The Way Out of Pakistan’s Constitutional Crisis
Last October Pakistan’s military dictator held controversial elections in a promised road map for restoring constitutional and civil rule. The General, who is a key ally of the West following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, declared that the elections meant he was sincere in transferring power to the elected representatives.
Yet the claim was far from credible. The elections were badly rigged. The European Union said that they were flawed. An American human rights committee said that the decks were stacked against the political parties.
The military intelligence agencies were given the task of forming a political party to face the Pakistan Peoples Party which I lead. This “King’s Party” contained many individuals previously charged with corruption by the National Accountability Bureau. (In the country NAB is known as the National Arm twisting Bureau).
The denial of people’s representation has resulted in a constitutional crisis. The new Parliament still does not have a Leader of Opposition for two reasons. First, because my supporters would obtain that post. Second, a moderate alternative doesn’t frighten the West. General Musharaf wants the West to believe that the choice in Pakistan is between military dictatorship and Religious dictatorship. He tries for more defections from the PPP Parliamentary Group so the post of Leader of Opposition can go to the religious parties. (They are also disgruntled with him for different reasons.)
In a choice between the military or the religious parties controlling Pakistan’s nuclear assets, the West would fall into line with the military. But this argument is a total fraud. In fact the choice in Pakistan today is between military dictatorship and democracy. It could change if the institutions in Pakistan fail to prevent the dismemberment of the democratic forces in the country.
Meanwhile the military backed ruling Party, known as the Kings Party, is also facing difficulties. Its members are disgruntled. They refuse to attend the Parliamentary session which is often adjourned for lack of quorum. So desperate is the situation that in a recent session the Police were asked to pick up parliamentarians from their homes and bring them to the Parliament.
Parliament is elected to enact laws. But the General wants Parliament to accept, without seeing detailed provisions, a new law that his retired buddies in uniform drew up. Parliament insists on seeing the exact provisions. And boycotts take place in protest.
An Opposition member was arrested this month for releasing a letter indicating discontent in the armed forces. He is being threatened with a sedition trial for expressing his right to free speech as well as his elected right to bring matters of national importance to the Parliament.
Islamabad admits that some Pak military men were caught fighting side by side with the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. These are called “rogue elements”. A US official claimed in October that General Musharaf’s orders were not being implemented by the rank and file of the military. This brought a sharp denial from the military spokesperson who claimed Musharaf was fully in control.
Nonetheless, these events do show that all is not well either on the political or the military front. It is troubling that a key country in a key region, described as one of the most dangerous in the world, is facing internal instability.
As the popular leader of the people, I continue as the target of the regime. Like the ghost in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I am in the political story although out of the country.
The regime banned me from contesting for Prime Minister of Pakistan under one law. Under another, it has banned me from contesting for Parliament itself even as a backbencher. I cannot enter my home or country safely. I have not seen my husband for years. He was imprisoned the day democracy was killed in 1996. Each time he is released, he is re-arrested under another charge. He was released twenty times and re-arrested twenty one times.
Unhappy with the prominence I was gaining overseas by attending conferences and speaking at Universities, the regime is trying to curtail my movement in exile. They have wrongly claimed to Swiss authorities that I manipulated the award of a contract to benefit my husband. I did no such thing. No court has convicted me of this even though more than seven years have passed since the overthrow of the government that I led.
Seven years later a Swiss investigating Magistrate found that the alleged account was not mine. He claimed that I had “access” to it. I opposed the finding before the Geneva authorities. To my delight they quashed the finding of the Investigating Magistrate on November 4, 2003 and sent it back to the Prosecutor’s office.
Since democracy was derailed in 1996, many dramatic events took place in South Asia. India and Pakistan came close to a possible nuclear war three times. Violence in occupied Jammu and Kashmir has intensified. That violence spilled into India itself with a devastating attack on its Parliament.
After 1996, Taliban invited in Al Qaeda and allowed it to raise, recruit and train young Muslim men in terror. It was from Afghanistan, that Al Qaeda declared war on the West. The attack on the twin towers killed three thousand innocent people. The retaliatory war led to more innocent deaths.
Recently a Father of five killed himself and his family because he could not feed them. He became one more statistic in the number of economic suicides that now take place in Pakistan. People kill themselves because they can no longer afford to live.
This month a 12 year old girl in a village in Sindh fell down unconscious from her school bench. When she regained consciousness she confided to her teacher that for the last two days she and her family had been starving. Her father is sick and her brothers can’t find a job. Pakistan’s State Bank noted this year that poverty has risen to thirty percent in the country. This means that one in three people in Pakistan are living in the most abject circumstances.
Sadly, a country that could focus on eliminating hunger and poverty, reforming its schools, training its youth for the challenges of the twenty first century is wasting its energies in power struggles against the popular leadership of the country.
The solution lies in a political system where Parliament does what it’s supposed to do: freely enact laws. It lies in a parliamentary agreement where the parties commit to the full democratization of Pakistan where the next elections are held by the Pakistan Human Rights Commission and all parties and leaders are free to contest with results announced within the hour at local headquarters.
The state of democracy, economy and social equilibrium is worrying. Given the number of failing states around the world, it should be of concern to all of those interested in seeing a stable South Asia.