The script seems to be too familiar
Questions were raised when Tahirul Qadri burst upon the political centre stage as if out of the blue. Why should a man who had been living in Canada for the last seven years and had been totally unconcerned about Pakistan’s problems suddenly decide to change the system of a country he had abandoned long ago? The timing of the arrival gave birth to further suspicions. Months before the elections were scheduled to be held the man insisted on revolutionalising the system first, even if it led to the postponement of the elections. Why should he insist on the role of army and judiciary in nominating the Election Commission and caretaker setup when the constitution did not envisage this?
It was a surprise to many when the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the PM thus jeopardising whatever prospects there were of a resolution of the situation created by Qadri through talks. With the fate of the Chief Executive uncertain, the key decision making figure has been removed from the scene. The untimely decision left the government rudderless. There is none in Islamabad to deal with the situation created by Qadri’s march.
Coming as it did in the midst of Qadri’s ultimatum to scrap the government and the assemblies, the decision gave birth to questions about its timing as well as legality. The order was passed on the basis of a preliminary investigation report presented by NAB before the SC which carried a rider that the recommendations of the report were subject to legal advice. Why didn’t the court wait for the advice? The order was therefore described by some as flawed on the benchmark of an incomplete investigation. The order added to the prevailing uncertainty leading the Karachi stock market to crash by 525 points. It immediately evoked widespread protests in Sindh. The SC’s decision was challenged by important lawyers
Then there were other portents.
A senior military officer told things to a national English that were disturbing. Distancing the military from the political upheaval triggered by Dr Qadri’s long march, he said that the armed forces were prepared for any contingency if the ongoing situation deteriorates. Reuters also quoted a senior military officer as saying that the stand-off could be resolved if the army played a role in the formation of a caretaker government as a “moderator”. This strengthened the suspicion that Qadri’s agenda had been vetted by the backstage players. The senior military officer further said, “We should try as far as possible to abide by the constitution and law in looking for change. The army chief has made this clear,” but hastily added, “But things seem to be moving beyond control.” At that time there was nothing to show that the things were out of control.
Those who hatched the conspiracy, however, may not succeed this time because the political parties are somewhat more mature and the civil society more vigilant and active. Both did not take long to react.
On Tuesday, the HRCP warned that threats to democratic dispensation had been aggravated after the Supreme Court’s order to arrest the prime minister. The Commission reminded the apex court that attempts to regulate politics through judicial hustling had never been fruitful anywhere in the world. Further that any derailment of the democratic system at this juncture would imperil integrity of the country and undermine the prospects of future generations.
The secretary of the SCBA denounced Dr Tahirul Qadri’s long march and said the demands made by him were unconstitutional. He rightly pointed out that the term of parliament and the methods to dissolve it had been determined by the constitution.
Human rights activist and former President SCBA Asma Jahangir has questioned the haste shown in the judgment to arrest the PM. “My question to the chief justice is: what are the reasons for taking such a hard decision in a haphazard manner? Was the premier fleeing from the country or something else? It is just a political conspiracy by the establishment,” she concluded.
The ever feuding parties have put aside their vendettas to save the system. Meeting at Nawaz Sharif’s Raiwind residence, about half a dozen parties, including religious outfits and nationalists, reposed full confidence in the election commission. They also affirmed that the change could only come through free and fair elections and unanimously demanded urgent announcement of the date for general elections and caretaker setup.
Imran Khan had been weighing the situation to find if it opened a window of opportunity for him to enter the corridors of power. He was enamoured of Qadri’s style of politics and had supported his unconstitutional demand for the appointment of a new EC. His joining the march would have bolstered Qadri’ confidence. Rejecting the TMQ leader’s appeal to join the march at the last moment, Imran too decided to throw in his lot with the rest of the opposition.
Meanwhile in Lahore, the civil society put up what was perhaps the largest show of solidarity on their part for any cause. Thousands reached the Assembly Hall to oppose the conspiracy against democracy.
The commitment to change only through the power of the ballot, reiterated by all the parties across the political spectrum, has upset the plans of those who wanted to derail the system. They have no option but to drop the support for Tahirul Qadri they have used as a pawn. This would reduce the cleric to his size.
The system might be saved this time. There are, however, powers who are opposed to democracy. What is more, there are millions of people who have been abandoned by the mainstream parties which remain engrossed in wheeling and dealing and minting money. The parties are not moved by the common man’s problems like power and gas shortages, unemployment, lawlessness, inflation, and the rising gulf between the richest and the poorest. Democracy is thus fast losing its glamour.
The politicians have to realise that the constitution can neither be eaten nor worn nor used to defend oneself from the tyranny of the terrorists or state operatives. Asking people, turned desperate by hardships, to bring the change in accordance with the law or constitution may not work for long.
In days to come, another self-appointed messiah, duly supported by the powerful anti-democracy lobby, may burst upon the political stage. He too would tell the suffering people he has come to lead them to the promised land flowing with milk and honey. They would follow him in their millions as they did for Qadri only to discover belatedly that what the impostor had promised was no more than an illusion. But in the process, the democratic system would have been wrapped up and replaced by another decade-long dictatorial rule. Before this happens, the major parties would do well to work out a realistic and concrete plan with clear cut goal posts for resolving the harrowing problems that millions continue to face.
The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.