No shortcut to salvation


I. A. Rehman
THE N-League will mark today the 18th anniversary of its government’s overthrow by Gen Musharraf’s task force. For the other main parties it will be business as usual. For the PPP, July 5 is a black day — this year it marked the 40th anniversary of the overthrow of the Bhutto government. No other party was concerned. Thus, disruption of the constitutional order is an attack only on the party that is ousted from power; it is not a national disaster. This is perhaps the main reason for the politicians’ failure to defend their life-support system. Once again the people are worried about the future of the constitutional order.

One response to the growing public anxieties is the PTI chief’s call for an early general election, although an opposition party should be interested in allowing the incumbents more rope to hang themselves with. Political parties have a right to ask for fresh polls at any time and former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is also free to support this demand. (Incidentally, the question of whether it is prudent for a former chief justice to tell the courts what they should do in the cases pending before them needs to be decided soon, for such observations could influence some courts at the subordinate level, if not all.)

But have we reached a point where fresh elections are the only option to resolving the crisis of governance? Some of the crises, such as the difficulties in having a parliamentary form of government without a properly functioning parliament and mature political parties, for instance, have been permanent problems for decades. These problems were there in 2008 and the election did not solve them. These problems were again there in 2013 and the election did not solve them then either. There is no guarantee that a snap election alone will purge the system of its deeply ingrained flaws.

Have we reached a point where fresh elections are the only option?

Besides, what has happened is that the head of the ruling coalition has been disqualified. No law or convention bars the coalition from electing a new premier. This is what was accepted when Yousuf Raza Gilani was ousted from the prime minister’s office. The powerful state institutions were not happy with his successor but the political applecart was not upset as the founding of a tradition to allow the National Assembly and the elected government to serve their full terms was considered a significant national objective. That position has not changed. Further, what is the motive behind the demand for elections or a caretaker set-up? A desire for better administration, or fear of rivals becoming stronger?

Quite a few other ideas for change are also in the air. One of them is resurrection of the theory that drastic action is justified in a situation for which the Constitution offers no solution. Any revival of this myth must be resisted for there is no problem that cannot be solved within the Constitution. A reference to the electorate is always available as a last resort. We have yet to test parliament’s potential for dealing with the current situation. There is much merit in Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani’s call to rely on the collective wisdom of parliament for leading the country out of the woods.

Nobody should be surprised if some people are ready to call upon the army to take over without realising that they are committing treason because Article 6 will not remain a dead letter for ever. The withdrawal symptoms being displayed by the beneficiaries of the past military regimes cannot be misread.

This is not the time to reply to Gen Musharraf’s boast that military rulers have been setting things right and the civilian leaders have only been recreating a mess, except for telling him that the reality is the other way round. Yet, there is no harm in discussing the pros and cons of a military takeover even though the affirmation of the army’s resolve to respect the Constitution can only be welcomed.

No friend of the armed forces will ever ask them to assume the responsibility of managing a state that is in transition towards democratic governance. The reason is that whenever they have taken up civilian jobs their primary, and perhaps sole, responsibility — namely, defence against external aggression or threat — has suffered. Examples: 1965 and 1971 .And in that regard as well, the people are not unfamiliar with the adage that war is too serious a business to be left to the generals.

Besides, military rule has been subject to the law of diminishing returns. By the time Gen Musharraf arrived, he could not even call his regime by its real name; he pretended that Pakistan was a business enterprise and that he was its chief executive officer. Also to be remembered is the fact that each military ruler fell when he lost control over the state apparatus. That apparatus may no longer be as easily manageable as it was in 1958 or 1977.

Further, the issues confronting the state are too complex to be solved through readymade measures, and there is every risk that Pakistan may lose whatever goodwill it still has in the comity of nations.

All rulers, civil or military, must remember that a country’s pace of progress depends on the speed with which the citizens are enabled to move forward. People are not fond of forced marches at which military leaders excel. Even the best reforms in Pakistan, including land and economic reforms and administrative changes, did not succeed because the people could not own them.

The revolution or change or the birth of a new Pakistan that everybody wants will not come in the form of executive orders from above, it must emerge from below, out of the people’s own assessment of what they need and what they deserve as of right. So long as a genuine revolution is not on any credible organisation’s agenda the imperfect democracy that we have, and which nobody likes to defend, is the only route to enabling the people to take destiny into their own hands. Authoritarianism was a wrong choice yesterday and it will not be a right choice today.

Published in Dawn,