Pakistan’s new coalition, a brief triumph?

March 9, 2008

Benjamin Disraeli, one of Britain’s foremost prime ministers of the 19th century, once said that, “Coalitions, though sucessful, have always found this, that their triumph has been brief.”

News that Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari have agreed on a coalition government raised the same issue.Will theirs be a brief triumph, or the start of a sea change in Pakistani politics?

Zardari and Sharif/Faisal Mahmood

And with both now calling for the restoration of the judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf last November — in what appeared to be a quid pro quo from Zardari in return for Sharif agreeing to bring his party into the government — the pressure is mounting on the former army general.

In my last post on what is next for Musharraf, written immediately after the election, one commenter said even if Zardari’s PPP and Sharif’sPML (N) agreed on a coalition, that the government “after the honeymoon period is bound to have differences cropping up as they are ultimately two different parties having different ideologies thus paving the way for the return of the Musharraf allies.”

Has the mood changed since then? Is the pressure on Musharraf becoming irresistible?

Comments

That Sharif and Zardari are prepared to at least try to work together is surely a sign there is a growing desire for change from the current set-up under Musharraf. But even if they achieve that goal — which has got to be doubtful — what’s the liklihood they would be able to work together longer term? Pakistan needs change, but it also needs stability. One has to wonder what the U.S. is making of this.

Posted by Liz Bird | Report as abusive
 

The question of stability is important but one need to understand that the dynamics of politics in Pakistan have changed. Zardari and Sharif both have been the victim of fight between there parties in past plus they have a common enemey and a common agenda so I think it can last much longer than any other so called democratic governments in past although I also doubt they will be able to complete the full 5 year term in peace.

The instability comes when army intervene in the political system and do not let the popular government to work for its full term and thats what Busharaf’s plans are. A stable government is not in his favour because he can doesn’t have a popular vote himself so divide and rule is his agenda which we all should be aware of.

 

There are tough times ahead for everyone in Pakistan, as your report intimates — and that includes president Musharraf. So in answer to your question: ‘Is the pressure on Musharraf becoming irresistible?’, seems likely to be Yes. But the problems are largely of his own making – and not by the current parliamentary coalition. Some of obstacles he now faces were made by his very own hand years ago, in a different political climate.

For a start, his role as president will have to be reduced, to re-balance Pakistan’s system of parliamentary democracy. Why? Since Musharraf seized power in 1999, he imposed harsh measures to take control, transforming the role of president for the needs of a dictator. Parliamentary and other powers therefore changed drastically to give more presidential powers – which guaranteed his power would be unchallenged.

Many of Pakistan’s laws, parliamentary rules, not to mention the constitution itself have been suspended or amended, to elevate the power of the president The original checks and balances are now so reduced as to be almost window-dressing. In a dictatorship, this is to be expected. But in a democracy, it is a travesty of parliamentary procedure. So changes must be made, as a top priority, to restore Pakistan to the norms of civil and legal society, which have been suffocated for the last eight years. If not, Pakistan will be the laughing stock of the free world and lack all credibility, thereby also undermining donor and investor confidence, not to mention the hopes of Pakistanis, who now want to turn the page on the past and build a self-reliant future.

Let us not forget also that impeachment proceedings against Musharraf may be, in legal terms, unavoidable for a new dispensation. My understanding is that he may face treason charges for having flouted the Constitution and unseated a democratically-elected government. It is a very serious charge: and who knows what the outcome would be? This can even carry the death penalty.

To cap it all, his official accession to the presidency in a civilian capacity, is almost certainly illegal and again, unconstitutional. So Musharraf is without doubt, between a rock and a hard place.

With such major changes in prospect, Musharraf may find his role so diminished that the West no longer considers him the key player in the ‘war on terror’ that he once was. But just as Islamabad will soon have to get used to working with either McCain, Clinton or Obama, so Washington, London and Brussels must also learn to move on and deal with Pakistan’s new faces.

And they may be pleasantly surprised to find more progress can be made with politicians enjoying a popular mandate to govern, than with a dictator without one; and that by exploring a more carrot-and-stick approach to dealing with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda than simply shooting at everything that moves, there may be greater dividends than were possible hitherto. Even the army has been uncomfortable with methods tried thus far. Thus it is time to find long-term answers to the violence in Pakistan’s mountainous regions, where traditions of independence as well as ethnic and cultural identities go back centuries – far further back than the formation of Pakistan in the mid-20th century.

Answers to the country’s many problems must be found – and we have all been through a lot in the past 12 months. But a great sense of purpose now binds the country together, as the election results showed. The problem is, it’s hard to see where General Musharraf can fit into this picture. He represents the past, not the future. As The Economist said recently: “Musharraf’s legitimacy is in shreds. It would be better for all if he were to quit now, and were allowed to do so with dignity, and some honour’. As the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis would now say, Amen to that.

Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Former Pakistan High Commissioner
London, UK

Posted by Wajid Shamsul Hasan | Report as abusive
 

In the comment above, Wajid Shamsul Hasan makes an interesting point about how the rule of law has been subverted to meet, as he sees it, the needs of President Musharraf. “In a dictatorship, this is to be expected,” he writes. “But in a democracy, it is a travesty of parliamentary procedure. So changes must be made, as a top priority, to restore Pakistan to the norms of civil and legal society…”

This brings me to another question about how far the rule of law in the future will be adapted to meet the needs of its rulers.

For example what are we to make of the National Reconciliation Order, which as I understand it, absolved politicians, bankers and bureaucrats — but not ordinary citizens — charged with corruption offences from 1988 to October 1999?

Or the casual assumption that if Asif Ali Zardari cannot produce evidence of a university degree, the law requiring parliamentary candidates to be graduates in order to qualify for office will simply be amended?

Or indeed, that the law preventing a prime minister from serving more than two terms might eventually be dropped to accommodate Nawaz Sharif?

You might argue that these changes would be small compared to the imposition of a state of emergency and the sacking of judges. But can there be a moral equivalence in the rule of law?

Posted by Myra MacDonald | Report as abusive
 

Attention: Myra McDonald
You have raised the following issues:
1. how far the rule of law in the future will be adapted to meet the needs of its rulers.
2. what are we to make of the National Reconciliation Order, which absolved politicians, bankers and bureaucrats — but not ordinary citizens — charged with corruption offences from 1988 to October 1999?
3. that if Asif Ali Zardari cannot produce evidence of a university degree, the law requiring parliamentary candidates to be graduates in order to qualify for office will simply be amended?
4. Or indeed, that the law preventing a prime minister from serving more than two terms might eventually be dropped to accommodate Nawaz Sharif?
5. these changes would be small compared to the imposition of a state of emergency and the sacking of judges. But can there be a moral equivalence in the rule of law?
My comments:
1. Rule of Law shall have be the way of life–rather the order of the day. It will not have to be adapted. It shall have to have a permanent place as part of our survival plan for peaceful co-existence as a federation comprising of four federating units sharing fruits of provincial autonomy. Mr Jinnah (founder of Pakistan’s delimitation of autonomy was very explicit: Pakistani federating units shall enjoy more autonomy than the states in the United States of America. If there is no rule of law edifice of the state will collapse.
2. The National Reconciliation Order was the brainchild of President Musharraf. He did not need to introduce it to have the cases against Ms Bhutto or Mr Zardari dropped. They could have been finished/dropped through an executive order. After the President himself acknowledged in a TV interview that cases against Ms Bhutto and Mr Zardari were politically fabricated out of political vendetta. Why he needed that NRO was to absolve MQM (his partners in power) cases heinous crimes including murders, kidnappings etc piled up against in the court of law.
3. Now about graduation degree: I don’t know what your nationality is but if you are a British citizen you would know better that despite almost 100 % literacy rate to be a member of the British Parliament you don’t have to have any graduation degree/qualification. I believe John Major was not a graduate. I personally know many MPs that are not graduate. Quite a few of them have not been beyond school. India–which is the biggest democracy–you don’t have to be graduate to be Member of Parliament. One of its Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had just received his education at a religious school. One of its most powerful leader–Kamraj could not speak even Hindi–the national language.
I would definitely like educated people in the parliament but I would always oppose denial of the right to representation to the majority since literacy rate in Pakistan is 36 per cent. (This too is unfortunately fudged). It will be amusing to note that under this law if Pakistan’s founder was alive today and contesting elections in Pakistan he would also have stood disqualified for not being a graduate though he was a Barrister from Lincolns Inn. When he qualified for bar they did accepted matriculates as legible to take bar exams. Much in a similar I know one of the PPP leaders Mr Salman Taseer who now also owns a TV channel and is owner of the Daily Times, though professionally a chartered accountant from London was disqualified from contest since he was not a graduate.
When President Musharraf introduced graduation as a qualification to be Member of Parliament, it was essentially Benazir Bhutto specific. His agencies had informed him that Ms Bhutto was not a graduate. (Please refer to newspaper stories relating to her lack of graduate qualification prior to the 2002 elections). When she produced her Oxford and Harvard degrees he was shocked but still not allowed to contest elections.
The major purpose of introducing university degree qualification was to give an UNFAIR advantage to the MMA candidates. With national literacy rate being 36 per cent, the literacy rate in the tribal areas, in Balochistan and some areas of NWFP is much lower. Any person who could be a good public representative in those areas might not be a graduate while he may have an immense record of service to the people to win their votes. On the other hand by accepting SANADS (certificates from the religious madressahs or seminaries) that were allowed to be equated as a university graduation degree for qualifying them to be members of Parliament gave an unfair advantage to MMA candidates.
4. The third time restriction on prime minister is rather unconstitutional and when it was introduced it was Bhutto-specific out of Musharraf’s fear that she would upset his power applecart. Pakistan follows Westminster-type democracy and here we have seen three and four times prime minister. In India Mr Nehru was elected prime minister time and again from 1947 to 1962 until his death. As such the three-time condition has got to go just not to accommodate Nawaz Sharif but any one who the people like to elect as many time as they want.
5. Pakistani politicians–irrespective who they were–including founding fathers–were accused of corruption by the military-civil and judicial troika representing the establishment. Even Mohammad Khan Junejo–the hand picked prime minister of General Ziaul Haq–was accused of corruption when he dismissed him in 1988. Both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have been dismissed twice each on charges of corruption. Current PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari was kept in jail for more than ten years without any charge proven against him–accusation finally accepted by President Musharraf himself as “politically motivated cases” .I regret to note that corruption by politicians is blown out of proportion in the western mindset but little mention is ever made about the levels of corruption in Musharraf’s administration over the past decade. “So much has been grabbed by the military”, wrote Lord Patten in the Wall Street Journal of 10 May 2006. “that it will take years just to catalogue it.”
He explained that, “The military has acquired vast tracts of state-owned land at nominal rates; its leaders dominate businesses and industries, ranging from banking to cereal factories”. Lord Patten concluded, “Their control of the economy has grown so great, it will present an enormous challenge to any future democratically-elected government.”
Furthermore, in recent days, reports claim (London Economist and the Guardian) that up to 70% of recent US aid to Pakistan has ‘gone missing’. That is more than carelessness: it is graft on a massive scale. It also makes it clear why the desired results are not being achieved in the war on terror on Pakistan’s side. The money meant to fight the problem is being siphoned off substantively.
My question is: Are military regimes seen as above reproach? If so, I commend to you to read Ayesha Siddiqua’s book, ‘Military Inc.’, which tells the story in all its sordid detail. Corruption by senior ranks and the ongoing bid to expand the military’s enormous corporate sector holdings and investments is nothing less than a national scandal. With the military-intelligence kleptocracy returning to barracks, Pakistan’s economy can look forward to substantial sums returning again to add further growth and jobs – in projects from construction to rural infrastructure. These were previously siphoned off to benefit a range of dubious and unaccountable (and above all, fraudulent) military interests, but can now work to develop the country as a whole.
Last but not the least, white collar crimes all over the world carry jail sentences varying between less than five to ten or fifteen years. The sentence could be more as well. But what is recognised as much more a serious crime all over the world—especially in civilised societies—is the violation of the constitution of the land. Under Pakistani Constitution too any one who subverts it or supersedes it—is deem to have committed an act of treason punishable with death (Article 6 of the Pakistani Constitution). Musharraf, his generals and all those who have violated the constitution will have to be treated some day as Oliver Cromwell and punished even if they are dead—posthumously to set Constitutional history right.

There is a reference to the 19th century Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli having once said that, “Coalitions, though successful, have always found this, that their triumph has been brief.”
I am sure his saying was good enough for his time. In the 2oth and 21st centuries we have seen successful coalitions in Europe, in India and soon we will see in Pakistan.
Remember present day world and domestic problems have acquired such a huge magnitude that you need best of brains to face them and that coalitions today are the best answer especially in a country like Pakistan where over nearly nine- year long military rule had converted the country into a huge Augean stables.

Posted by wajid shamsul hasan | Report as abusive
 

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