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The Fog of Democracy

Meeting less than a fortnight after the completion of the electoral process on Nov 2, the members of the National Assembly (NA), duly sworn in by the outgoing Speaker, Elahi Bakhsh Soomro, will vote to elect the NA Speaker and the Deputy Speaker. These elections will provide the outlines of the democratic government that will emerge from the “fog of democracy” prevailing since Oct 11 in the country. While the military government of three years will cease to exist, the new government will consist mainly of those whom the military regime removed on Oct 12, 1999 but who nevertheless during the election campaign publicly supported the rather benevolent three-year militarily rule. The PML (Q)-led Grand National Alliance (GNA) commands enough of a democratic bloc (sans the two other major parties, PPP-P and MMA) to ensure that the man who emerged as the nation’s leader by default as a result of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s mid-autumn madness, General Pervez Musharraf, will continue as President. Before administering the oath of office to the PM-elect, most probably Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, the President will be administered oath of office by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan. With the swearing-in of the PM, the much-maligned 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, duly abridged, will stand restored.


The President Who Never Was

On the afternoon of June 20th, a confident but unsmiling Gen Pervez Musharraf embraced and saluted Rafiq Tarar as he showed him out of the door of the Presidential Mansion in Islamabad. Tarar had ceased to be President a short time earlier vide Chief Executive’s Order No. 3 called Succession Order 2001. To his credit, Rafiq Tarar showed some spunk and did not “resign for personal reasons” as he was most probably encouraged by the Khakis to do. Thereupon legal niceties dictated that Pervez Musharraf assume the office of the Presidency, in his own words at the subsequent oath-taking ceremony “reluctantly but in the supreme national interest”. With that transition, an aberration that had occupied the august President’s office for more than three years rode off into the sunset, in the words of Tarar’s son-in-law, Maj (Retd) Mubassharullah, “there is no need to scandalize when everything has been settled amicably in Islamabad”. In going into oblivion, Tarar joined almost all the former Presidents of Pakistan in failing to travel the whole course. Iskander Mirza was ousted by Ayub Khan, who in his turn was sent packing by Yahya Khan, the events of 1971 did Yahya in. Bhutto remained an executive President and a “Civilian Martial Law Administrator” for only a few months before he became PM, at his own volition, under an Interim Constitution. He was PM under the 1973 Constitution, amended beyond recognition, till ousted by his COAS Ziaul Haq in 1977, who himself died in a yet unexplained air crash eleven years later. Senate President Ghulam Ishaq Khan who succeeded Zia in 1978, outsmarted himself in 1993 and along with the PM was shown the door by the then COAS Gen Waheed, who honourably chose not to elevate himself to the Presidency despite the “call of destiny”. Farooq Leghari resigned honourably because he could not accept the dictation of “democratic” PM Mian Nawaz Sharif. Now Tarar has ridden off into the sunset and like any good Subaltern will probably never be heard of (or from) again, i.e. if he has the guts to risk losing his pension and the comfort that taxpayers will keep in coughing up to keep him comfortable in Presidential retirement for the rest of his life. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Marc Antony during the funeral oration for Julius Caesar, “the good that men do is oft interred with their bones, the evil lives after them. So let it be with Tarar!”


Rhetoric Yes, Solutions Also

Some of the potentially crippling problems we are faced with are not of the military regime’s making but having toppled an elected government, albeit with sufficient reason, the buck now stops firmly at their desk. Or at least till they let go the reins of absolute power inherent in any military rule and start down the road to civilianisation (as opposed to democratization, or should we call it civilization). Those without political ambition have no reason to resort to rhetoric but in the absence of any absolute denials from those who matter about the Chief Executive becoming President soon and relieving Tarar from his gilded misery it is safe to assume that those who matter in the military regime want to remain people who matter even after their military regime becomes history. The “Charge of the Light Brigade” crowd (ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die) has done “selection and maintenance of aim” as per Clausewitz principles of war, the elevation of the CE to the top slot. Except for a handful of principal supporting cast (two will supposedly take up the two four-star slots becoming available unless a third slot can be safely invented), the rest will pass into history as all extras do in a movie production. After shedding their uniforms, these khaki-collar workers will face the simmering wrath of civilian bureaucracy who will stoke the approbation of the masses into believing the ridiculous canard that all the khaki-clad made millions while in service. With all their acknowledged good intentions and their professionalism the military regime seems blissfully unaware of the major catastrophe we are heading into. It is almost as if they want to ignore problems seemingly apparent to everyone else. It is said elephants wear dark glasses so that Tarzan may not recognize them but that Tarzan wears dark glasses so that he may not recognize the elephants. The gravest water shortage in the history of the nation, potentially the most serious of a long line of our many serious problems, requires our immediate attention.


The Godfather

Long Island and New York are a long way from Raiwind and Lahore but a recent interview with Mian Mohammad Sharif, the father of former PM Mian Nawaz Sharif, “Abbaji” as he is widely known, shows that Godfathers are alive and well, in any country and in any age they remain the same. Mario Puzo’s fictionalized saga of a prominent mafia family had “olive oil” as the core family business, for the Sharifs it is “steel”. The script of “The Godfather” is eerily familiar, the similarities are uncanny. Vito Corleone and the eldest Sharif, both dominant personalities displaced from their roots, rise from humble origins in the new country to control large, powerful “families” comprising blood relations and close associates. One does not see “Abbaji” going around brandishing a pistol knocking off people in his young age as did the elder Corleone but a notorious faction of Kashmiri origin of Lahore, generally believed to be the muscle of the Sharif family, specialized in physically taking over property, helpless widows being a special target of the “Qabza” group. It may be no mean coincidence that their “Capo” is presently residing in New York, what better safe distance from where to fulminate and conspire than the home of the original Godfather?


1998 – Reason to Hope?

Having lived through a traumatic 1997, do we have reason to hope for a better 1998? If we continue to repeat the mistakes of the past year then 1998 will certainly be far worse. If our political leadership learns from their own mistakes as well as those committed by their predecessor PPP coalition and the Caretakers who followed them (albeit for a short period), we certainly have reason to hope. One can live on the fountain of hope, one cannot survive on hope alone. There has to be positive activism with a constant check kept both on the style and content of governance that will feed our hopes and aspirations. Given parliamentary brute majority, PML candidate Justice (Retd) Rafiq Tarar was duly elected and sworn in as President. The Courts have still to pass judgment on his alleged contempt of court. One does not see him evading disqualification, condoning his remarks may set an unhealthy precedent for the judiciary future. The PM will be far better off if the President survives only shortly otherwise he will remain a focus of controversial attention that will distract the functioning of the government to alleviate the economic sufferings of the people of Pakistan. If Justice Tarar survives as President, Pakistan will be hard put to survive Tararism.

The country desperately needs macro and micro reforms across the broad spectrum of the whole structure in Pakistan. The macro reforms must follow a comprehensive national census, the most important being, viz (1) local bodies elections (2) majority vote, run-off elections (3) proportional representation and women participation (4) direct elections (5) dovetailing education with population planning (6) smaller government (7) reducing and decentralization taxation (8) direct linkage between taxation and spending and (9) accountability/justice at grassroots level. With respect to micro-reforms, the most important are viz (1) restructuring the police station and the police (2) bringing private sector participation in all the service sectors and (3) private sector monitoring of all government functions. A myriad number of other reforms are needed but these must take precedence.


The City-State of Lahore

Whose of us in the media who have been rooting for Mian Nawaz Sharif since his first dismissal as PM in 1993 are guilty of helping the PML talk their way out of self-created controversies, turning a blind eye towards Mian Nawaz Sharif’s very deliberate extreme rightward shift towards fundamentalism which is at great variance with his moderate label and rhetoric that forms the mainstream of Islam. We have also propagated from various media pulpits that the PM holds the national interest supreme, even at his personal cost, whereas the bitter truth may well be that he stays well within the parameters of a rather myopic annunciation of democracy, of the Lahorites, by the Lahorites and for the Lahorites. For President, the PM has opted for “a clean, God fearing Muslim” to be what is very clearly an “instrument of convenience”. It is quite possible that the PM did not know of the Tarar connection to the “Ahrar” Party, opposed both to the concept of Pakistan and the Quaid-e-Azam. Possibly that is why ANP chose to be his proposer since Ahrar was allied to Congress pre-partition. The PM is now being forced to defend him instead of basking in praise at his choice, after all what does Justice Rafiq Tarar bring to the Presidency except a known loyalty to the Sharifs (particularly the eldest Sharif), a keen legal mind and an enhanced fundamentalist bent, again in keeping with the rather extreme views of the Sharif family patriarch? Not many people know that in the competition for 10 Sessions Judges, Rafiq Tarar was eleventh but that he was accommodated anyway, so much for alleged competency. The method of selection left much to be desired, almost the entire Federal Cabinet knew nothing of this darkest of dark horses till he was presented before them as a fait accompli less than 15 hours before the filing of nomination papers closed. And we call this sham a democracy? A very wrong message has been sent out to the entire country as well as to the rest of Punjab, the world beyond Model Town extends only to the other end of the Motorway, in Islamabad. Very much like Rome, Athens and Carthage, Lahore is the centre of this universe and damn the consequences to the Federation as long as the city’s inhabitants thrive and prosper. As a city-state, Lahore rules over several disparate and ethnically distinct provinces (since Governors are appointed by the Federation, should we call them Satraps?)