By Syed Kamran Hashmi
July 27, 2013
The first objective of the dictator after the elections is to have an ineffective prime minister so that the real power does not escape the presidential palace
Imagine, we slaughter a pig strictly according to the Islamic principles complying with all the rules and regulations. After that, some people start debating if its meat was kosher for them or not. One of us asks if the butcher was a Muslim. The other enquires if he had recited the correct verse. Someone raises concern if the slaughterhouse was clean enough. Yet another mention if the knife was held in the right direction, if it was adequately sharp to avoid pain, if it severed the vessels all at once, and if the animal met the age criterion. But during this quarrel, nobody objected to the real concern about eating pork, the same old dirty swine whose meat has been strictly forbidden. What would be your response in that situation? I guess you would say ludicrous, pathetic, unacceptable or foolish, simply because all of us know that regardless of the precautions we may undertake, we cannot legitimise pig’s meat as per Islamic teachings.
Discussing the legality of a parliament that comes into being during a dictatorial regime puts us in the same situation. We all know that no matter what a dictator does or says to manifest his impartiality, no matter how he tries to justify the inherent flaw in the electoral process under his regime, no matter how honest his cabinet members are, and no matter how well the economy is doing, he cannot allow the formation of an assertive, independent and a powerful legislative assembly, the same institution that he had overthrown just a few years ago. Indeed, he needs a rubber stamp parliament irrespective of people’s will to legitimise his illegal rule. And to obtain the desired results, he corrupts the whole system by promoting only those politicians who are dishonest, incompetent, unscrupulous and/or unpopular. He uses all the state machinery — intelligence agencies, accountability bureau and military apparatus — to help them win, and scare away the popular leadership, causing them to lose. In the end, the party he supports comes into power, while others sit in the opposition. We have all witnessed these events in the nonpartisan elections of 1985, and then with the formation of the ‘King’s party’ in 2002.
As we know, the first objective of the dictator after the elections is to have an ineffective prime minister so that the real power does not escape the presidential palace. His second objective is to bludgeon the members of the non-representative assembly into passing a constitutional amendment and legalise his actions of overthrowing a political government. Lastly, he wants to keep the right to dissolve that National Assembly yet again if he thinks the legislature is crossing the boundaries. In short, the will of the people gets represented by a rigged parliament in his regime; it then passes an unconstitutional amendment and that amendment is approved by the judges who have already legalised an illegal action.
The situation gets further complicated by the fact that one of the army chiefs abrogated the constitution twice. Second time it was an assault on the judiciary while the non-representative assembly of 2002-07 endorsed his actions through a non-binding parliamentary resolution. This time in 2007, taking a complete U-turn, some of the members of the apex court who approved his actions in 1999, now went totally against him. In this case, application of constitutional articles regarding the misconduct of judges would be even harder to implement because the cases against the judiciary will be heard by those judges who themselves have been either a part of the process or were inducted by the ones whose conduct is in question.
The solution to such a complicated problem cannot be solved only with an act of parliament, a decision by the apex court or even a referendum to obtain public opinion because of everyone’s past associations. If we opt to brush the issue under the carpet and not take any action, it would keep on emerging as a political slogan to malign all political parties, constitutional institutions and state organisations. Thus, it is imperative to resolve this problem and move forward as a nation.
In my opinion, to maintain neutrality and transparency, we need to formulate a nonpartisan, independent and powerful (trial) commission without any Pakistani citizen as a member. Pakistanis will always be controversial; judges are related to politicians who have relatives in the army who have cousins in the bureaucracy who have been married in political families and so on. In short, everyone can be somehow rendered disputable, disreputable and culpable. We will have to put such a council together carefully with the agreement (not necessary approval) of the military leadership and the judges. With that we also have to address their concerns regarding national security and the maintenance of discipline in their organisations.
We can get help from Germany with its experience in setting up such a panel and the members can be picked from countries with minimum political interest in Pakistan like Ghana, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa and even the Philippines. We should particularly avoid the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Iran to avoid controversy. We would need to give a clear mandate to the commission, a timeframe to complete its job and set realistic expectations about its power to undo history. For sure, it will be a messy and uneasy process. There will be moments when everyone would regret the formation of such a powerful body, but probably only in this manner can the unclean animal of military dictatorship be legitimised and the nation is finally able to move forward.
Syed Kamran Hashmi is a US-based freelance columnist.