Pakistan Will Stay Hotbed of Confrontational Politics

The split judgement on the petitions challenging General Parvez Musharraf's holding of two offices and also his candidacy for the Oct 6 presidential elections does give him a legal 'go-ahead'. However, it does not give Musharraf and more importantly the process through which he seeks re-election any political legitimacy.

The process has earned some legitimacy through the two additional presidential candidates who have filed their papers for the election: Justice Waheed-uz Zaman and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Amin Fahim. Musharraf hopes the process will gain more legitimacy when the PPP decides to not resign from the assemblies along with the rest of the opposition.  

There are other issues overriding the presidential elections. Most important -- how is the Supreme Court judgement received.

It seems it's always politics that is determining the response. The Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and other coalition partners and the PPP, now in negotiations with the government, have all supported the judgement. The parties under the All Parties' Democratic Movement (APDM) umbrella are opposing it.

The parties opposing the verdict will now hope to exert pressure on Musharraf through political means. They will bank on assembly resignations and on massive street protests. 

On Saturday, lawyers and APDM organised protests outside the Election Commission. It led to violence, and a ban on all private TV news channels.

Matters have come full circle. The issue is back to where it started, that is, politics. 

Frustrated by the government's bulldozing ahead on many fronts, the opposition took the political mess to the Supreme Court and wanted the judiciary to clean things up. It wanted Musharraf to surrender his army position and to not seek re-election as president. Their list of complaints against Musharraf was unending.

In Friday's judgement the majority in the court essentially said to the opposition: Look, you created the mess, you passed the 17th Amendment. Now don't expect us to clean the mess.

The dissenting judges thought otherwise. The ones rejecting the maintainability of the petitions must also factor in that, after all, the courts had given two judgements relating to Justice Rafiq Tarrar's election as president that created a precedent for the two-year waiver to those holding government jobs.

As some judges observed during the hearing, it was the politicians who took steps to give Musharraf the constitutional cover for holding two positions. That gives him cover until Nov 15. That deadline he intends to meet in becoming a civilian president.

Obviously, the conclusion of the majority on the bench was that the current political polarisation and confrontation does not have a legal dimension. It has a constitutional and political dimension and for that parliament is the forum the contesting politicians must go to. 

Many of us would have liked the court to have ruled that General Musharraf remove his uniform before the legislators cast their votes for or against him. Unquestionably, an army chief getting votes as president is a caricature of democracy. It runs counter to the spirit of democracy. 

Yet, fortunately, this should alter within a few weeks. He will definitely shed that uniform and also go for a vote of confidence by the newly elected assemblies in January 2008. 

That is the road that the power scene, now much closer to an accountable scene than ever before, will allow for now. Clearly, it is not a radical revolutionary political path Pakistan is on. It is also not one that will yield villains or heroes. The nation is on a gradualist and evolutionary democratic path.

Fortunately, the changing dynamics of power within the country puts Pakistan on an irreversible democratic path.

But in the political fray there is impatience, frustration, rage, search for instant results and deployment of multiple tools to battle the opponents. Hence most of the opposition, minus the PPP, is completely junking the Supreme Court post verdict.

Today's blatant attacks on the judges and on the judicial process are disturbing. Simply put, it is a negative approach to situations, developments and decisions that do not support the positions of the politicians. 

Similarly, the lawyers and their presidential candidate are taking rejectionist and attacking positions vis-'-vis the Supreme Court. This speaks volumes for their maturity and discipline. They are abandoning the hallmark of their profession; discipline, uprightness and respect for law and for the apex court. 

If they disagree with the verdict they should simply say that they will take legal recourse to challenge it in court, in the Election Commission and in the political arena. The lawyer community in collaboration with the political parties can also take other political measures to stop Musharraf, the army chief, from contesting the presidential elections.

In the run-up to the presidential elections Pakistan promises to be a hotbed of confrontational political activities - both within and outside parliament. The onus will now be on those opposing Musharraf to make winning moves in the political battlefield. 

Unless any wholly unexpected developments take place, there is little likelihood that they will manage any winning and decisive moves.


More by :  Nasim Zehra

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