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Ordeal of Pakistani Democracy

Afrasiab Khan Khattak

Afrasiab Khan Khattak

The fate of Nawaz Sharif, the third time elected Prime Minister of Pakistan who was disqualified and removed from his post by the Supreme Court of Pakistan under charges of corruption on July 28, epitomizes the state of democracy in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif who also heads Pakistan Muslim League (N) was twice elected in 1990s as Prime Minister and his government was over thrown on both occasions before it could complete its constitutional term. He seems to be destined to establish some sort of record by getting three times elected as Chief Executive and then every time removed from his post. Similar was the fate of the government led by Benazir Bhutto who underwent a similar experience. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the founder of Pakistan People’s Party was not only removed by a General Zia-ul- Haq led military coup in July 1977 but was also convicted and executed in a murder trial, a trial that was later called a judicial murder. The fact of the matter is that Pakistani security establishment hasn’t reconciled with the federal democratic parliamentary state system enshrined in the 1973 Constitution. So the politics of the ‘new Pakistan’ after the independence of Bangladesh has been dogged by the struggle between the schools of democracy and controlled democracy. After 1973 the generals have ruled the country directly for almost 20 years and except for 5 years plus rule of ZAB [January 1972 to July 1977] they have resorted to back seat driving.

The 18th Constitutional Amendment unanimously passed by the Parliament in 2010 devolved power to provinces by abolishing the concurrent list and made an effort to cleanse the Constitution from distortions and deformations imposed on it by martial law regimes. Article 6 of the Constitution that describes the abrogation of the Constitution as high treason punishable with death penalty was further strengthened in the 18th Amendment. Now suspension of the Constitution is also high treason in the amended Article 6. So, direct military intervention by suspending the Constitution [as done by General Zia and again by General Musharraf] isn’t possible anymore. The one thing that the 18th amendment couldn’t do was removing the amendments added to article 62 and article 63 of the Constitution [provisions for qualification and disqualification of the members of Parliament] by General Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law. So under the new constitutional scheme “creative thinking” in quest for regime change would opt for judicial path. Hence the judicialisation of Pakistani politics since 2012 when Prime Minister Yosuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan People’s Party was disqualified in a contempt of court case. Yesterday Nawaz Sharif was disqualified under article 62 of the Constitution and not for off shore companies in Panama that was regarded his original sin.

Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister after winning general elections in 2013 but his party has been ruling the Punjab, the biggest and dominating province of Pakistan, since 2008. It was majority vote in Punjab that won Islamabad for him in 2013. But he fell out with the security establishment very early in his rule this time. The first fault line emerged over the question of putting former military dictator General Musharraf on trial for abrogating the Constitution first in 1999 and again in 2007 [the trial was for the 2nd abrogation]. This resulted in the allegedly scripted and prolonged sit in by Imran Khan and Tairul Qadri in 2014 in the red zone of Islamabad. The parliament and most of political parties took a united stand against the creeping coup and it was aborted at that time.  But more serious fault line appeared between the two ruling factions over Pakistan’s relations with India. Nawaz Sharif is of considered opinion that Pakistan can develop only by normalizing relations with India and the generals are strongly opposed to this policy. Nawaz Sharif has not missed any opportunity for opening dialogue with India. This is the main issue between Nawaz Sharif and the GHQ. The Joint Investigation Committee (JIT) appointed by the Supreme Court two months ago included representatives from the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) and they are supposed to have played a pivotal role in collecting evidence on the basis of which Nawaz Sharif was disqualified yesterday.

The Achilles’ heel of the most recent rule of Nawaz Sharif has been his total disregard for the Parliament and democratic political forces. This marginalisation of parliament has resulted in weakening of democratic system. This strategic weakness of Nawaz Sharif created space for the undemocratic forces to launch a judicial coup against his government. Nawaz Sharif who is regarded as the authentic leader of Punjabi bourgeoisie has accepted the Supreme Court’s verdict for his removal but he has refused to give up his political stand for civilian supremacy. He was able to stage a comeback after spending long years in prison and exile under General Musharraf. Will he be able to maintain his vote bank in the Punjab and stage a comeback again? Will the de jure prevail over the de facto? The answer to these questions will determine not only the fate of Nawaz Sharif but also the future of democracy in Pakistan.

Writer: Afrasiab Khan Khattak

The writer is a regular contributor to THE PASHTUN TIMES. He is a retired senator and a leader of Awami National Party (ANP). He tweets  @a_siab 

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