By Najam Sethi
LAST week two extraordinary events happened in Lahore that could have a bearing on national security and parliamentary democracy.
On the face of it they are not related. But, in fact, the opposite is true for some important reasons. First, the Punjabi Taliban bombed the revered 11th century shrine of Data Ganj Baksh Hajveri and provoked a public outrage against the Punjab government for being “ soft” on sectarian terrorists based in the province and for not providing adequate security. The Punjab government has long been in denial about this fact of life. So it refused to accept media criticism and accused the federal government and military agencies of not sharing terrorist- related intelligence with it.
This led to a war of words all round without any significant action by the Punjab government against the proclaimed banned organisations and terrorists.
Thus the problem of terrorism remains unaddressed even as the terrorists are mounting greater pressure on state and society to succumb to their sectarian, anti- India and anti- US demands.
Second, an all- party consensus in the Punjab assembly led to an unprecedented resolution against the media for “ witchhunting politicians and endangering the democratic order”. The cause of the parliamentarians’ complaint is a relentless media campaign to expose politicians who have ascended the halls of parliament on the basis of false declarations about their educational status, in particular about their lack of certified BA degrees or equivalents from accredited educational institutes as mandated by the law governing participation in general elections.
SINCE the Supreme Court ordered formal verification of the degrees of the 1180 or so federal and provincial members of the various assemblies, nearly fifty culprits have been identified, half of whom have resigned their seats while others are facing imprisonment of up to three years for misrepresentation before the election commission of Pakistan.
Half the parliamentary miscreants belong to the PML( Nawaz) and are mostly from Punjab, while the PPP and PML( Quaid) share the balance, in addition to a clutch of independent tribal leaders from Baluchistan and NWFP provinces. It is estimated that more than 100 parliamentarians could face the axe in the next few weeks after the process of vetting their degrees is complete. So their personal frustration and anger is understandable.
But there is a more compelling reason at work behind their personal unity and this is group adversity: the delicately balanced coalition governments in Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and Islamabad could be seriously destabilised by any change in the arithmetic of alliances. For instance, the federal government of President Asif Zardari depends crucially on the support of the MQM, JUI and ANP. Any significant loss of party loyalists could embolden the alliance partners to blackmail the ruling PPP for more ministries, handouts and patronage, leading to more mis- governance and further alienation of the masses from the party and the political system. The same is true in Punjab province where the PMLN government is dependent on a Forward Block of renegades from the rump PMLQ faction to protect the government from the pressures of the PPP to discredit and even topple it when the time is ripe.
In Sindh too, the MQM is constantly breathing fire even though the PPP has a bare majority to run the government on its own. If that precarious majority were to be lost because of the unseating of a dozen or so Sindh MPAs, the MQM would raise the stakes of its alliance and bring the PPP government to its knees.
In Baluchistan, the PPP coalition government is in dire threat of collapsing even if a handful of its members are disqualified for lacking proper BA degrees.
By- elections to over 100 constituencies would then be in order and no one can predict the outcome of such an exercise on the fortunes of the parties or system.
Indeed, the call for a mid- term election that has so far been muted because it comes from disgruntled and marginalised sections of state and society like Imran Khan and the Jamaat- i- Islami that boycotted the 2008 elections, would then resound with the media as well and derail the fragile political balances that keep parliamentary democracy afloat in Pakistan against the constant encroachments of the military and the demands of the higher judiciary for a “ cleansing of the system”.
THE parliamentarians say that the media is only focusing on them and not on generals and judges who are itching to discredit and derail “ democracy”. It is also pointed out that the “ graduation condition” for contesting elections in the future has been abolished by the 18th constitutional amendment passed two months ago by an all- parties consensus, so there is no need to make a big deal of what happened earlier.
Since the retort comes amidst persistent rumours and conspiracy theories of an “ unholy alliance of the new power troika” in Pakistan — generals, judges and the media — to undo the current malfunctioning system and establish a “ national government of technocrats” to steer the country through the next few years, their angst is justified.
The two developments in Lahore should be seen in this context. The Punjab government has sidestepped the longer term core issue of terrorism by shifting the debate to the threat to democracy from within. This is in line with the PPP view in Islamabad that the judges and generals are a bigger threat to its government than terrorism.
In the next two months or so, we can be reasonably sure that there will be more acts of terrorism as well as more disqualifications from parliament. Meanwhile, the judges of the Supreme Court, who are in a very aggressive mode, may undo elements of the 18th amendment that enable a degree of parliamentary oversight of judicial appointments and also try to unseat President Zardari on one count or another. The stage is therefore set for more confusion, confrontation and instability.
The writer is Editor, The Friday Times
Source: Mail Today