A genuinely concerned voice on the other end of the line asked “so, is there really democracy in Pakistan now?” It was Marianne Murfett, a dear friend from law school, now a senior associate at a top London law firm. I was stumped. Now how do I answer that? I scrambled for words and gave her a less than satisfactory answer, barely summarizing a deceptively complex reply to this seemingly straightforward question.
If I wasn’t worried about running up her phone bill, this is what I would tell Marianne about the new democracy in Pakistan:
We, the people of Pakistan feel strangely empowered. This unfamiliar feeling comes from the simple act of dropping our votes in ballot boxes and then watching leaders with a genuine mandate form government. Something that you probably take for granted in your country.
But my dear Marianne, how can I tell you that there is real democracy in my country when a dictator, who declared himself our president through illegal, immoral and unconstitutional measures, continues to rule over us.
Let me give you a brief round up of our self-styled president’s deeds: When General Musharraf feared that the courts might hold him ineligible to become president, he declared martial law, held our constitution in abeyance and ousted the senior most cadre of our judiciary. He mauled our constitution in order to give himself outrageous powers. And when judges protested against the illegality of such acts he house-arrested them and their families and held them as prisoners of conscience (yes, including young school-going children who have not been allowed to attend school, visit the doctor, or even step into their own courtyard for some fresh air!). He unlawfully arrested some of our most respected and senior lawyers who were not only held in prisons meant for the most hardened criminals but were also beaten and physically manhandled. Lest people made too much noise over all this, he then muzzled the media and banned certain private channels till they were ready to behave and play by his rules!
Here is a man who has perversely violated fundamental human rights. He has put the principles of democracy through the shredder and has shown utter disregard for the rule of law and supremacy of the constitution. I ask you, how can we ever expect real democracy to flourish under his dark shadow? How can the most potent symbol of anti-democratic beliefs and practices contribute to strengthening democratic institutions?
This is not all. The problem does not end with General (r) Musharraf. It extends to those forces which he represents and who have enabled him to retain control and rule by force. These forces are, (a) the internal conspirators– our corrupt and morally parched ‘establishment’ which has sold its soul to the devil and, (b) the American administration which cares not a tad that my country, its men, women and children are suffering as collateral damage to their ‘war on terror’.
The quid pro quo is simple: he does their work and fights their war on our soil. On America’s call, he turns our army on our own people and then watches civilians face retribution in the form of suicide bombings ripping through the heart of our cities. And in return he is duly awarded with the reins of our country and doles of ‘aid’ to fatten our military. These forces are where the real power vests. Their individual as well as collective agenda can only succeed at the expense of Pakistan’s national interest–and hence, Pakistan is suffering.
In a genuine democracy each institution of the state, be it parliament, the executive or the judiciary, function as per their role envisaged by constitution. These institutions are the driving engines of the state and help it remain afloat. One pillar of the state should not be beaten into submission by another. They are meant to respect each other’s role and at all times submit themselves to the ultimate word of law.
But the warrior instinct of the ex-general knows no submission. To retreat is to accept defeat and the only way forward in any combat is to destroy all that stands in his way. So the general marched on ravaging every piece of law that stood in his way to powerdom. With a stroke of his pen, he unilaterally validated his self-admittedly illegal acts and further awarded himself with perverse powers. The skewed distribution of power amongst our state organs sneers at the very concept of democracy. How democratic our new democracy will be shall depend hugely on the next government’s ability to correct these imbalances of power and allow our state institutions to function independently, without fear or favour.
However, subtle warnings against any measures to undermine the ex-general’s authority are surfacing even before the new parliament has been sworn in. As if the support of the establishment and the US were not enough to intimidate his opponents, Mr Musharraf has now taken to openly brandishing his relations with the army. In Davos earlier this year Mr Musharraf said: “His (General Kayani’s) loyalty is personal to me”. In Jacobabad on the March 7, he said: “There is a rumour that now there is a distance between the president and the army. These rumours are baseless and fabricated.
Is Mr Musharraf not increasingly sounding like the school bully? Weak from within, vulnerable as an individual, but belligerent on the strength of another. I ask you, in which democracy do you have the purported president trying to intimidate the judiciary, parliament and civil society by flaunting the support of the army. Is this not a travesty of democracy?
Just take the issue of the restoration of judges. In the historic Murree Declaration Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari have promised that the deposed judiciary will be restored within 30 days of them forming government. Super! It’s good to see our leaders speaking our mind. However, Musharraf remains adamant that his decision to remove the judges was a ‘constitutional act’ (funny man!) and cannot be challenged in the parliament. There are reports of immense pressure from the GHQ and its patron embassy in Islamabad for the two leaders to roll back all plans to rehabilitate the judiciary-consequences be damned.
I ask you, how can there be real democracy under a so-called president who loathes the independence of judiciary and serves his foreign masters better than his own people? How can there ever be real democracy without a free and independent judiciary?
But my dear Marianne, we have not lost hope. With the lawyer’s movement, the awakening of our civil society and the role of the media, dictatorship has been dealt a blow and real democracy now stands a true chance. The common man or ‘civil society’ deserves a special mention here for fearlessly standing behind the media and the legal fraternity in their fight against oppression.
Armed with banners, placards and an awe inspiring spirit they raise slogans which leave no room for ambiguity: “Restore the judiciary” “Go Musharraf Go” (did Musharraf not say that he would leave if the people no longer wanted him?) Ordinary men and women, girls and boys, and even children from all walks of life are seen taking the frontline at demonstrations and protests. They are mercilessly beaten with batons and are bombarded with teargas shells. But this only fuels their spirits and reinforces the demand that Musharraf must go.
Mr Musharraf warns us that ‘a war between the presidency and the newly elected parliament could be catastrophic’. The man still does not realize that it is he who is at war, not only with parliament and the judiciary but also the people of Pakistan.
By: Alizeh Haider, a barrister and human rights activist currently based in the UAE.