Ominous signs

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Notwithstanding the unfolding events, month of October has been extremely ominously significant for Pakistan. On October 16, 1951 first bullet to subvert democracy was fatally pierced into the chest of Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan-most trusted lieutenant of the founder Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Earlier in the year he had survived an abortive quasi-military coup led by an army general. Ever since his assassination democracy has remained on roller coaster skates.
Two hundred years ago on October 17, 1817 was born greatest Muslim reformer of the 19th Century Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, father of Muslim Renaissance in post 1857 India following the Unsuccessful Revolt against the British. He picked them from the status of ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ and ignited in them the revival spirit to seek education, respect, equitable opportunity and fight for their rights. It was he who was the first to differentiate between Muslims and Hindus as two separate nations-two beautiful eyes of one body.

Islamabad: Nawaz Sharif addressing PML-N’s Central General Council after being elected head of the party for four years.

I am sure there must be many more luminaries associated with October, however, significantly important to my mind is Begum Nusrat Bhutto who died on October 23,2011. Through blood, toil and tears she carved her own place in the political history of Pakistan when two military dictators, one more ruthless than the previous, arrested her husband Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in his gigantic struggle for the socio-economic and political empowerment of the masses. She defied them both and kept aloft his party’s (PPP) flag, ignited the people to hitherto unknown heights of resistance to rule by bayonets and bullets.
Days of political importance and of seminal consequences are quite a few. Pakistan’s first martial law was imposed on October 7, 1958 by President General Iskander Mirza. He abrogated the 1956 Constitution, dismissed Prime Minister Feroze Khan Noon just a few months before he was to announce first ever general elections. This sharing of power arrangement could not last long and General Ayub showed his true colours by packing up Mirza on October 27, 1958.
Slowly and surely establishment’s power troika comprising of generals, senior civil bureaucrats and superior judges had started coming into recognizable shape, gradually replacing MAJ’s idea of a secular social welfare state with that of a garrison state backed by Punjab’s feudal class and religious leaders who had opposed Pakistan. Presidential form of government was introduced and seeds of Pakistan’s break up sowed, Gen Zia’s coup and judicial murder by him of martyred Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s first populist Prime Minister.
One cannot encapsulate here all that happened in 70 years, one gets over to yet another coup on October 12, 1999. An overly ambitious Prime Minister-Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif seeking to be Ameerul Momineen on the footsteps of Mulla Omar of Afghanistan, decided to get rid of his Army chief General Pervez Musharraf and then got knocked down by GPM’s boomerang. Had not his foreign mentors namely Saudis and President Clinton-intervened to save his neck from being stretched at the gallows, he would been a foot note in history. Much like then now too, his case is that of as you sow so shall you reap.
Speaking at a function in Marriott Islamabad after MNS became prime minister second time, proudly confided that the key to his success in politics was policy of confrontation. What we see now is, indeed, is not far from truth. He is still in the same mode. Being a Capricorn – one can understand the element of in-built stubbornness in him and why it often ends up in futility. It is also a symptom of suicidal streak.
I don’t believe in pin pricking those who are already licking their self-inflicted wounds. However, being a student of history, I am pained to see them repeat their mistakes. What happened in Islamabad in the Accountability Court on Monday last at the time of disqualified prime minister’s hearing was something of a rewind of 1997.
It was perhaps among the most ignominious events in our history. First an internal revolt was conjured, by MNS by using his power of “chamak” (wealth) as martyred Bibi described, buying judges to uproot the Chief Justice and when it did not seem to materialise, hordes of PML-N goons, including ministers were let lose to besiege the CJP. They attacked the Supreme Court, forced Chief Justice Syed Sajjad Ali Shah to resign, later followed by President Farooq Leghari’s ignominous resignation.
It no doubt set an ideal stage for the Prime Minister to become Ameerul Momineen as desired by him but for his colossal blunders, his dream remained unfulfilled. Thank goodness PPP was in majority in Senate, it forestalled his bid to impose his brand of Shariah and then General Pervez Musharraf did the rest.
Maryred Bibi described October 12 as yet another darkest day. However, she had to say it that MNS dug his own grave. He was ruthless, his accountability chief Senator Saifur Rehman was Tarah Masih incarnate and they had made life brutish and nasty. How can one forget Saifur Rehman’s abuse of higher judiciary, arm twisting of Justice Malik Qayum of Accountability Court to post haste convict Bhutto and Asif Zardari by awarding them maximum punishment.
Not that previous government’s ride on the treacherous path to the completion of its five-year tenure was strewn with roses. It had an establishment all the time blowing hot down its neck, opposition led by Nawaz Sharif constantly trying to run it down and media persistently forecasting its demise next hour, next day, and next month until its last day of completion of its tenure. One is reminded of how PML-N overtly and covertly connived with what martyred Benazir Bhutto used to call ‘state within the state’. MNS and his supporters got so buoyant with the scent of success reaching them that they jumped on bandwagon of the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of Chief Justice in the name of rule of law.
The complicity of his party with the then restored Chief Justice was so murky and obvious that it seemed that CJP’s excessive use of judicial activism had only one aim – to make running of the government impossible. Memogate was expected to strike the fatal blow, prospects of PPPP government’s demise were so certain that MNS himself decided to be present in the court along with his army of cronies, masquerading in a black coats.
MNS’ relationship with the judiciary and the establishment or what now Interior Minister Rao Ahsan Iqbal calls, ‘state within the state’ – is but a manifestation of ungratefulness to those who have been responsible for all the pelf and power enjoyed by the Sharifs for more than 30 years. Retrospectively speaking, the apex judiciary always bailed him out. In 1993 when President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed him for corruption, it was the Supreme Court that restored him declaring his removal as unconstitutional whereas the same apex court had upheld Benazir Bhutto’s dismissal in 1990 on the same charges. That’s how perception developed that there are two sets of laws – one for Sindhi Prime Minister and the other for Punjab’s.
Besides himself a stubborn Capricorn, his tragedy is that his ministers too – with the exception of few – have been found to be haughty, arrogant and too temperamental. It is a matter of record that his top ministers were not on speaking terms with each other. Ch Nisar was openly at war with Khawaja Asif who had on his own earned notoriety for his maltreatment of female Parliamentarians. Since Prime Minister did not give importance to Parliament, his ministers too were hardly respectful to it. By their own default, acts of omission and commission – they allowed space to other institutional players – be it judiciary or ‘state within the state’.
One does not know how and why of Monday incident and who ordered deployment of Rangers for the security of the judge and the court – the initiative was indeed commendable. It seemed the person was not only conscious of PML-N’s past but was fully aware of jingoistic mood of the ruling party. Defiance or confrontation being the name of the ongoing name – if the Rangers had not been put on duty, any minor untoward incident in the limited court room space thronged by whole army of ministers and PML-N storm troopers – could have taken an ugly turn. In order to avert it court had already announced that entry would only be on passes issued by it. Ministers were specifically requested not to.
However, the situation did take an ugly turn when the Ministers and the party in power assumed the role of hostile opposition. Instead of setting an example in responsible behaviour, the Interior Minister himself took offence when he and PML-N storm troopers were denied entry into the court by the Rangers. Ever since then his fury is in rage. According to him there can’t be ‘a state within the state’ and repeated his threat to resign if he failed to get the “culprit or culprits” responsible punished. He repeated his threat to resign in his interview with Hamid Mir. “If I don’t have powers to run my own ministry, why should I remain minister?” Lets see who resigns and who gets punished. In the meanwhile battle lines have been drawn. MNS and party are upbeat for defiance to the end. Constitution has been amended post haste to enable MNS to continue as PMLN chief. He was once again elected President unanimously. He already feels vindicated that the seat that he vacated due to his ‘forced’ disqualification is back in the family. One could see how elated he appeared in the PMLN Convention in Islamabad when his supporters chanted “4th Time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif”.
Elections Act, 2017, has been bulldozed in the Parliament, opposition leaders have condemned it as Black Law, there is general criticism of it-laws made in haste, go waste-is what they say. Punjab Bar Council struck down work on October 4 to protest against Election Bill. Most provocative is the amendment that has enabled MNS to become PMLN head despite being disqualified for mega corruption. Firebrand Dr Allama Tahirul Qadri had already fired the first lethal salvo by his charge that in indecent haste to retain MNS as party Chief, Law Minister Zahid Hamid has deleted the mandatory oath by candidates in the unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (Peace be Upon him). A profusely sweating Law Minister has been seen giving explanations and contradicting deletion. However, religious parties are not willing to accept the explanations. At the end of the day while MNs would be damaged, the Minister could be a physical casualty. Last but not the last, wait and watch, October has yet to go many days more and ominous signs are crystal clear indicating that matters shall not remain the same, change is inevitable. Only deaf cannot hear the marching sound of martial music and pounding of jack boots. History shall repeat.
(The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK, Advisor to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a veteran journalist.)