The past year of the Zardari government has been filled with controversy and tension. Every week there is another prediction that the government is breathing its last, and only a matter of days will go by before its death. But with each of these controversies, each of these ‘near-death experiences,’ the government comes out not only alive, but actually stronger.
A few months ago, the chattering classes were all predicting the downfall of the government because of some disagreements between the military and the executive over the Kerry-Lugar bill. In the end, the discussions between Gen. Kayani and President Zardari brought the two closer together.
Most recently, the judiciary did not see eye-to-eye with the executive about judiciary appointments. Again, the chattering classes began preparing kafan. Again, though, the government appears to have navigated the crisis without upending the ship. According to Malik Muhammad Ashraf, it appears again to have helped strengthen the bonds of our leaders.
The settlement of the judges’ appointment issue as a result of the initiative taken by the prime minister marks a new beginning in relations between the judiciary and the executive, the two most important institutions of the state. The sagacity and foresight shown by the prime minister in ironing out the differences in perception between the government and the Chief Justice (CJ) on the letter and spirit of Article 177 of the Constitution, is praiseworthy. The prime minister, by participating in the dinner hosted by CJ in the honour of Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday and then inviting the CJ over to the Prime Minister’s House for consultations on the points of difference and ultimately accepting the position taken by the judiciary has set a very healthy tradition of showing unqualified respect to the judiciary, something very rare in the political history of Pakistan.
It also goes to the credit of the government that despite having a different legal perspective on the issue, it did not make it a question of prestige and thought it appropriate to resolve it in the best interests of the nation, as stated by the prime minister while speaking to the media after his meeting with the CJ. Pakistan and national interest must take precedence over everything else. The amicable resolution of this issue represents the triumph of democracy and success of the policy of reconciliation and consensus adopted as a political creed by the government. People can see for themselves how a dictator dealt with the judiciary and how a democratic and representative government has treated it.
A democratic government is new to much of Pakistan after living under the rule of various dictators for far too long. Even those leaders who are committed to democracy – and these are in almost all the political parties – are not well practiced in the arts of democratic dialogue and compromise. Actually, we still tend to revert to what we have gotten too used to – street politics and winner-take-all strategies that have failed us in the past.
These anti-government strategies are easily found in each of the controversies that we have seen. Though some anti-democratic voices like to pretend that these controversies are caused by the President and not whipped up hysteria by their own media organizations and political supporters, the truth that they are controversies being manufactured by right-wing groups does not escape the public who can see them for what they are.
The resolution of this issue is also a great snub to the elements who were trying to foment confrontation between the government and the judiciary and those who were hell-bent on discrediting and embarrassing the government by attaching all kinds of motives to it for having taken a different view from the judiciary. Their ongoing charade against the government and the portrayal of an alarmist view of the situation instead of taking difference of opinion as an essential ingredient of the democratic process did create a sense of despondency among the masses and dented their faith in the democratic process. But thanks to the political maturity exhibited by the government, the machinations of these elements have not succeeded and they have had to eat dust in the end. But as they say, cynics will remain cynics; these elements have still not given up on their agenda and the propensity to malign and discredit the government. The government initiative is being projected as a climbdown and giving in to the demands of the judiciary. They regrettably fail to see and appreciate the whole affair in its true perspective.
There is a predominant view within civil society that during the standoff between the judiciary and the government, some political outfits — notwithstanding their dismal and condemnable record in regards to respect for the judiciary — made deliberate moves to extract political mileage from the prevailing situation. By showing solidarity with the judiciary, they also tried to politicise the institution. A certain section of the media also overstepped its mark by indulging in politics and arrogating to itself the role of an adjudicator. It made concerted efforts to encourage the establishment to intervene. Nobody in his right mind can have a grudge against freedom of expression, but the proponents of this freedom have to realise that nowhere in the world the media enjoys unbridled freedom and licence to commit indiscretions in complete disregard of universally accepted professional and ethical norms. What was conveniently forgotten was that freedom of expression can best be safeguarded by the media itself, by showing a sense of social responsibility.
But could it be that these anti-democratic forces in some ironic way are actually helping the government? Consider this: each time the right-wing groups manufacture outrage over some controversy and try to drive a wedge between the President and military, or the President and the judiciary, or the President and the PM – the result is that these groups are brought closer together.
The reason is obvious. Gen. Kayani, President Zardari, PM Gilani, and CJ Iftikhar are all intelligent, reasonable men. Yes, they may have some disagreements on particulars. But each of them is dedicated to strengthening and preserving the democratic process and the democratic government. When they are thrown into some crisis, their reaction is not like some immature student political thug who lashes out against perceived enemies. No. These are statesman whose reaction is to work together to find some common ground where they can negotiate and come to a satisfactory conclusion for the good of the nation.
There is a famous saying that whatever does not kill us only makes us stronger. It seems that, despite the best efforts of anti-democracy forces, the democratic government continues to get stronger and learn from its mistakes and the controversies that are thrown at it. Depsite the naysayers in the chattering classes, any new government will face controversies. The fact that all of the controversies facing Pakistan’s government have been resolved without destroying the democratic government is a good sign for the future.