliament and insisted that he would continue in the highest office till superannuation in 2013.

Like wise, the power for the appointment of governors will be transferred to the prime minister while high-ranking army officers will also be appointed through the premier’s orders. The package would also support the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and ensure that it could not be challenged in any court. The NRO introduced by Musharraf provided amnesty to assassinated former prime minister and PPP head Benazir Bhutto as wells as several leaders of her party. Some of the politicians granted amnesties under the NRO are members of the new cabinet.

In November 2002, members of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League-N and Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal – the then opposition parties – had refused to recognize the then Legal Framework Order (LFO) containing amendments made by Musharraf after seizing power in October 1999. The LFO later became part of the Constitution and was legitimized by the 17th Constitution Amendment in 2004 when the MMA helped the ruling party get the required two-thirds majority for the purpose.

Musarraf

In 1999, Pervez Musharraf became another in a line of military men who, threatened with his own life and power, had seized power in Pakistan. But after the attacks of Sept. 11th, he became America's chief ally in a region at the heart of the struggle against “Al Qaeda”. As Musharraf recounted in his 2006 memoir, he felt he had little choice but to side with an enraged United States in a fight that the led to the fall of the Taliban, Pakistan's erstwhile allies in Afghanistan. In fact the terror war angered the Pakistanis more than ht domestic problems including emergency.

In the years since then, the relationship has become more complicated, as Musharraf has tried to balance cooperation with the West with the rising strength of Islamic parties at home, on the one hand and with rising opposition parties, on the other, by allowing the leaders Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to return from abroad to take part in elections. Stating that Pakistan might invade his country, Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, has complained bitterly about what he regards a tacit alliance between Pakistan and remnants of the Taliban, who have regrouped in the same wild mountain areas of western Pakistan where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

On Nov 3, 2007, President Musharraf had declared a state of emergency in Pakistan. Restraints were also put on the media from printing or broadcasting material that would "jeopardize or be prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or any material that is likely to incite violence or hatred or create inter-faith disorder or be prejudicial to maintenance of law and order." The curbs were finally lifted Dec 15 last year. But the vestiges have also been axed now.

Over the course of 2007, Musharraf faced a series of challenges. A confrontation with “Islamic extremists” who had made their base in a historic mosque in Islamabad ended in a bloody shootout. And his attempt to oust the chief justice of the country's Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, failed after massive street protests were followed by a ruling in the chief justice's favor by his colleagues on the court.

With Musharraf in trouble, opposition being unable to chart out a collaborative strategy to keep presidency intact, issues of judges and constitutional amendments in disarray, while “terrorist attacks” continuing, and tensions refusing to come down, Pakistan seems to be heading towards another constitutional crisis as the government published copies of the Constitution carrying the controversial amendments made by President General (retired) Pervez Musharraf under his contentious November 3, 2007 emergency decree. Lal Mosque tragedy had fairly tarnished his image in the country. Before taking oath on March 17, members of the ruling coalition in the National Assembly announced that they would not accept any amendment in the Constitution made by President Musharraf after proclamation of emergency on November 3 of last year. When the legislators took oath, they made an addition on their own, affirming that they would only defend the Constitution in its pre-November 3 shape.

Meanwhile, former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's party the PML-N has once again declared that its ministers in the PPP-led coalition government would not meet or accompany President Pervez Musharraf on foreign trips because the party did not see Musharraf as a constitutional and legal President. The animosity between the PML-N and Musharraf goes back to October 1999 when the latter removed the democratically elected government of Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup, after which Nawaz had to spend the following eight years in exile in Saudi Arabia. His anger is understandable.

An Observation

Mediation between the government and President Pervez Musharraf has been on to reach a consensus over “the 18th constitutional amendment” that will reduce him to a figurehead following US pressure on the ruling coalition to not impeach the former army general. Musharraf seems to have shed his supremacy cult in favor a better Pakistan, continues to cooperate with the new government and reportedly has agreed to work even with the reduced powers. Musharraf would not interfere in administrative matters.

The fledgling electronic media industry has overstepped in every “democracy” and in India they have ruthlessly pursuing an agenda which is essentially anti-Islamic and anti-Muslims and also ridiculing Pakistan and Bangladesh. Funny, the media organizations controlled by New Delhi’s “big media” tycoons have even coerced even a few small newspapers run by Muslims to fall in line with Hindu agenda of India. However, none can dispel the perception that the new government is wooing the media and mending fences, thereby making the latter its ally in days to come.

Pakistan has lifted all restrictions on media. But Pakistani media seek to use freedom expression to fuel turmoil in the country. Media are still harping on anti-Musharrafism and are strenuously trying to coerce the new government to have a continuous war with presidency. Pakistan seems to be focused on gaining endorsement of India on its democratic tract, but Indian democracy as well as secularism cannot be a model for any modern nation. Perhaps, the government should make the media to see reason at least now and let Pakistan move toward a peaceful, strong and prosperous country in South Asia.

Pakistan is confronting internal and external challenges of all sorts. Ground realities substantiate that the new coalition government have great responsibilities and should shelve anti-Musharrafism for the time being, if not once for all. Good governance is the key to ensure economic development and prosperity in peaceful and stable political environment. To put crudely, is the new Pakistani leadership keen to keep Pakistan in perpetual turmoil in weakening its presidency by making it a rubber-stamp authority without any commanding powers, like the Indian case?

- Asian Tribune -

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