Sunday, April 5, 2009

President Zardari’s address to the Parliament

By Saeed Qureshi

I am glad that president Zardari possesses the necessary guts and cunning to outwit Pakistan’s unprincipled politicians. His address to the joint session of the parliament offers nothing new except the pious platitudes and a refrain of the previous unfulfilled promises. The expression of good intentions doesn’t carry weight unless translated into reality. How many times has he backed out from his given pledges and commitment is a story commonly known. About the much talked about charter of democracy, he is again back to his previous standpoint of making a committee and handing over this interminable task to it. This is the same pattern of delaying tendency that was stubbornly shown in the case of restoration of the fired judges.

The twice staged Lawyers’ long marches, like the storming of the Bastille’s notorious prison in France on July 14, 1789, would have proven to be the turning milestones for Pakistan. The Bastille was an earth shaking event that changed the course of history, paved way for the French Revolution and spearheaded a backlash against the blood sucking privileged classes of feudal, aristocracy, clergy, and monarchs.The French society, moved towards such radical changes as enlightenment, principles of citizenship and inalienable rights for the common people.

The lawyers long marches were nipped before these could have achieved results similar to those of Bastille attained over two centuries ago. Prima facie, these monumental protests were launched for reinstatement of the sacked judged. But had these been taken to their logical conclusion by the politicians, these would have served as harbingers for the radical transformation in favor of good governance, rule of law, a real democratic and constitutional order and the flowering of a civil society in Pakistan.

Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan led the first long march culminating into a mammoth rally on the constitution avenue on June 14, 2008. But all of a sudden and for unknown reasons, he dismissed it without pursuing the previously decided option of sit-in till the acceptance of the demands for the restoration of judges. The huge rally dispersed without achieving the goals for which it was fostered and sustained for such a along time.

As for the second long march led by Ali Ahmed Kurd, president of Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association, the PPP government, in face of impending doom, finally agreed on March 16, 2009, to restore the judges including chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. The Lawyers’ fraternity, therefore, had to call off their protest. The political parties that supported the lawyers’ movement also quit the movement. That was a mistake. The politicians should have turned the lawyers’ agitation into a political one. It was a momentous time for Nawaz Sharif and other agitating political allies to continue with the agitation to press for the acceptance of the political demands. They could have thus worked out some kind of a fresh quid pro quo with the PPP government with regard to the speedy implementation of the charter of democracy. It is for the second time that the actors or the agents working behind the curtain stymied this great movement before it could have blossomed and shaken the pillars of well entrenched, privileged and elite classes.

The restoration of judges was done at a huge financial cost to the country. The whole country looked like a battlefield and all commercial and social activity almost ceased. Due to the removal of containers from the ports, blocking the transportation and by mobilization of the entire police force, the monetary loss to the country ran into several billions rupees. And yet president Zardari, in his insipid address, unabashedly, gives credit to his government for restoration of judges. The leaders in power do not blink eye in spewing out falsehood and indulging in double speak. Why don’t they confess that they were forced to take this decision after using every possible option to suppress the lawyers’ movement until the last moment?

Now in his March 28 address to the joint session of the parliament, president Zardari has brought the Charter of Democracy back to square one. He didn’t commit anything. He has simply announced the constitution of a committee to look into the repeal of the 17th amendment containing the 58-2/B clause. It is the same announcement that he had made before becoming the president of Pakistan. Now the electronic media is repeatedly showing the clip in which Mr. Zardari promised that his first act after assuming the presidency would be to do away with the pernicious 17th amendment including 58-2/B. It is doubtful if the committee members to be drawn from both the treasury benches and the opposition would be in a position to hammer out a consensus draft. And that is the trick hidden behind the refrain of president Zardari on the formation of a committee. Otherwise the Charter of Democracy is already a consensus and comprehensive document.

Such are the devious and treacherous intentions of the rulers who otherwise never tire of promising a revolution and the people’s government in a perennially bedeviled country. Ostensibly the lawyers cannot launch a political movement for democracy, civil society and fundamental rights. This is the task of the political parties. The lawyers’ one point goal has been successfully scored.

Interestingly, following the address of president Zardari, the statements of the PML (N) are couched in supporting nuances for the sitting government. There is nothing tangible in Zardari March 28 address that could have signaled a positive certitude in implementing the charter of democracy, so precious to PML (N). Yet PML leaders have welcomed it and are expressing a great deal of satisfaction and delight as if the charter was on its way of being implemented sooner than later. Who knows that this visible expression of approbation may be a cover up on the part of PML) N) for some hidden agenda that the leading opposition party might unfold after their government in Punjab is resorted and their cases are quashed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Presumably, thereafter, they can effectively and with peace of mind form a coalition of political parties to press for the implementation of the Charter like the lawyers did vigorously for their exclusive demand of restoration of judges. It is possible that once legally exonerated, Sharif brothers will come out openly to strive for the enforcement of the charter of democracy and other three pacts inked between them and president Zardari. But it should be understood that Mr. Zardari is capable of springing unbelievable tricks to outflank his political rivals and thwart their anti government onslaught. Guess who will suffer and who will be the casualty in this ignoble and unworthy war of power politics? The answer is: As ever the poor people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

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