The winds of change

An independent and proactive judiciary is a panacea for many of the shortcomings of our democratic system, mainly a lack of accountability. — Photo by AP

There is consensus on three issues across the political spectrum of Pakistan: that military takeovers are not the solution to our problems; that corruption is a major issue in this country and we need accountability; and that we are proud of our independent judiciary and media, which have emerged as a check on an overweening executive, whether civilian or military, after decades of struggle.

The ghost of army takeovers has been laid to rest, ironically enough, by the Musharraf experience. The general’s exit revealed how he had weakened the federation as a result of his policies: a trigger-happy approach in Balochistan; confused and ineffective attempts to stem the rising tide of the Taliban; and monumental incompetence in not planning for the country’s energy needs, which has left the economy in a shambles. With such a damning record, who in God’s name would want the army back?

But the PPP’s use of the ‘establishment’ as a red herring does not hold water, and that too at a time when the army is preoccupied with a full-blown insurgency and is experiencing heavy losses among its troops. They have shown great professionalism and done a magnificent job under their present leadership, realising that dabbling in politics had only tarnished the military’s reputation. They are important stakeholders when it comes to our security, especially since we are in the middle of a war; it was a blunder not to have consulted them over the Kerry-Lugar bill.

It is impressive the way the PPP government has contributed to the strengthening of the federation through its Balochistan package and the NFC accord. Mr Zardari’s heart was in the right place from day one on the issue of Balochistan; and on the NFC award; the PML-N also made a very positive contribution. However, when it comes to corruption, rumours are rife from the shores of Karachi right upto the Khyber Pass.

The role of the media has been outstanding in exposing corruption and other scandals: the Doctors’ Hospital’s misdeeds, the Punjab Bank scam and the Pakistan Steel Mills scandal; the list is endless. These comperes, journalists and the channels they represent have shown great commitment in revealing widespread corruption, which has reached new heights under this dispensation. It takes hard work, integrity and courage to take on an incumbent government.

It was this same commitment that had Musharraf on the run; and now the PPP government is reacting in a similarly intolerant fashion. As social activist Tahira Abdullah argued in a TV discussion recently, all channels should follow the practice of inviting a representative of the government in their talk shows, so that their point of view is not left out.

It might be pertinent to recall the attacks on Bush in the international media, and how it reached a crescendo with the throwing of the shoe at him in Baghdad. I don’t remember Bush complaining like our government; and if the strategy is to pick on a chosen few of the media to denounce, it only results in their ratings going up.

While there is much drum-beating about the sovereignty of parliament, the latter’s performance has been dismal. Political parties are the weak link in the political system, resulting in a supine parliament.

In a democratic dispensation, it is a vibrant and well-informed parliament that must discuss the issues of the day, and voice the concerns of the people. The vacuum left by a passive parliament, has been filled by the media and judiciary; and they have emerged as the voice of the dispossessed and voiceless.

Living up to its reputation, parliament scarcely carried out any meaningful legislation over the last one year, which is its primary responsibility.

Musharraf, in a last-ditch effort to shore up his power, came up with the National Reconciliation Ordinance — a deal brokered with the help of what can only be described as ‘imperial’ powers.

Any court of law would have thrown out the NRO, because it is selective and therefore unconstitutional. The government was given four months by the judiciary to get the NRO approved by parliament, and when it failed to do so, the expected and only possible decision was taken. The government’s inability to get it approved in parliament, or even defend it properly in court, shows that even the government had found its case to be indefensible.

The demand for the rule of law and justice, but on a level playing field, has moved beyond the drawing rooms of our well-heeled civil society to the common man. It is the marriage of the media and the judiciary/lawyers which has transformed Pakistan’s political landscape.

The striking down of the NRO has two aspects: it is an assertion of our sovereignty, for the NRO was brokered by western powers in cahoots with a ruler who had little public support; and it has put the issue of accountability on the front burner once again. It is interesting but not surprising, that such an important decision got scant coverage in the western media, or only with negative overtones.

An independent and proactive judiciary is a panacea for many of the shortcomings of our democratic system, mainly a lack of accountability. By moving beyond the NRO and calling in a list of bank defaulters, the judiciary is reaffirming its role as the guardian of the people’s interest. It is for the political forces and civil society to ensure that the government implements the rulings of the judiciary.— Dushka H. Saiyid

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