People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 25, 2007
Nothing Learnt From The Past
HERE is a small anecdote from history. After the 1970 general elections in Pakistan, when the Awami League emerged as the largest party in National Assembly as well as East Pakistan and some other anti-regime parties made hefty gains in other provinces, General Yahya Khan invited some of the leaders including Sheikh Mujibur-Rehman and Maulana Bhasani to meet him. The general’s was a small proposal; the only thing was that this small was not beautiful. The proposal was that leaders of the winning parties should give him word that they would elect him president, in return for his invitation to them to form a government at the centre and in the provinces.
Though the offer was worthy of utmost contempt, the leaders displayed all politeness while declining to give their word. Their plea was simple --- and quite in accordance with the tenets of democracy. They said: it was the prerogative of the national and provincial assemblies to elect a president and that these should be duly constituted at the earliest.
The general refused to accept this voice of reason, and the rest…….. We all know.
ILLEGAL AND ILLEGITIMATE
AND now, the celebrated words that Marx added to the Hegelian idea of history repeating itself apply here with no less force. For Pakistan, undoubtedly tragic has been the consequence --- and also the subsequence --- of whatever General Yahya did 37 years go, and no less tragic was the fate this perpetrator of the 1970-71 crime himself suffered as he made his way straight to the bin of history. But whatever General Pervez Musharraf did just three weeks ago has all the potential of making a farce of everything he says and does, even though the nation may well suffer heavily in the process.
The sordid drama that General Musharraf enacted on November 3 is too well known to need detailing. Suffice it to say that the general’s misdemeanour has brought the country to the brink of yet another cataclysm.
What has made Musharraf the butt of contemptuous ridicule all across the globe is that he has pitted himself against the judiciary that had been, over the last few years, trying to atone for its sins in the past. Not to talk of the earlier instances of abject subservience, the judiciary upheld --- as recently as in 2003 --- the Legal Framework Order whose only purpose was to validate General Musharraf’s usurpation of power. And now it was the same judiciary that was, he claimed, frustrating his efforts to fight terrorism and develop the country. It is another thing that, in general perception, the judiciary was simply refusing to tow the line of the powers-that-are and upholding the rule of law.
And whatever charges General Musharraf and his cohorts might have hurled against the country’s judiciary, can one forget that Musharraf’s whole dispensation is illegal from end to end? If one concedes, for argument sake, that the people of Pakistan wanted to get rid of corrupt politicians, is it not a part of the truth that Musharraf did not remain content with being the Chief of Army Staff and assumed the presidency as well by dismissing the incumbent Dr Rafiq Tarar?
A few simple facts need to be recorded here. First, Dr Tarar was a duly elected president and, as such, his position was cent percent legitimate. Also, there was no (real or contrived) charge of corruption against him, as there was against Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, nor did Musharraf made any such insinuation against him even after dismissing him. And, whether political morality justifies it or not, Dr Tarar did not obstruct any of Musharraf’s moves as the judiciary had of late been allegedly doing.
In sum, no matter whatever noise Musharraf may be making about being the saviour of democracy in Pakistan, undoubted is the fact that the dispensation he was presiding over is illegal as well as illegitimate.
IT was this character of his dispensation that made Musharraf nervous when the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan began to assert its independence. While the apex court’s ruling striking down the privatisation of Pakistan Steel Mills as illegal came as a rude shock to the prime minister and his patron in Aiwan-e-Sadr, it must also have enraged the real powers in World Bank whose policies are increasingly coming under fire.
And to top it all, the SC’s injunction to the law-enforcing authorities to produce in the court a whole set of the “disappeared” came down upon the regime as nothing less than a bombshell, embarrassing it by exposing the reality of its fight against terrorism. There is a small but noxious story behind these mysterious disappearances, which The Dawn called “forced disappearances.” Ever since the US 9/11, Musharraf had been trying every means at his disposal to placate Uncle Sam and make him believe that Pakistan would be the frontline ally in the Yankee “war against terrorism.” It was, however, widely believed that he was not so much concerned with elimination of this scourge as with the dollars he was getting from the US, and hoped to get in future, in the name of fighting such a war. But a still stronger motive was to make the Yankees believe that he was their best bet against Islamic fundamentalists. For this purpose, it is widely believed, one of the regime’s dubious tactics was to send police or intelligence men to get the ordinary opposition workers arrested and hand them over as “active terrorists” to the US forces stationed in the region --- of course for a fixed number of dollars for each such ‘terrorist.’ This, in public perception, was the real reason for mysterious disappearances at the behest of the CIA that had earlier used the same tactic in Chile through the vampire-like Pinochet dictatorship.
When Musharraf recently hurled his chargesheet (sic!) against the judiciary, one of the charges (again sic!) was that the court was obstructing his fight against terrorism. However, there is ground to believe that uppermost in his mind was the court’s intervention in the case of these very ‘terrorists.’ Moreover, this was also a blatant ploy to hide his mortal fear of the judiciary that was about to hear two important cases when he sacked the SC chief justice, Iftikhar Mohd Chaudhary, on March 9. Needless to repeat, these cases related to his own position. (See People’s Democracy, May 20, 2007 for details.)
A WAR ON JUDICIARY
THUS, while General Musharraf’s first coup was against a political executive that had lost the people’s goodwill, his “second coup” --- to use the term The Dawn used --- was against a judiciary that was striving hard to regain its long-lost independence.
There is no doubt that the judiciary in Pakistan overstepped its limits in certain cases, as some well-meaning (and also not-so-well-meaning) critics point out. But it was to an extent natural and, as Ms Asma Jahangir says, it was “part of the teething process of a judiciary that was discovering itself” (The Hindu, November 14). Moreover, the judicial verdicts in certain recent cases (as in the case of missing persons) went a long way to heighten the people’s expectations --- in a country where common man was often at a loss to understand who to approach in case of a calamity brought about by the high-ups. The Hindu quoted Ms Jahangir as saying: “Expectations have risen and there is an absence of other mechanisms. We don’t have an ombudsman, we don’t have a national human rights commission, we don’t have a bureaucratic machinery that runs across the country anymore, like the commissioner, deputy commissioner. So people are very desperate to go somewhere, and it [the SC – NN] is the only place they can think of.” This comes from the chairperson of a Human Rights Commission that has (unlike in India) no constitutional status, from a person who has to earn her living by working as a lawyer. The way she was put under house arrest in the recent days is a pointer to the value her commission gets from the military rulers of her country.
It was therefore no wonder that 9 out of the 13 reasons General Musharraf cited to bolster (though in vain) his case for Emergency imposition, were charges straight against the judiciary. Yet one does not have to go far to judge the worth of his charges. If, for example, Musharraf says the chief justice had humiliated senior government officials, he seems to have simply forgotten how his own senior officials had behaved in March: when Justice Chaudhary refused to heed the government’s ‘advice’ to resign, the regime’s officials got him physically lifted from the court premises, threw him mercilessly into his car and forced his driver to speed away. (Tragically and not farcically, this bit of history repeated itself on November 3, within hours after the declaration of Emergency.)
It is true that Musharraf tried to conciliate Justice Chaudhary after the latter was reinstated by a Supreme Court bench presided over by Rana Bhagwandas, and promptly sent an emissary to congratulate him. But he has simply been unable to hide his sense of unease with any independent voice in the country. The regime’s sense of insecurity was also clear, for instance, from the way it resorted to strong-arm tactics to prevent the release of Ayesha Siddiqa Agha’s book Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy in Islamabad in June. So much so that the hotel where the release was to take place cancelled the booking at the last moment, presumably under the army’s pressure, and other hotels also refused to give booking, forcing the lady to get the book released in someone’s house, in presence of a limited number of people.
And if ever one had an illusion about the regime’s intentions, the latter became clear once again in September when the regime blatantly flouted the Supreme Court’s August 23 ruling allowing a former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to return to Pakistan from exile. It was not just a contempt of court. Rather, as The Hindu editorialised September 11, “the Pakistan military ruler has exposed himself as a power-hungry general trying to extend his stay in power by any means.” In short, despite everything said and done, the general had not given up his war on the judiciary and bared his real face once again at a crucial time, just two days before the Supreme Court was to give its verdict on the validity or otherwise of the October 6 presidential polls. One recalls that the general had scored a “landslide victory” in these polls….. but what polls? The entire opposition had perforce boycotted these polls, leaving them bereft of any legitimacy.
THE REGIME STOOPS LOW
IT was therefore no wonder that the imposition of Emergency (virtual Martial Law) and the suspension (scrapping!?) of the 1973 constitution was followed, first of all, by strident moves against the judiciary. While the entire SC bench was dismissed at the first go, only those of its judges were allowed to come back who took an oath of allegiance to the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO), i e to Musharraf. Nor was there any wonder that as many as 7 SC judges refused to swear by the PCO and are still under house arrest.
(One must again bring to mind the small thing that all the four dictators of Pakistan so far have been the gods of PCO-like small things.)
While Abdul Hammed Dogar was anointed as the new chief justice of Pakistan, and his first act was to ‘invalidate’ the invalidation pronounced upon Emergency by the Justice Chaudhury led Supreme Court, the illegitimate government committed illegitimate acts at the lower levels of judiciary as well. Justices Abdul Mohd Soomro, Amanulla Yasim Zai and Iftikhar Hussain Chaudhary were anointed the as chief justices of, respectively, the Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab High Courts. Mass scale changes at lower levels were also reported. Incidentally, one repercussion of these moves has been that at least four-fifth of the already undermanned courts from top to bottom have become further undermanned as a sizeable number of judicial personnel refused to swear by the PCO.
Some two weeks back, The Sunday Times (London) also
disclosed how the regime had stooped so low as to use sex videos to browbeat
some judges into submission. This reportedly took place in August and September
this year. (ISI officials had already visited several judges to influence their
opinion.) Earlier, before March, the ISI had run a smear campaign against
Justice Iftikhar, with an “affidavit” claiming that he had used his influence to
get his son a plum government job. This ‘affidavit’ had come to the apex court
as an anonymous letter and also implied sexual impropriety on part of the chief
As quoted by The Times of India, November 12, a military source who “was privy to the dirty tricks campaign,” told later: “They tried their best to blackmail the judges but when the judiciary got public support, it was like getting new oxygen.”
“HOPE FOR CHILDREN”
HOW far the regime could go in its vendetta against the judiciary is clear from the fact, among other things, that Justice Rana Bhagwandas, now under house arrest, was on November 9 not allowed to come out to celebrate Diwali and meet his friends and relatives. This might, incidentally, give the rabble-rousers in India a bit of ammunition, but the saving grace was that about a hundred persons gathered at a coffee house at Civil Junction in Islamabad, lit candles and celebrated “Diwali in solidarity with Justice Rana Bhagwandas, our courageous prisoner of conscience who was forced to celebrate this significant event at home.” The same note pasted in the coffee house said, “Thank you Justice Bhagwandas and the six other judges for giving hope to our children. We will always be grateful to you, and you will live forever in history.”
This sums up the situation today in Pakistan where judges are being looked upon as ones “giving hope to our children.” This is something natural. At a time the media has been badly gagged (all indigenous TV channels have given their pledge to the military regime to….) and the party system appears to be badly fractured (it is also being said that Ms Benazir approved Justice Dogar’s name for appointment as the SC chief justice), it was the judiciary (and the legal fraternity in general) that was the people’s only hope regarding democracy.
A few words about the party system here. Contrary to whatever the NGO brand, foreign financed ‘revolutionaries’ say in denigration of the party system, the situation in South Asia well demonstrates how a vibrant party system is a sine qua non for democracy. While India and Sri Lanka have democratic set-ups because of vibrant parties there, it was the unity of political parties that led to the success of pro-democracy movement in Nepal. On the other hand, Pakistan and Myanmar are under military juntas because of lack of well-organised parties while the army is out to kill the existing parties in Bangladesh. There has of course been an ARD (Association for Restoration of Democracy) in Pakistan, but it was all along a non-starter because leaders of the two main parties have been incapable of looking beyond their noses. Nawaz and Benazir have now, of course, pledged to come together on the question of democracy, but one has bitter experience of such pledges in the past. Yet, what is absolutely clear is that they will have to permanently settle in London or Dubai, in Timbuktu or Honolulu if they fail to work together on this question.
Commenting on the declaration of Emergency, The News said November 4: “This is one of General Musharraf’s greatest errors of judgement and a sorry indication that nothing has been learnt from the mistakes of the past.” The parties in Pakistan have to ensure that similar words do not constitute their obituaries.
FROM SEVEN SEAS BEYOND
AND here is another small anecdote from history. In a sinister move against the then prime minister Ms Bhutto in 1993, the International Marauding Fund (IMF) simply refused to release the second tranche of a three-tranche loan sanctioned for Pakistan and, during a Washington tour, the lady had to personally visit the IMF office to get it released --- something that was the job of an additional secretary. This way the Yankees made her painfully realise that she could not move an inch ahead without their blessings. In fact, it is US imperialists who have been making and breaking the governments in Pakistan since decades.
(In his Urdu ki Akhiri Kitab, a first-to-last-page satirical writing that was banned immediately after its publication in 1970, Ibn-e-Insha wrote about his unfortunate country: “Our main exports are two: foreign exchange and delegations. Imports we are reducing. Earlier we imported foreign policy too; now it is being made here.” The tone of the passage makes one believe that one must not believe the last words.)
Today, take my word, an average Pakistani thinks his country is being governed from saat samandar paar (seven seas beyond).
This has indeed been one of the first-rate tragedies
of Pakistan, and Musharraf only compounded this tragedy by agreeing to become an
ally in the Yankee ‘war against terror.’ The result is there for all to see:
while he is fighting a losing war in Swat valley and Waziristan where militants
have captured at least five towns and adjoining areas, he cannot be sure about
his own survival. It is widely believed that Americans are eyeing General Ashfaq
Pervez Kiyani for the CEO job.
The US has played a dubious role during the latest developments also. While it regretted the Emergency, it has cunningly refused to condemn it outright. While it said it would review its aid policy for Pakistan, it also assured Musharraf by saying that “we do have concerns, counter-terrorism concerns and we have to be able to protect American citizens by continuing to fight against terrorists.”
As The Indian Express editorialised November 5, “Like it or not, the US administration cannot disclaim ownership of Musharraf’s actions…... America has sheltered him and emboldened him to curtail civil rights and undermine democratic institutions. This is as much a crisis for the United States as it is for South Asia.”
Quite true! And The News may well add that, in case of
the US too, “nothing has been learnt from the mistakes of the past.”
This learn-nothing syndrome also marked the Negroponte visit to Pakistan. While this high-up tried his best to sound high during his hi-fi visit, it failed to satisfy one and all --- or one or the other side. Despite his call for restoration of democracy, release of prisoners etc, etc, etc, his visit did lack something crucial. For example, as The Hindu editorial on November 20 says, “did he ask him (Musharraf – NN) to reinstate Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary and other judges of the Supreme Court against whom the Emergency was primarily directed? That question goes to the heart of the matter --- the legitimacy of the military ruler’s new presidential term.”
But do the Yankees really worry about legitimacy or its lack?
Let us not forget two crucial facts. One, a dictatorial regime in Pakistan has always been conducive to the US interests in this part of the world and the US call for restoration of democracy in that country has always been more for public consumption. There is nothing to indicate that it is different at this juncture of history.
Secondly, despite all the hullabaloo otherwise, extremism has always been an extra-legal arm of US foreign policy and it is hard to believe that the US would break its own arm that did for it many things useful in the past. The way diplomats of some pro-US countries used to spend hours in the Lal Masjid, before the action against its clerics following strong Chinese protest, gives one ground to suspect that American money is still flowing to extremist groups through one channel or another.
(In his very first of the nine letters to Uncle Sam, Manto says: “Chachaa, hold this Mullah full-embrace; he is antidote to communism in Pakistan.)
Be that as it may, there is little doubt that the latest Musharraf demeanour’s “repercussions could be far more destabilising than his patrons in Washington appear to believe” (The Indian Express, editorial, op cit).
How true was the late Ibn-e-Insha when he said: “Even if Columbus discovered America by mistake, it was a costly mistake. Columbus died long ago, but we are still paying for it.”