Musical chair in Pakistan power game

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By Manzoor Ahmed

In October 1958 when the then Commander-in-Chief (C-n-C) of Pakistan Gen Mohammad Ayub Khan overthrew the democratic government; abrogated the 1956 Constitutions; dissolved the Parliament and imposed Martial Law, there was jubilation in streets. People thanked Allah and distributed sweets. His 11-year rule corroded the foundations of Pakistan. The people agitated and prayed to Allah to free them from military rule. Ayub said he did not want to preside over the disintegration of the country, stepped down and made Gen Yahya Khan to preside over the event which occurred in December 1971. The people bet their chests, but soon forgot about the great tragedy.
The people of Pakistan again thanked Allah and distributed sweets when Army Chief Gen Ziaul Haq overthrew the elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto; dissolved Assemblies; suspended the 1973 Constitution and imposed Martial Law in July 1977. Opposition parties ran a free kitchen on the streets of Lahore and elsewhere for one week. That event too destroyed social fabric of the country and turned Pakistan into a country of Muslims by exploiting the name of Islam to help the United States against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Zia’s rule had badly damaged sane thinking in the country.
The people were again jubilant when Army Chief Gen Pervez Musharraf toppled Nawaz Sharif’s elected government. Gen Musharraf’s rule reinforced insurgency in Baluchistan. Now we come to the present crisis in Pakistan which began with the disqualification to be a Member of Parliament by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on July 28. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) Chief Imran Khan described the Apex Court as “hero of the nation” and his party distributed sweets in Lahore.
Pakistanis are known to fret about military dictatorship when there is democracy and about democracy when there is a military dictatorship. They elect a government with a thumping majority and within one or two years start a campaign against it pasting large posters on walls pleading with the incumbent Army Chief to fulfil his constitutional duty by overthrowing their government. And when the Army takes over, the very electorate campaigns against it. They cry for Islam but will vote for secular political parties rejecting Islamic parties which promise Sharia rule in the country. This psychology of indecision is perhaps peculiar only to Pakistanis.
This reflects in Pakistan’s foreign relations too. It signs agreements and Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) and makes pledges maybe earnestly but without the stamina to keep them. There is a plethora of examples, but that is not the subject here. The subject is the impact of this wavering character on the country’s political stability and domestic peace. The present political crisis in the country is an example. Today Pakistan is rife with gossips of the impending fifth Martial Law. The present crisis is like the old wine in a new bottle. The old wine is the civil-military running bottle. The new bottle is the unprecedented use of the judiciary to subvert a government that came into being on massive mandate of the people in 2013. The Army had earlier used the judiciary to make it sanctify its illegal coups or to turn down certain politicians petitions. Army Chief Gen Ziaul Haq had used the Supreme Court even to hang Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified Prime Minister Raza Ali Geelani of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government in 2012. But the Army’s hand could not be suspected here because the judges led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Choudhary were fiercely protective of their newly won independence.
The disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on July 28 dealt a severe blow to his Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) because he was also its Chief. Gen Pervez Musharraf promulgated Political Parties Ordinance 2002 which said that a person not qualified to be Member of Parliament cannot head a political party. Accordingly, he was made to give up his party leadership. But on October 3 Nawaz Sharif was re-elected party president uncontested after the Parliament amended the constitution to remove this ban. It is said Gen Musharraf’s ordinance was especially meant to prevent Nawaz Sharif, whom he had sent into exile from heading his Muslim League from where the General lured defectors to form his benami Quaid Muslim League (PML-Q).
Sharif’s re-election as PML(N) Chief has been challenged before the Islamabad High Court. The petitioner has based his challenged on Gen Musharraf’s Ordinance of 2002. The Court admitted the petition and sent notices to Sharif and others. The petitioner maintained the Election Reforms Act, 2017 by virtue of which Sharif got re-elected as President of the PML(N) was against the basic scheme of the Constitution and against Quran and Sunnah inasmuch as it allowed a person to become party chief though disqualified by the Supreme Court to be a Member of Parliament.
This petition was filed amid an atmosphere of general distrust in Pakistan’s institutions – the Army, judiciary, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the corruption watchdog, National Accountability Bureau (NAB). These institutions have made no mean constitution to the present crisis. This is not to deny the contribution of Sharif and his progeny’s corruption to the crisis. But one cannot forget the Army’s role in encouraging Sharif’s corruption in the 1980s during Gen Ziaul Haq’s military dictatorship. It is generally stated that Nawaz Sharif emerged as a leading industrialist of Pakistan only during this period. It is also alleged he took bank loans never to return, used Zakat funds for elections in 1985 and took bribes from agencies to head Islamic Jamhori Ittehad (IJI), which was created to defeat Benazir Bhutto’s PPP in the 1988 elections. The Army was and remains hostile to the PPP. On the other hand, the extent of the Army’s cordiality with Sharif can be gauged from his description of himself as a political son of Army despot Gen Zia. Nobody questioned his corruption during his cordiality waved and disappeared, it was realised he has been Sharif is no Sharif but the most corrupt man in the history of this land of the pure (Pakistan) and that he does not have the piety of a Muslim that is mandated by Islam for the ruler of a Muslim country.
But who is pure or pious enough in Pakistan to cast the first stone on Sharif and his family? Is it the Generals, judiciary or Imran Khan? The generals made tons of money by arms and drug running; misappropriating the money that came from the Afghan War in the 1980s; by snatching poor farmers’ lands; acquiring benami control of mines of precious minerals in Baluchistan and establishing parallel economy in the country. But nobody dares challenge this corruption because they are the soldiers of Allah’s Army as Gen Zia claimed. Similarly, there has been no trial of judges who ruined Pakistan’s image and its political stability by sanctifying generals’ illegal usurpations of political power by overthrowing elected civilian governments. It is common sense that such judges must have been more than recompensed by the rogue generals. Former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Choudhary retired respectably though it was known that his son Arsalan made a lot of money exploiting his father’s position. The father was aware of it.
Imran khan, who described Sharif’s disqualification as his personal success, has himself disclosed all the sources of his income and off-shore business to the Supreme Court and the Election Commission of Pakistan. The ECP charged him with contempt but forgave him under whatever pressure. In Pakistan it is strongly believed that Imran Khan is Army’s blue-eyed boy. A PTI woman lawmaker Ayesha Gulalai accused him of sending her obscene message and said he was only good for creating chaos in the country.
People in Pakistan and abroad think that the Army’s game appears to break the PPP and the PML (N), like it has already done with the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) to promote Imran’s PTI and Islamist groups to form a future coalition government. With such a government in place the Army will not need direct control of the countrymen and no martial law will be required. How far is truth in this myth, only time will prove.
(The Author is geo-political analysis and the contents of the article are his views and not necessarily agreed by the newspaper. Editor)