You’re Being Watched Mushy Baby!

This article was published in The Post in October, 2007 after the NRO promulgation. I've posted it here just as a record of history.

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As Pakistan treads through most dangerous decade of its political history, people keep witnessing densely shaded political kaleidoscope. Things have been especially precarious during past one week. Amid an intense public desire for the judiciary to play its independent role in country’s political well being, the apex court passed a judgment not very popular. Nothing could have been a surer recipe for political chaos than an adamant soldier to get re-elected as president, somersaulting politicians, a rubber-stamp parliament, a puppet executive, a divided judiciary and confused public.


Life has never been bed of roses for Pakistan’s uniformed president, General Pervez Musharraf after March 9, 2007 when top judge refused to succumb to the pressure exerted by the government to leave office. Invigorated by people’s support, judiciary risked going against the will of the government and first time in Pakistan’s history, people got an inkling of judiciary’s independence. Under the hang-over of a successful campaign for the restoration of Chief Justice of Pakistan, lawyers’ community announced to launch a campaign for the restoration of “true democracy” and for a president without uniform. Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the aged leader of extreme right winged orthodox religio-political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, joined hands with Imran Khan the only MP from Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf, for filing a petition against the election of president in uniform in the apex court. mush


Once again, people’s heightened expectations from recently got “independence” of judiciary bucked up the lawyers to make the petition a rallying point. On September 29, 2007 however, the Supreme Court saved the day for Musharraf by dismissing both the petitions on “technical grounds” for not being maintainable.  Lawyers and civil society, intrigued but not disappointed by this judicial drama stretched through the past two weeks, vowed to fight the battle through the Election Commission of Pakistan. “The decision of the apex court that the petitions challenging General Pervez Musharraf’s taking part in presidential election in uniform is not maintainable, might be on the grounds that it was premature as at the time of filing the petition General Musharraf had not filed his nomination papers as presidential candidate before the Election Commission,” Justice (Retd) Fakhruddin G Ibrahim said and added “In fact, nothing has been decided still and all issues raised in different petitions will be challenged again in a more effective manner now”.


The lawyers, now immersed in political game, announced their candidate for presidential race. Justice (Retd.) Wajihuddin Ahmad, a respected former judge who had to leave office when he refused to take oath under notorious Provisional Constitutional Order introduced by Musharraf immediately after his taking office of the Chief Executive of Pakistan. Proposed and seconded by religious parties’ alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), Wajihuddin filed his nomination papers on September 27. Things went more baffling when Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) nominated Makhdoom Ameen Faheem as its Presidential candidate.


All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM), an alliance of opposition parties minus PPP, went on with their decision of resigning from the National Assembly and dissolution of NWFP Provincial Assembly, where MMA, a prominent member of APDM, was in power. The decision has not been an easier one for Jamiat-e-Ulamai Islam Fazlur Rehman group (JUI-F), a coalescing unit of MMA. Posed with potent threats of internal rifts that might amount to its ultimate breakage, MMA parleys took just too long to decide about the resignations issue. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the JUI Chief, popularly dubbed as ‘soft opposition’ and ‘the king of double talk’, went head over heals to convince party mates not to resign. Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the Jamat-e-Islami (JI) leader, however, took it as a threat to his party’s credibility and insisted on resignations as decided by the All Parties Conference convened in early July by Mian Nawaz Sharif.


The complex political horizon got thickened by PPP’s resolve to support democracy by negotiating with the General for a broader national reconciliation – a move completely un-understandable by Pakistan’s politicians whose politics revolve around trumpeting superficial political morality. Little can they sense that an all powerful military general cannot be pushed to give off power, unless is negotiated. While PML-N chief did not stop cooing the song of “threatened democracy” by Bhutto’s talking to the General, BB kept on playing table talk with the dictator’s front men for a national consensus formula that would include her three point agenda; ONE: repealing the constitutional amendment that includes bar on third term of the Prime Minister and 58-2(b); TWO: dismissal of all corruption cases on politicians, which were registered by successive political regimes against each other in their bid to eliminate opposing party from the political scene of the country, since 1985; and THREE: doffing off of the uniform by the president alongside bringing electoral reforms to ensure free and fair elections in transparent manner.


In an unexpected move from the presidency on October 2, withdrawal of all politically motivated cases against many politicians and thousands of non-political victims was announced. The announcement was also made nominating General Ishfaq Pervez Kiani, former spy chief, as Chief of Army Staff, which is being discussed in all drawing room discussions as being Bhutto’s recommendation, since Kiyani is said to have a “good working relationship” with Benzir Bhutto. The next day, Maulana Fazlur Rehman together with fellow clerics resigned from the National Assembly. His clever move of announcing dissolution of provincial Assembly on September 29, almost four days before the scheduled dissolution, gave government enough time to move a No-Confidence Motion against the MMA Chief Minister (According to the Constitution, a Chief Minister cannot dissolve the Assembly if a No-Confidence Motion comes against him). Exactly according to the expectations, the Provincial Assembly opposition members (the ruling party at federal level) filed a No-Confidence motion. To counter which, smart strategy should have been to take a vote of confidence next day and go for dissolution. On the contrary, the Chief Minister adjourned the session till Oct 8 – two days after the presidential polls.


Benazir Bhutto, meanwhile, successfully crossed all milestones of negotiations with the General and agreed on a “National Reconciliation” Formula in lieu of which, PPP would not resign from the parliament thus ensuring a legitimacy of presidential polls and giving the General a space to give off something as a gesture of reciprocating. A politically sagacious Bhutto has shown a farsightedness par excellence in that only this kind of give and take could make a long serving dictator give off maximum of his power to political actors.


A National Assembly Session was heard to be summoned on Oct 3, but was delayed due to ongoing parleys with Bhutto. As a successful breakthrough on these parleys could lead to hurried issuance of an Ordinance, which can only be done when Parliament is not in session, the National Assembly session was delayed for two more days. 


As a confident president calmly announces his resolve to contest presidential elections while in uniform, and working on post election business details with Bhutto, Justice ®Wajihuddin Ahmad, another presidential hopeful, moves a petition to the Supreme Court for a stay on presidential elections. After three days of rigorous debate, the court adjourned on Oct 5, a day prior to the elections, to Oct 17 refusing a stay on elections and barring any announcement of results till Oct 17. The decision makes both sides happy and hopeful. It seems that the newly freed judiciary is not yet ready to do away with doctrine of necessity. It has generated an unbearable disappointment among those sections of civil society, who were hoping the judiciary will now be able to play its long awaited role for strengthening democracy.


Maulana Fazlur Rehman is left alone by JI, its coalescing partner after a rift over resigning from the provincial Assembly of NWFP. While Maulana was facing sheer opposition from his own party members against resigning from NWFP Assembly,  he was consoled by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the top leader of the ruling Muslim League who issued orders to his party men in the Provincial Assembly of NWFP to withdraw the No-Confidence motion. It has taken all the air from the Opposition balloon, leaving JI and Nawaz League as a shaky opponent.


As these lines are written and presidency has announced a National Reconciliation Ordinance, right wing politicians powered by a short sighted civil society and media are raising hue and cry on the Ordinance. People are being dragged to believe that the Ordinance is something which is going to give way to corruption in country. Little can we realize, had this move not been there, Musharraf would be keeping on with his unbridled power despite newly found alliance of media and civil society.


The life seems bed of roses for powers that be, which have traditionally been against the idea of a pro-people polity in the country. Bhutto being the only hope for people right now, is giving unflinching signs of returning back home. It is hoped that people of Pakistan would see the events with greater maturity, rather than being manipulated by the media hostage to the designs of establishment.