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Pakistan’s “Magna Carta”?

Nearly 800 years to the day and only a few miles from the exact spot in an island called Runnymede in the River Thames near London, two of Pakistan’s more potent political leaders signed a somewhat similar “Charter of Democracy” in London on May 14, 2006 as the much amended Magna Carta, to seek restoration of genuine democracy and the 1973 Constitution in Pakistan. The Magna Carta was an agreement between King John and his rebellious barons, in our case the “rebellious barons” have signed it but “King John” in the person of President Pervez Musharraf has shown no inclination to assent to it. According to Ms Benazir Bhutto, they would leave no stone unturned for ensuring better and brighter future of the country, ensuring stability and regional peace,  Nawaz Sharif called the signing of the document ‘historic’, maintaining it to be a milestone for the people and the country. An amended version of the original Charter signed on June 15, 1215 was circulated in 1225 and was far more pragmatic. Pakistan’s politicians are far more ambitious steering clear of self-accountability but far less pragmatic seeking an “instant Magna Carta”.

Much water has flowed down Thames since the “Magna Carta” signing, while the “Charter of Democracy” is an excellent document encapsulating the spirit, if not the substance of democracy, we the people of Pakistan have reason to hope as well as reason to despair at the same time. The very fact that the signing took place should be of utmost satisfaction to the people of Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif are (or were?) intractable foes whose virulent enmity was debilitating for Pakistan, there being no objectivity in their quarrel, only opposition to each other for opposition’s sake. President Pervez Musharraf deserves credit for bringing these two leaders together, symbolically “for the good of the people of Pakistan”, a miracle of sorts that could well be good for the country if it lasts.

Pervez Musharraf can have no quarrel against most of the clauses mentioned in the “Charter of Democracy”. Barring the rhetoric about the military, which is to be expected in the circumstances of the past seven years of Ms Benazir and Nawaz Sharif being out in the political cold, mostly of their own choosing, and having no access to the “goodies” that power in Pakistan brought for themselves and their favoured supporters. Whatever their reservations about the military, one can never agree with their concept of a “constitutional monarchy” in having a figurehead President. If anything, Pakistan’s chequered political history points towards having a President as a sort of monitor over the shenanigans that the two major political parties were upto when they were in absolute power. Mian Nawaz Sharif’s respected father was hardly a democrat or for that matter elected as such, yet it was he who nominated Rafiq Tarar as President, a puppet on the strings to be controlled. Tarar failed his moment of truth on October 12, 1999. The President has to be clearly a non-political person of stature, as Supreme Commander with control over the appointments of the Chairman JCSC and Service Chiefs. The President must also appoint the judges to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, even though he  should follow broadly the procedure laid down in the “Charter of Democracy”. These appointments must never be politicized. Given Pakistan’s history, particularly in the “democratic” era from 1988 to 1999, when both PPP and PML(N) were in power twice and misused their mandate at will across the board, there is a need to have a balance of power between a political President and an elected Prime Minister. The only caveat one could attach to Article 52 would be that if the President dismisses the PM and his Cabinet, he should not have the   power  to  dissolve  Parliament  at  the  same time, and if his action does not stand up to review by the Supreme Court, he must resign.

Anyone rooting for Pakistan’s future would not have any dissent with the “Code of Conduct”, the “Civil-Military relations” is another matter. At the risk of being accused of sailing in two boats (the “you are with us or against us” syndrome) civilian supremacy must be kept sacrosanct. However the clause could have been better worded keeping in mind internal circumstances and geo-political realities, and the major role the military will continue to play in Pakistan’s existence, like it or not. For a third world country like Pakistan, and even super powers like Russia and China on the other end of the scale, a limited military role is a reality that cannot be swept under the carpet, unless qualms about national security issues are settled by structuring an inherent military role and balancing the powers. Pervez Musharraf may be a dictator but he has allowed a fair amount of democracy to function in the process, including participation by both the major political parties. We should consider ourselves fortunate that we have Musharraf rather than the likes of those who chose the other day to beat up one of Pakistan’s genuine war heroes, Brig Muhammad Taj, ST&Bar. Can you imagine such people in absolute power? It could happen!

Pakistan’s major problem when Musharraf took power in October 1999 was corruption across the board; the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has certainly done a commendable job in bringing quite a number of the corrupt to task.  NAB’s credibility since then has been undercut by selective accountability while keeping the judiciary and the military out of its jurisdiction. Articles 28 to 32 of the original “Magna Carta” signed 791 years ago also spoke about “anti-corruption” measures. One was very disappointed at the passing mention of corruption in the “Charter of Democracy”. The two political parties should have put in a complete section about bringing the corrupt to book, whoever they may be. To give credibility to the document that was signed, they could have spelt out that they would present themselves for accountability for all the accusations brought against them particularly by each other, holding no office of power and responsibility till they were cleared of those allegations by a truly independent investigation. The same standards should apply to the present regime. Pakistan’s biggest problem remains corruption – and nepotism, and the culpable should be prosecuted and punished.

Some people do not make money for themselves but by slotting people in crucial financial posts, they make money for others to create pockets of their political influence.  The dishing out of loans, contracts, jobs, etc is all part of this corrupt process that normally escapes attention. The former chairman SECP Tariq Hassan is a man of great honesty and integrity, the government’s reaction to his accusation means they have something to hide. Has anyone ever been punished for fomenting corruption while remaining “clean as a whistle” himself? How far can one get making an investigation in the print or electronic media against someone who has control of media budgets? The ability to exclude the media from its prime function of being accountable, whether by the use of power and/or money, and/or withholding advertisements, is one of Pakistan’s major problems.

The “Charter of Democracy” is certainly an excellent initiative to bring the polarized parties into a ‘Minimum Common Program”. Only when the political parties practice genuine self-cleansing will the document become credible and will only be complete with the backing of the Army. If the politicians do not want their “Pakistani Magna Carta” to be a theoretical  exercise in futility then they should do the pragmatic thing in involving those who matter.

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