To Pakistan’s Politicians: Settle Political Disputes in Parliament, Not Streets

Sharif Brothers’ Disqualification May be Bad But it is Not the End of the World

By Aniq Zafar

The verdict of a Supreme Court bench that affected the disqualification of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif has once again pushed Pakistan to uncertain times.

Not that these uncertain times have ever left Pakistan but this decision’s political fallout is likely to be significantly large as it has limited the chances of any meaningful engagement between the two largest political forces in the country. Their progress on political accommodation and reconciliation was visible as late as the unopposed Senate elections. But since the announcement of the PML-N leadership that it will support the lawyer’s long march, the tensions between the N-League and the Pakistan Peopleís Party (PPP) continued increasing and the verdict could not have come at a worst time.

The decision of the Supreme Court is an unpopular one as most people in this country hope for a Pakistan in which political stability returns and they know that Pakistan can see a period of instability if Sharifs continue to protest. One, however, cannot help think that back in the year 2000 in the USA, Al Gore had won more popular votes but had to concede defeat when the US Supreme Court handed over Florida to Bush. Also everyone was aware that out of the nine judges, at least five had clear Republican leanings and the judges had voted along party lines. But despite that the decisions remained supreme.

The mass agitation that the PML-N has threatened to launch has created some impact in urban centres of the central and northern Punjab. In rest of Pakistan these protests have been but muted affairs. As the perception management in the country is entirely dependent on the media that is looking for good sound bites, therefore, the reality and fact are difficult to separate from emotion-based narrative.

The roots of all this confrontational approach can be found in the single issue politics that Mian Nawaz Sharif got obsessed with while aligning with the lawyers’ movement. Otherwise the disparate groups that are supporting the lawyersí cause do not share grand strategic outlook. Most of the lawyers believe that they are fighting the cause of an independent judiciary but what kind of gains the so-called leadership of lawyers is looking for, begs lot of answers. The civil society claims that they are working for a better Pakistan, but their disconnect with the people of Pakistan has been apparent as successive years of foreign funding and their preaching has not helped Pakistan turn either modern or progressive. Imran Khan and Qazi Hussain Ahmad want to clean the politics of Pakistan but their politics always has been the politics of exclusion as they see only chance for success if most of the current lot of elected representatives is disqualified by the judiciary. Then there are smaller groups that want to hitch the ride and perhaps stake claims in the victory parade.

Mian Nawaz Sharif had his own calculus to go by while turning on the confrontation mode. But this calculus mostly is looking at popular support and immediate applause in the hope that confrontation can lead to mid-term elections. In the way, Nawaz

Sharif and his lawyers contested the case of the disqualification in the Supreme Court has also been a very political approach to the court and mostly to win headlines. Most of the lawyers appearing on behalf of the proposing and seconding voters for the former prime minister focused on questioning the legitimacy of the court. It was a contradiction in terms that relief was being sought from a court that was being continuously informed that it was not legitimate.

While Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif were not ready to submit to the court, they continued accusing the president of Pakistan of conspiring to disqualify them. This trend of questioning the courts again was nothing new in case of Nawaz Sharif. In 1997, Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was sent home when he tried to hear a case against the then prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif. This onslaught on institutions did not end with the judiciary. The media and military also felt the brunt of the “all-out war” that Mian Nawaz Sharif often declares. In 1993, he took the fight to Ghulam Ishaq Khan and as a result both had to go home. His current declarations sound too familiar if one judges by his history. It is ironic that when Nawaz Sharif talks about the fallacy of the cases and verdicts in Musharraf’s time he does not tell us why the Supreme Court was never approached to get these verdicts quashed. In fact Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, today the so-called Messiah for an independent judiciary, was appointed CJ in the year 2005 and Mian Nawaz Sharif could approach that upright judge!

The whole super structure created to achieve political mileage out of the situation is a simple slogan ëjudicial independence and restoration of the judgesí. The demand, however, is limited to the restoration of some judges who refuse to take oath on the Constitution of Pakistan. Rest of the victims of November 3, 2007 actions have taken oath on the Constitution and are serving on the benches with their seniority intact. Out of the total 63 judges deposed under that draconian action, 57 have already taken oath on the Constitution. One wonders what may be the objection of the holdouts to taking oath on the Constitution of Pakistan.

The reasons for the objection appear simple. These judges believe that if they take oath on the Constitution then they agree to the legitimacy of the current legal and constitutional structure. If that is to happen then the whole strategy of these forces falls apart because the wish is to impose some kind of judicial tyranny and try and correct what they deem is wrong with the state of Pakistan. Thus some fundamental questions are kept out of the debate deliberately to mask the real game plan.

These fundamental questions are about the sustenance of the democratic system and avoiding any judicial misadventure. To ensure that the system works, it is required that all the political forces in parliament agree to a constitutional amendment package. This package can also address the question of the disqualification of the Sharif brothers besides correcting fallacies introduced by Musharraf. This package will also ensure that the current system is secured against unnecessary litigations. This is necessary since the likes of Imran Khan and Qazi Hussain Ahmad are gunning to derail the current democratic dispensation through judicial intervention. This intervention they want base on the premise that General Musharraf’s action in post-November 3, 2007, period was illegitimate and hence the electoral process undertaken by him was also illegitimate.

The grand strategy of such forces that want judicial intervention to achieve political agendas gave away when many amongst these political forces stated in their media statements immediately after the election 2008 that these were useless or temporary elections and real elections will be held when there will be an “independent judiciary”. Many of these still continue to question the 2008 elections.

Unfortunately, for the likes of Imran Khan and Qazi Hussain Ahmad or even the lawyer’s leadership, they won’t gain anything even if there is to be result after the much touted sit-in and long march. The simple reason for that is the political principle that to garner benefits of a political movement you need political structures that are able to consolidate the gains through electoral process. Mian Nawaz Sharif’s party is obviously well placed to do that and once he is on the victory stand all others will be elbowed out. If Imran Khan and Qazi Hussain Ahmad understand this game then they will like to create the kind of chaos on the streets of Islamabad that could result into some intervention that does not lead to parliamentary or electoral process of resolution of the issues. If that happens Nawaz Sharif will be the biggest loser so will all the forces that believe in democracy.

One positive, however, from all these developments is that lawyers and so called civil society have conceded that without the support of a major political force they do not stand a chance to mobilize enough number of people. This is quite a come down from the high of the last few months where they thought that they could make their own decisions and political forces will have to simply follow them. I hope they also realize soon that it will be the floor of parliament where these issues will be resolved, not on the streets and better if the PML-N leads the way for them.

For the PML-N and off course the PPP also the best way forward is to settle their disputes and concerns in parliament. Both parties must realise that the two separately or jointly do not carry two-third majority in parliament. They have to rely on the smaller parties many of which have strong roots in the smaller provinces. This will require give and take, but it appears that in the name of principles some people want to only have their way and intransigence is being projected as heroic struggle.

Aniq Zafar is an Islamabad based consultant and Liberal activist. This article appeared in The News on March 4, 2009

Law, Rights and Constitutionalism Cannot be Personalized

By Raza Rumi

I am appalled by the recent events that have yet again stirred instability and uncertainty into Pakistani politics. Those of us who voted in last year’s elections expected that the political leaders and Pakistan’s political elites would learn a lesson from our unfortunate history.

We also expected the lawyers’ movement, headed by men of extraordinary caliber, to display sagacity and vision and contribute to the consolidation of a democratic culture. However, what we witnessed was a complete rejection of the Feb 18 polls by the leading lights of the movement, and a few other naïve political actors. When the electorate voted in large numbers and returned the two mainstream political parties to the parliament, the lawyers, instead of accepting that they were wrong to boycott elections, insisted on their narrow and bourgeois interpretation of the term “rule of law.”

Sadly, law, rights and constitutionalism are personalized through the idolization of the deposed chief justice, as if Pakistan were still a mediaeval kingdom, where the bad King (Musharraf) had to be overthrown, and the good Qazi (Justice Iftikhar) had to be “restored” and vested with all moral, political, executive, military and judicial powers.

The rightwing media has further whipped this game and brought the popular and well-meaning Sharif in direct confrontation with the federal government on this single issue. President Zardari, whom we all hoped had learned his lessons from jail, endless court trials and exile, would act with vision and leadership. Similarly, the Supreme Court, led by Justice Dogar, might have gone an extra mile to prove its neutrality. Alas, how wrong we were!

It is amazing that the long marches, threats of violence and agitation, and questionable imposition of the governor’s rule in the largest province of the country are taking place at a time when the Taliban are capturing one district after another. The media and civil society, instead of bringing down the creaky edifice of democracy, should be pressurising political leaders to act with maturity and not wrangle.

Given the hysteria of the last few days, since the disqualification of the Sharif brothers, the media is portraying the situation as one with no solution. Enemies of democracy, the traditional forces that have always sabotaged civilian rule, are smiling at this imbroglio. There is no paucity of solutions: there are legal and constitutional means whereby the legislature can amend the Constitution on the eligibility of politicians to contest elections and hold offices. A review petition can always be filed that could look at the questions of law pertaining to this matter. Similarly, the promulgation of another NRO is not beyond the realm of the possible. Politics is about bargains and adjustments to strengthen the representative system, rather than bringing it down at every inconvenient juncture.

The PPP must take the initiative to avoid further fissures in the tenuous federation called Pakistan. The current posturing and gung-ho behaviour of the PPP’s Punjab leaders need to be arrested by the central leadership. The PML-N and, in particular, its Quaid, Mian Nawaz Sharif, should also rise above the rhetoric of the 1990s and display flexibility that is essential to a functional democracy. The PML-N has little support in the three smaller provinces of Pakistan and its current rhetoric and thundering against President Zardari, who represents the smaller federating units, is not a good omen. A group of political activists torched the memorial of Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi, and there have been strong reactions across the country, especially in Sindh. Why blame the bomb blasts at funerals and mosques when such is the prevalent culture of protest.

If the deposed chief justice has to be restored then the matter must be brought before the parliament and solved through constitutional means. One cannot play the politics of constitutionalism and find solutions in executive orders. If Mr Sharif will lead an agitation with the lawyers who are now placed on the other side of the democratic divide, he will not only engineer the fall of the central government, and the PPP, but will also sign the deed of death for the future of democratic politics in Pakistan.

Over fifty deposed judges have taken fresh oaths under the policy of the sitting government. When the incumbent judiciary is trampled and defamed, the detractors forget that it includes all those judges who resisted Musharraf’s emergency. Once an individual is restored to the top slot, will it become legitimate overnight or the incumbent judges would be fired for being part of the “naqli” judiciary?

The civic activism since 2007 was a harbinger of change in Pakistan. The lawyers’ movement is de-legitimising democracy and political parties (including the largest and perhaps the only national party). One may ask whose purpose is being served here. Is it not what the leaders of the Taliban and other extremist groups maintain about democracy by calling it “kufr”?

The establishment and its proxies must not win this game. At present it seems that both the mainstream political parties and their obstinate leaders are bound to create a situation similar to 1958, 1977 and 1999. However, this time the cost of unrest and confrontation will be detrimental to our future. The vicious cycle, emanating from our inability to handle political squabbles, will this time give way to erosion of democratic space won today with sacrifices, toils and struggles.

The writer blogs at razarumi.com and edits two e-zines: Pak Tea House and Lahore Nama. Email: razarumi@gmail.com. This article appeared in The News on March 4, 2009