On the Right Path

The following editorial appeared in today’s Daily Times, and makes an important point. While we are very rightly celebrating the progress and imminent passage of the 18th Amendment, there is still much work to be done. Also, while the nation rejoices, we must not lose site of the fact that there remain elements that oppose democracy and are working behind the scenes to derail this process. We must not let that happen. We have come too far, overcome too many obstacles, and seen too much of our own potential for positive change to let anyone stand in the way.

President Zardari’s address to the public meeting in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh on the occasion of the 31st death anniversary of PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was less sharp and pointed as compared to his address in December last year on the occasion of Benazir Bhutto’s second death anniversary, although the dangers to his presidency are no less grave. President Zardari’s repeated reference to dictators trampling over the constitution is not without a context. Pakistan’s democracy still faces threats from unelected, extra-constitutional forces that may perceive the government’s popular decisions unfavourably. All signs indicate that the executive and the judiciary are heading towards an ugly showdown following the resignation of the Attorney General of Pakistan over the alleged non-cooperation of the law ministry in the Swiss cases. While the Supreme Court has directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to reopen all corruption cases, the PPP spokesperson asserted that the party would not allow its late leader Benazir Bhutto and ex-chairperson Nusrat Bhutto to be dragged over the coals.

It seems that the proposed 18th Amendment, for which the government is rightfully claiming credit, has not gone down well with certain quarters. If passed, the amendment will transfer all the powers accumulated by military dictators to the office of president back where they rightfully belong: the prime minister. However, the last meeting of the PPP Central Executive Committee has given its nod to the co-chairperson of the party, who happens to be Asif Ali Zardari, taking all decisions pertaining to the running of the government, laying to rest the hopes of those who may have been thinking of playing the empowered prime minister against the relatively weakened president. The new arrangement will not change the de facto power of President Zardari. The second point of disagreement is the devolution of power to the provinces by abolishing the concurrent list. Nationalist and insurgent elements in the smaller provinces are viewed with deep suspicion by the military establishment and empowerment of the provinces will likely accrue benefits to them as well. Also, the new arrangement will take away powers from the Punjab-dominated Centre and the forces of the status quo would not like the balance to shift in favour of the provinces, although an over-centralised state and lack of empowerment of the provinces has led to the secession of East Pakistan and armed struggle in Balochistan.

Moreover, the proposed change in the procedure of judges’ appointment has displeased the legal community. This has led to a further convergence and cementing of bonds between the powers that be and other affected quarters, creating an atmosphere inimical for the incumbent government. Speculations are rife that the noose around President Zardari and the PPP government is tightening, which are strengthened by the buzz of political change in the air.

Such a landmark consensus achievement of all the political forces, which is going to put the constitution and the political system right back on track, hardly merits this kind of attitude by behind-the-scenes actors, assuming of course, that the rumours are true. Whatever the frictions and differences between discrete state institutions, everyone must take stock, act prudently, and do nothing that could upset the system that has still a long way to go to find a secure footing on a democratic basis and allow for attention to be focused, more than ever before, on the problems of the people, as the president said in his address to the joint session of parliament

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