Thursday, February 26, 2009


By Usman Khalid

The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in the celebrated tradition of Kangaroo Courts, gave a judgment on 25 February disqualifying former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, and Mian Shahbaz Sharif, the sitting Chief Minister of the Punjab, from contesting elections or holding a political office. In a press conference held by Sharif brothers the same day, it was revealed that President Asif Zardari had offered Mian Shahbaz Sharif a deal – a decision in their favour in the case to disqualify the Sharif Brothers in exchange for help in amending the Constitution to give extension to Chief Justice A.H.Dogar. It may be kept in view that Justice Dogar was the selection of Benazir as replacement for CJ Iftikhar Chaudhri. Justice Dogar took a fresh oath of office on the PCO on November 3, 2008, by which General Musharraf had dismissed the sitting Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhri and sixty other judges of the Supreme and High Courts. Although the President Zardari’s Office denied the deal offer, there is other evidence how desperately he wants to extend the tenure of Chief Justice Dogar. The extension of his tenure was a part of the package of 85 or so constitutional amendments drafted by his personal lawyers Farook Naek who is now the Minister of Law.

That the politics of Pakistan has returned to the rut of familiar grooves so soon after nine years of Musharraf rule is indeed shocking. Benazir Bhutto and her husband, Asif Zardari, had been consigned to political oblivion by similar dubious laws and procedures. After 11 years out of office and Asif Zardari himself having been incarcerated for eight years, the PPP appears to have learnt nothing. Politics continues to have no purpose except to come to power and stay in power by hook or crook. The essential part of securing monopoly over power is to ‘destroy the opposition’. Murder (preferably judicial) is still the preferred weapon of politicians. If that is not possible, dragging opponents into courts is the next best weapon. Asif Zardari is a past master at both having learnt the tricks of the trade at the receiving end. He is accused of the unsolved murder of his brother in law – Mir Murtaza Bhutto - and is the chief beneficiary of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Because of that and his reputation of corruption as Mr 10 percent, he is unacceptable even to the PPP rank and file as the inheritor of the Bhutto mantle. His unsavoury moral reputation makes him a figure of contempt all over the country particularly in the province of Sindh from which hails. His leaning towards India and his bypassing the institutions of the state to make private deals with crime syndicates inside the country and foreign governments and agencies, makes him an outlaw and the most reviled leader of any country in the world.

Democracy was restored in Pakistan only a year ago after nine years of Musharraf rule. The people are ready to give the politician time and a lot of space. But his past makes him paranoid. When a ruler does not have legal, political or moral legitimacy, he depends on the coercive power of the state (police and the military) and support of a compliant judiciary to stay in power. Unlike Musharraf, Asif Zardari has legal and political legitimacy. He is not politically or personally not vulnerable but he has become vulnerable on moral grounds having gone back on written promises made to political allies to restore Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhri. His restoration has become the cause celebre enjoying around 80% public support. The Lawyers’ Movement is planning a march on the capital and sit-in in to press their demand. Since the PML (N) is the ruling party in the Punjab and it has decided to take part in the march and the sit-in, President Asif Zardari was afraid that the combination might force his hand. He decided to use the ‘Dogar Court’ to oust the Sharif’s from politics and put the fear of God in the faint hers of the PML (N) and install a PPP led coalition in the Punjab. It is high-risk game that may well result in the ouster of President Zardari.

The Prime Minister – Yousaf Raza Gilani – has kept himself aloof from the Zardari machinations. He kept his channel of communication open with Sharif brother and he called the Punjab Chief Minister to tell him that he had no role in his disqualification and that he considers the fallout from it to be harmful to the country. He has courted the danger of being asked to resign. He must resist such a call and ask to be dismissed under Article 58 (2) b of the Constitution instead. That would be fitting revenge for the humiliation of being by passed by the ministers as well as bureaucrats who get orders direct from the President. He is still the Chief Executive who enjoys the confidence of the House. If he stood firm and asserted himself in refusing to undermine the largest party in the Punjab Assembly, he would do a yeoman service even to his own party by insisting publicly on the constitutional process being followed in ‘letter and spirit’. A coalition of the PML (N) and the PML (Q) can defeat the machinations of the Governor Salman Taseer – the one person hated even more than Asif Zardari. If that is not be possible because of the obsessions of the Chaudhries of Gujrat, a forward block of PML (Q) could form a coalition with PML (N). But Zardari and Salman Taseer are playing a high stake game; they know they could be ousted if they lost. It would be foolish to consider that their bag of tricks contains only the Chaudhries.

In ‘Capital Talk’ programme of Geo TV, Mr Akram Sheikh, a lawyer who argued the case against disqualification of Sharif brother, said, “ The decision of the Supreme Court (on disqualification) is like a suicide attack on democracy like the PCO of November 3, 2007 was a suicide attack on the judiciary”. I believe that to be true. Musharraf did succeed in getting himself elected as the President for five years while still in uniform with the help of the ‘Dogar Court’ but he lasted only five months. A popularly elected party could not mortgage its political future to the corpse of a defeated dictator. The promulgation of the PCO on November 3 did turn out to be suicide attack that led his political death. The Governors rule in the Punjab may also not succeed in securing a coalition of the PPP with the PML (Q). Even if it did, the irate electors would continue sporadic violence. The Afghan war has spead to NWFP and Baluchistan already; it may now spread even to the Punjab where the PPP may replace the ANP as the target. Clearly, there are still many options open to the PPP to survive and even flourish. But President Zardari has dug his heels on the issue of restoration of the Chief Justice. His resolve to persist would continue to close all the good options. In the end, the President and the Governor of Punjab would be confined to their official residence where they might barricade themselves against the public. Who will they ask to be released from their incarceration? The Police? It always becomes scarce on the ground when the going gets tough for the politicians they are posted to protect. The Army? Reviled so much for so long by the politicians, it is not eager to face the wrath of the people to save some political skins. The Army would also advise Asif Zardari to do the right thing and restore the Chief Justice.

The Army Chiefs have carried out coup d’etat in Pakistan often in response to the political government facing insurrection. But a coup is unlawful – it is ‘high treason’ under Article 6 of the Constitution. Once they commit ‘high treason’ they get personally on the wrong side of the law. They compound their crime by further unlawful actions like suspending or even abrogating the Constitution. They need ‘pliant judges’ to invoke the ‘doctrine of necessity’ to provide a measure of legitimacy to their rule. But such legitimacy is often conditional and restricted in time. The majority of the political class, out of favour for long, are eager to do the bidding of the Army Chief. He gets welcome as the head of a party of political orphans. As he pin his colours to its mast, the party becomes spectacularly popular and wins the elections. The military dictator gets electoral legitimacy. He becomes convinced of his ‘Midas touch’. He becomes convinced of his everlasting popularity and his political acumen. When his party secures majority with or without other coalition partners, it always gives indemnity to all the actions of the dictator and validates all the laws enacted during the earlier purely military rule. That has been the pattern followed by every military dictator – Ayub, Zia and Musharraf. Now that pattern is broken.

Every thing that a military dictator does follows from his first crime – overthrowing a legitimate government. He continues in power by the acquiescence of the high judiciary and the availability of thousands of louts in the political class eager to enjoy political power riding on his back. It has become hard for a military dictator to replicate the pattern because of the wide viewer ship of TV – both national and international. The free media keeps the politicians under the spotlight and puts pressure on them, in fact on all holders of power and authority, (particularly the judiciary) to act in accordance with law and to meet the demands of good governance and the rights of the people. The Lawyers’ Movement for the restoration Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhri is the manifestation the public pressure on all politicians and public servants to act in accordance with law.
When a real criminal enters high office as Chief Executive or the Head of State, his situation is no different to that of the military dictator. He also needs a pliant judiciary and the service and support of the drop-outs, who constitute much of the political class. Asif Zardari is the first such politician to entered high office with many skeletons in his cupboard. He fears the Lawyers’ Movement and rising public support is his worst nightmare. He thinks if the judges can over-rule him, they would be the rulers not him. He is right. That is precisely what the rule of law is about: judges being able to overrule an official, however high, when he does not conform to law or acts against public interest. On the other hand, there is no way the present crisis is going to be resolved without Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhri being restored. At this moment, however, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and the Chaudhries of Gujrat can save the political system. If the Governor rule is ended in the Punjab and a new coalition formed within a week that excludes the PPP, the crisis may be resolved. However, if neither of them rises to the occasion, military intervention would remain the only viable good option.

This time, the Army Chief does not have to be on the wrong side of the law. He can act lawfully if he responded to the call by the Supreme Court made by a ‘seven judge bench’ on November 3, 2007, to come to its assistance. Since General Musharraf was the President as well as the COAS at the time, the Army was constrained in responding to that call. Now under the new Army Chief, the Army can respond as an institution, revoke the PCO, and restore the legitimate judges. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is still the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the order by the seven-judge Supreme Court bench presided buy him is a valid judgement. The action by the military to restore the judges would have several benefits over a political compromise, which is the maximum one can hope under the present circumstances.

1. The military would be acting lawfully in assisting the Supreme Court and act under its direction.
2. It would raise the prestige of the Army in doing the right and lawful thing and not taking over power of the state into its hands.

3. It would allow the legally dubious NRO to be revoked and allow action against criminals who have not just escaped punishment but have come to occupy high offices of state.
4. It would allow the review of the 17th Amendment not from party political point of view but from the standpoint of national interests and good governance.
The situation is too fluid to make any predictions. But the fact remains that it is not enough in the national interest that the PML (N) led coalition is restored in the Punjab. It is vital that all the four objectives listed above are achieved. That would require the Army to exert its influence – this time not to capture power but to restore constitutional rule.

The writer was a Brigadier in the Pakistan Army, now the Director London Institute of South Asia

Monday, February 2, 2009


By Usman Khalid

The MQM as well as the AZ –PPP are playing poker with all their cards on the table. Their moves are not hard to anticipate and frustrate.
Never in the history of any country, its government has so consistently acted against the national interest as the Zardari Administration. He presides over a coalition comprising political parties that oppose Pakistan. Under his leadership, the PPP has also become an anti-Pakistan Party that works for the Indian agenda - more eagerly on points on which India and the USA agree. The break-up of Pakistan has been the agenda of India and America during the Bush era. President Obama has yet to show his hand but it is unlikely that he would change that objective; he is more likely to use smart power to achieve his objective, which is the preferred method of India any way. Besides India has experience of 1971 for breaking up Pakistan. In 1971, India had Soviet support for its plans, now it has US support. The Scheme has three parts:
1. The first part of the Indo-US scheme was to install a government in Pakistan that does not care about national interests. That has been successfully accomplished; all the ruling parties are anti-Pakistan. Their popularity rating has sunk to 12 per cent and they do know why? But they do not care; they still have long enough time – four years – to accomplish the break-up of Pakistan.
2. The second part is to make ‘provincial autonomy’ the focal point of politics. Since the experience of 1971 is fresh in the minds of the people, no province is ready to repeat the mistake. But India has other cards to play. It has a ‘Trojan Horse’ in the politics of Pakistan in the shape of the MQM representing refugees from India. They do know what happened to their counter-parts in East Pakistan (Bihari Muslims) after it seceded; they became stateless. The fate of Mohajir in Pakistan would be the same if politics in the provinces were organised on ethnic lines; they would become stateless. Yet, they have volunteered to front the political campaign for the break-up of Pakistan. Why? Because they have to obey those who fund and direct them. It was Sheikh Mujib who fronted the Indian campaign in 1971; it is Altaf Hussain in 2009.
3. The third part of Indo-US scheme is that the armed forces should be discredited and demonised. That is not difficult because the wounds inflicted by ‘General’ Musharraf on Pakistan are still raw. He is the one who acquiesced to Indo-US diktat on every issue of national importance. He deceived the people and acted dishonourably so frequently that it is hard for his successors to resurrect the image of the armed forces. The Army operations against the ‘Islamists’ in Swat and FATA are controversial both in objectives as well as conduct. The Army has been found to be unable to defend itself – physically and in public perception. The biggest success of the Indo-US strategy has been to set the Islamists – who had been the nemesis of the secular forces - on Pakistan instead.

There is confusion in Pakistan of the same kind as in 1971. It was public knowledge that Sheikh Mujib was an Indian agent and would act on India’s directions, but the political class looked at him with admiration for his ‘courage’ to establish contact with the ‘enemy’ and secure its support. Today Altaf Hussain is held in similar awe for having enlisted India and America in his support. His other anti-Pakistan coalition partners would give their eyeteeth for the spell he casts over his Shia-Muhajir constituents. The patriotic Pakistanis – despite being in overwhelming majority - are stricken by dumbness as they were in 1971. Thy do not even have the courage to criticise the MQM draft of constitutional amendment.
There are two important arguments that need to be articulated by the patriotic press and the politicians:
a. Provincial autonomy is neither a universal doctrine nor an Islamic one. It is rooted in the history of the British Empire in India that annexed different territories at different times on different terms. The essential feature of their ‘conquests’ – whether the territory was annexed or remained under ‘princely rule’ - was that the land remained under the ownership of the province or the state; it was the people who became the ‘subjects of the crown’. Even today, all the ‘state land’ is the property of the province. From that it followed that taxes on land and property and rules for the sale and transfer of land and property be made by the province/state. But the taxes on people (their income and their production) were the exclusive right of the federal government, which was responsible for every aspect of peoples’ life – their health, education, security and welfare. That division of rights and responsibilities is still sound in principle as well as practice. Provincial autonomy is fair and good if the land revenue and taxes on minerals – including oil and gas - are collected exclusively by the provincial governments and used for development of infrastructure, irrigation, and maintenance of law and order. The responsibility for health and education should be returned to the federal government as it is the one responsible for the security and welfare of the people and collects taxes on peoples’ income and production.
b. A powerful country is one where the society is cohesive and the people are free. Since 98% of Pakistanis are Muslims, the cohesion among the people is remarkable. The people are free to move inside the country and for work overseas. The Pakistanis are institutionally fee and Pakistan is a strong country. Imagine the situation if a Kashmiri or a Pathan required a work permit to work in the Punjab or Sindh. Would it serve the interest of any province? Balochistan is a province with Pashtun, the Baloch and non-Baloch in almost equal numbers. Should Balochistan be split into three provinces? What would be result of such a split? Mass migrations, more strife and even more poverty and destitution! There are more Pathans in Karachi than in Peshawar. There are more Baloch in Sindh and Punjab than in Balochistan. The people have benefited from such migration. Had that not been the case they would not have moved. To the extent that provincial autonomy places restrictions of freedom of people to move, it is regressive. Indirect restrictions like sale of state land only to locals are the best means by which fears of change in demographic balance are addressed. That is the case at present and this can continue.

That the provinces of Pakistan are not defined by or restricted to any ethnic group is the strength of Pakistan. It is only the enemies of Pakistan who want to define the provinces of Pakistan in ethnic terms. That is why it is the prime enemy of the state of Pakistan, whose leaders decried the Two Nation Theory and the Founder of Pakistan in Delhi - the MQM – who is the mouthpiece of the Indian agenda. The political class is not going to criticise the MQM and its nefarious activities. It is partly because of fear of being gunned down by this mafia and partly because the other political parties not yet organised fully as a mafia consider the MQM as a their model. The direction in which Asif Zardari is moving the PP supports that view. The PPP was a populist political party under the leadership of Late Prime Ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. It is now being transformed into a Zardari mafia. A mafia is an organisation in which strict obedience of the ‘boss’ is the only law. The way the AZ-PPP has switched from supporting the restoration of the judges sacked by General Musharraf to supporting the judges that took oath under Musharraf’s PCO on 3 November 2007, shows that it is now Zardari Mafia like the MQM is Altaf Mafia.
The people of Pakistan are wide-awake through the Indo-US sponsored slaughter in their country. The US support notwithstanding, the ANP has been wiped clean out of NWFP and Balochistan. The MQM is nervous. Its leaders sitting in London and holding ministerial office in Islamabad are meeting American officials offering them their services independently of Asif Zardari. The situation of AZ is really difficult. His coalition partners – the ANP and the MQM – have closer relations with India and the USA. They can start and sustain a civil war to break up Pakistan. All Asif Zardari can offer – if provide the tools - is to use his army to crush the militants in Swat and FATA who have in any case been unleashed on Pakistan under a clandestine Indo-US operation. But he India has a use for him. The third part of the Indo-US scheme for Pakistan requires the armed forces to be an object of derision rather than awe, of contempt rather than fear. That can only be accomplished by wanton use of air power in Swat and FATA as is being insisted upon by the USA, and by Asif Zardari with diligent support of his ‘tried and tested accomplices’ called advisors to the Prime Minister.
The people are wide-awake but they have little hope. The entire political class and the system on which they feed and thrive are ready to collapse. It may well be the Indo-US scheme to break up Pakistan that overcomes their disinclination to mass action. Musharraf ended the prospect of the armed forces acting as an institution to save the country from its political class. Zardari is putting the final nails into the coffin of the political class. The lawyers, the ex-servicemen and other segments of the civil society may yet unite to replace the political class but that does not appear likely. The challenge is too big and the self-imposed restrictions on their objectives and actions are a heavy constraint. May be the MQM draft of amendments to the constitution makes the institutions of the civil society take up the challenge that the PML(N) and other like minded parties are unable or unwilling to. It is hard to make predictions. But the MQM as well as the AZ –PPP are playing poker with all their cards on the table. Their moves are not hard to anticipate and frustrate.

The writer is retired Brigadier of the Pakistan Army who is Director of the London Institute of South Asia (LISA)