ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Wednesday that Article 6 could not be applied to only one person, as there were several politicians in parliament who also supported former president Pervez Musharraf by voting for the 17th Amendment.
“I have no love lost for Musharraf … if parliament decides to try him, I will be with parliament. Article 6 cannot be applied to one individual … those who supported him are today in my cabinet and some of them have also joined the PML-N … the MMA, the MQM and the PML-Q supported him … this is why I have said that it is not doable,” said the prime minister while informally talking to editors and also replying to questions by journalists at an Iftar-dinner he had hosted for them.
On President Asif Zardari’s disclosure about a “negotiated settlement”, he said, “Parliament has so far not given indemnity to Musharraf, nor has he been convicted or pardoned, so there is no question of any deal.”
About the balance of power between the offices of president and prime minister, Gilani said, “If you refer to Article 58(2b), let me tell you that this article has become redundant … a parliamentary committee is working on the constitutional package.” (Daily Times)
Dictators have arrived on the scene when the politicians have discredited themselves and the people left searching for saviours. —File Photo
HAS the PML-N jumped the shark in its purported quest to have Musharraf tried for treason? The plot has definitely taken a turn towards the ridiculous this week.
We, the people, are expected to believe that the PML-N is shocked, shocked that a ‘deal’ was struck with outside powers to guarantee Musharraf a safe exit. Snow White, aka the PML-N, can’t imagine a deal could be struck to, say, bail a prime minister out of jail, fly him across to luxurious exile in Saudi Arabia and then engineer his return to our ‘sovereign’ nation. Oh wait, isn’t that what happened to Nawaz Sharif, leader of Snow White?
Right, that was different. Different why, you ask? Because, y’know, that was Nawaz Sharif, leader of the people, a democratic would-be amirul momineen, heir to the throne of the Mughal emperors of yore, the greatest ruler since sliced bread, and did I mention, leader of the people? So it’s OK, gosh darn necessary even, for outside powers to ride to the rescue of Sharif because he’s different.
The only thing that is different though are the circumstances. The hunted has become the hunter and in the jungle of Pakistani politics he thinks he can smell blood. But in the smoke-and-mirrors game that is our politics, don’t be so sure that the victim is who you think it is. For some, the PML-N’s ‘try Musharraf’ cry sounds awfully like ‘get Zardari’.
With astonishing speed, Zardari’s indiscretion has ricocheted and become about him. Nothing less than the ‘independence and sovereignty’ of parliament has been undermined by Zardari, according to the PML-N. But don’t expect the PML-N to fire off angry missives about the ‘violation’ to the other parties involved. Perhaps to the Americans and the British, but definitely not the Saudis. Sharif knows what’s good for him, and invoking the ire of the Saudi king definitely isn’t.
Keeping Zardari under pressure though is good for Sharif, hence the PML-N’s alacrity in tabling a motion against him in the National Assembly. For those keeping track of the tit-for-tat game, we’re now in round three. Round one was the minus-one formula that rattled Zardari, round two was the raking up of Sharif’s past and now round three is about doing the dirty on Zardari and embarrassing him.
That doesn’t mean Sharif wouldn’t like to see Musharraf hanged, drawn and quartered. The bitterness is palpable despite Sharif’s denials; he isn’t one to forgive or forget the humiliation of being handcuffed and thrown into a dingy cell. But that is neither remarkable nor unprecedented.
Legend has it that Zia and his generals decided to hang ZAB because that proud, disdainful prime minister had made it clear he would hang them if he ever got the chance. And the bitterness between Leghari and the PPP lives on to this day, 13 years since BB’s man in the presidency dismissed her government. That’s just how politics is and we can’t do anything about personal enmities.
But what the rest of us on the outside and at the mercy of the politicians and their vendettas can do is at least understand when acting on those enmities is a good idea from a systemic perspective and when it isn’t.
If trying Musharraf and throwing him in jail – I personally am squeamish about the death penalty – can yield some good that outstrips the risk of damage to the democratic project, I’m all for it.
I never was a fan of Musharraf because a dictatorship isn’t the answer to the problems of our polity. Well-intentioned or ill-intentioned is beside the point for me. The fact is, our polity is diverse and fractious and for historical, social and political reasons a one-man show is bound to exacerbate the tensions in the federation. Ergo, a dictator is a bad idea in the long term.
(Arguably, in the short term, a dictatorship may help reset the balance to keep the country in a low-level equilibrium rather than keel over from the depredations of the civilian political class, but that is a separate issue and, in any case, should the point not be to break out of a low-level political, economic and social equilibrium?)
But I just can’t see how prosecuting Musharraf will set a good precedent and buttress the democratic project in its present phase. Judging Musharraf guilty of treason in a court of law would be a precedent, absolutely, but what exactly would it achieve?
Deter the next dictator? Dictators have arrived on the scene when the politicians have discredited themselves and the people left searching for saviours. Ayub, Zia, Musharraf, each arrived when cynicism was at a peak.
It can be debated whether the public truly wanted a dictator at those points in time or whether the army had a hand in creating the political trouble in the first place, but the point is that deterrence – in the sense of threatening unacceptable costs to a would-be dictator – is not what is needed; a stronger defence is.
The deterrence, defence dichotomy is not mere word play, it is at the root of our present misguided national debate. There simply is no nuclear option to deter would-be dictators. Threaten to hang him and his cohorts? Right. The next adventurist general may just decide to hang all the politicians first and drag the country into a dark place we don’t even want to think about. Zia is the worst of the dictators we have had, but he isn’t the worst of all dictators we could have had.
A better bet, then, is to shore up the civilian political defences against a dictator. Build on the present transition to democracy. Incrementally push the army out of the governance and policy space. If there are 10 things a democratic government must have to be truly in charge and the army only allows it, say, two or three issues (education, health, the economy, whatever), then do those two or three things right and use the leverage to prise away more subjects from the army’s control.
And if the politicians must fight, fine. But do it within bounds. Zardari’s bid for power in Punjab was bad because of the way he attempted it by pouncing on Shahbaz Sharif’s disqualification and imposing governor’s rule. He could have tried to win a straight vote in the Punjab Assembly instead. And if Sharif wants to push for mid-term elections or defang Zardari, fine. But don’t do it in a roundabout way and flirt with invoking the army’s wrath at this delicate juncture in the transition to democracy.
A post-politics phase in which politicians on both sides of the aisle agree on everything and hug and kiss and hold each other’s hands is neither desirable nor beneficial to the democratic project.
What is needed though to build a solid defence against adventurist generals is selective cooperation. Zoom out and in the bigger picture politicians need to cooperate to defend the system against threats from rival institutions. Zoom in and they need to present alternatives on policies and different approaches to governance.
It’s not rocket science. But neither is it schoolboy stuff. And at the moment all we seem to have is a PML-N bent on throwing tantrums and chucking toys out of its pram and a PPP led by rank amateurs.