Tariq Abid (UWCAC ’11-’13)
Quite recently there has been a lot of controversy in Pakistan’s politics over the ‘contempt of court’ issue. The struggle over this issue tells a sad story of an administration buried in legal and political jostling, as the more core issues in policy making get brushed to the background. This, I would say, is a fundamental cause of alienation of the predominant part of the electorate from the political system and political parties within it.
This saga started when the Supreme Court annulled an amnesty law that gave blanket protection to political personalities from prosecution for past legal cases. This law, termed the NRO, was negotiated with the former military president General Musharraf, as a precondition by certain political parties (mainly the Pakistan People’s Party or PPP) to return to Pakistan and contest the elections of 2008. This contempt of court saga was specifically initiated when the court ordered the ex-Prime Minister Gillani to reopen cases in a Swiss Court against the incumbent President Zardari, that had been halted mainly under the pretext of the NRO and a claimed Presidential immunity, which the court also later rejected. The Prime Minister’s refusal to obey the court’s order, falling back on the immunity clause, led to his removal by the Supreme Court. After a series of attempted legal manoeuvres over a course of many months, including an attempt to use a parliamentary resolution to override the court’s order, the failure brought a new Prime Minister Raja Ashraf to the fore, who now is engaged in a similar struggle.
All in all, the lengthy and still on-going controversy has failed to convince the Pakistani public of its relevance to their lives. After all, this was simply a matter of whether to try the president of existing accusations against him or not. Yet, the government’s persistent attempts to evade prosecution of the President, seems to confirm popularly held opinion about the government as a collection of corrupt strongmen concerned only with saving their own skin, contrary to their claims of empathy with the ‘common man’.
Perhaps if the government had a strong history of reforms within this tenure to back it up, people would not have been so annoyed with its lately ignorant attitude. However, it does not have that legitimizing prop to rest upon. It has largely failed to bring about significant overdue reforms, which tangibly uplift the status of the common citizen. Granted it has been successful in passing constitutional amendments, and one should not forget the historic NFC award that aimed to distribute resources between province at parity, and also within its tenure some important measures were taken to tackle insurgency (the long term results of which remain to be seen). Yet these achievements, with the exception to the one in counter insurgency, do not suffice to ease the woes of the masses. One is prone to disregard these, when runaway inflation depletes living standards, when crippling energy shortages and the consequent power outages cause repeated nuisance a dozen times a day, when university graduates can’t find suitable employment, when law enforcement agencies fail to uphold the law and the justice system fails to deliver justice, etc.
These problems and more are the results of institutional failure which inhibits the state from meeting its obligations, whether they be in economic planning, law enforcement, education provision, etc. The process of getting over these short comings can most appropriately be initiated through political initiative, as also is pledged by them in the manifestos of political parties. However, when incumbent governments exhibit an overall disillusionment with these goals, preferring other types of engagements, the electorate is bound to be thrown into a dilemma. This is the dilemma that has constantly plagued our existence, engendering the intermittent rise of the ‘non-democratic’ forces, a common term used to describe the military, which by the way has also historically failed to deliver on its pledges, creating a scenario of erratic musical chairs of power transfers, leaving hopes of comprehensive national reformist policy in shambles.
It must be remembered that such short comings are not exclusive to the PPP; it’s quite a generalization of most of the traditional mainstream political parties. Not to forget, that the other political heavy weight Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N was involved in a similar, slightly different, contempt of court struggle which ended pretty nastily. Such attitudes create the gulf between the political classes and the masses and carry on the chronic malfunctions of the state system.
As the proverbial book says, Pakistani democracy shall ‘mature with time’, the confirmation of that supposed truth remains to be seen however, notwithstanding the significant advances that have been made in recent times. At least, there seems to be some level of general consensus in the efficacy of democracy, a different feature from the past, however that is also subject to time. For now, a supposedly new style of politics has been promised by Imran Khan’s PTI, who has ostensibly gained a fair amount of support with the reform thirsty masses (although to be fair, Khan does have his fair share of antagonists, who hold considerable apprehensions over him).
It must not be naively assumed that Pakistan’s problems can be hastily sorted out through just a change in political practise, if one comes about. The chronic problems within our society and ideology will continue to require deeper, bottom-up solutions, only after which we can truly progress. However, hope always rests with the visible political system to catalyse that change, and I think there is still reason to hope if democracy strengthens and takes more of its true form. The nearest manifestation of this can be in the form of the upcoming elections, however crucial for this is the lack of external interference (by both the military and abroad) and transparency.
If, however, a doctored election is carried out, it’s hard to say where things will go from there.
-United Words Team-