“Going by the Book”
By Humayun Gauhar
It is too early to call Dr. Tahir ul Qadri’s Islamabad sit-in or dharna a failure because he called it off or a victory for the government, though right now it does look like a setback for the pro-democracy movement. Nawaz Sharif cannot be blamed for feeling smug, but he shouldn’t smirk. He needs to be careful. Qadri says he is not done and will commence Stage 2 of his ‘revolution’ after Muharram with a series of rallies in towns and cities. He has already given a schedule.
Imran Khan on the other hand insists that his dharna will continue and he will remain in his cargo container until Nawaz Sharif’s resignation, even if it is till his last breath. Please God that some demented bod doesn’t hasten his last breath, but you cannot put such dastardly acts beyond those who are known to wantonly kill innocent people for political gain. It is Imran who started the series of rallies, followed by the PPP’s Bilawal Zardari and now Qadri. Not to forget the Nawaz Sharif’s KPK party rally made memorable by vociferous slogans of “Go Nawaz Go” by his own workers and provincial president, who later said that it was a “slip of the tongue”. Some tongue!
To be sure, both Qadri and Imran were convinced that Nawaz Sharif and his government would be gone by now: Qadri hoping that it would be followed by a reform government that would change the system and the State structure; Imran wanting only electoral reforms to prevent wholesale rigging again and quick elections on the not totally invalid assumption that he would win. Why didn’t it happen?
Governments are not so easily toppled. Sit-ins, ‘long’ marches and rallies alone cannot do it. Governments fall before their time when certain conditions are created almost all of which force the hand of the most powerful force to fill the vacuum of non-governance and save the State from collapse. What are those conditions?
Public Agitation: The most important and powerful force to topple governments is widespread public agitation in the urban areas that catalyzes army intervention. It took five months of countrywide agitation for President Ayub Khan’s government to fall and as long for Prime Minister Bhutto’s government to be toppled. Both times the army took over with – it has to be said – disastrous consequences.
Army and US Involvement: There is no lack of evidence to show that public agitation against Ayub and Bhutto could not have succeeded without covert army and US involvement. After his illness in 1967 Ayub had lost his hold over government. Earlier he had appointed General Yahya Khan commander-in-chief of the army, a known drunk and debauch, wrongly thinking that he was beyond a coup and falling for his sycophancy, with Yahya kissing his hand and calling Ayub “my father”. And America was livid with their one time favourite Ayub Khan for getting closer to China than they were comfortable with and earlier not opening a ‘second front’ against it during India’s China war of 1962 in which India was thrashed. Yahya Khan had his own ambitions and delusions of grandeur, telling Claire Hollingworth of London’s ‘Telegraph’ newspaper that she was talking to the next President of Pakistan. He presided over the disintegration of Pakistan and his army surrender to India.
As to Bhutto, the army never forgave him for being hand-in-glove with Yahya in causing the disintegration of Pakistan and its defeat to India in the Bangladesh war of 1971. The US was angry with him for initiating a nuclear weapons programme in response to India’s nuclear tests of 1974 starting nuclear terrorism in South Asia and agreeing with France and Canada to get a fast breeder nuclear reactor – “we will make a horrible example of you”. Bhutto was eventually wrongly hanged. Bhutto played into the army’s and America’s hands by blatantly rigging the 1977 elections to get a two-thirds majority to change the constitution and move from the parliamentary system to a presidential system and paid the price. But because Nawaz Sharif seems to be America’s pet, his alleged rigging of the 2013 elections has not attracted his ire because the US is not angry with him for anything.
Drawing room chatter aside, there is no cogent evidence yet of active army planning or involvement in the Qadri-Imran movement, though it certainly would have been keeping a close eye on things, as it should. In any case, in these days coups are not easy to get away with, so why intervene when a rampant Nawaz Sharif has been brought to heel, tamed and cut down to size? However, the generals also know that Nawaz Sharif’s innate hatred of the army that created him persists, so they will keep an eagle eye on him and his moronic ministers who are wont to go on an anti-army rant at the drop of a hat.
Unlike Ayub and Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif suits the US so far so they don’t want the boat rocked during their drawdown from Afghanistan. Later, Pakistan’s pivotal location will continue its importance given the US-China tussle for dominance and an emerging new Cold War with Russia in the offing, so they would want a malleable ruler at the helm rather than someone with a mind of his own.
“Going by the Book: The Supreme Court is the best institution to legally send the government packing. It should do so to prevent a coup or even in concert with an army that doesn’t wish to do a coup but only bring a new temporary government to undertake urgent reforms, including a population census, and then hold elections at the earliest and put Pakistan on the true democratic track for the first time. Makes sense when the country is so dependent on IMF handouts and America’s goodwill that is so intent on hanging on to pliable Third World rulers under the cloak of a deformed electoral democracy that produces lootocracy. Nawaz Sharif suits America admirably and I dare say so too Modi’s India. Regardless, if the Supreme Court wishes to save Pakistan it should declare the May 2013 elections null and void given that there is enough evidence to demand its attention and merit an inquiry. It has not so far probably wishing to “go by the book”.
“Going by the book” requires understanding the book. It doesn’t mean going only by the letter of the Constitution but more importantly its spirit too and the intent of the fathers of the basic law. The judges cannot simply assume that just because someone has got into office regardless of whether he may have got there illegally by mutilating the will of the people and stealing their mandate, they need to “go by the book” even if it violates Article 218 (3) of the Constitution: “It shall be the duty of the Election Commission to organize and conduct the election and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with the law , and that corrupt practices are guarded against.” [Emphasis added]. That is what “the book” says and ensuring it is “going by the book”, not the absence of it. If the Election Commission fails in its constitutional duty to ensure that “the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with the law, and that corrupt practices are guarded against” then it becomes incumbent upon the Supreme Court to correct any failure. The spirit of the Constitution requires the will of the people to be ascertained fairly and freely to ensure the legality and legitimacy of a government. There is enough grave doubt throughout the country that the May 2013 elections were free and fair and a large section of the populace, including virtually all political parties, agree in parliament that elections were rigged. It is not easy to swallow blatant rigging and regard this government as legitimate and Nawaz Sharif not a usurper. The moral high ground that the Supreme Court occupied not so long ago could soon become subterranean and it may go down in history as the institution that did the greatest harm to Pakistan, variously legitimising military rulers under Kelsen’s ‘law of necessity’ and later declaring them usurpers after they were safely gone and yet not declaring a civilian who has hijacked the government by rigging the ballot and stealing people’s mandate as illegitimate and a usurper. That, my dear compatriots, is called “going by the book” in this benighted country of ours.
Bankruptcy: The treasury is already bankrupt. Even with IMF tranches, given the Fund’s conditions the private sector could go belly up soon and the people driven to desperation. There is no new direct private sector investment anyway and what there is, is shrinking due to the paucity of energy and infrastructure and high cost of money. When it becomes impossible for ordinary folk to make ends meet even by begging borrowing and stealing, they could rise and say it with bricks and bats. That would force a change, even notice from the army and America deciding that their Poodle has become a Rottweiler, an embarrassing liability like Hosni Mubarak did.
Political Suicide: Nawaz Sharif’s penchant for committing political suicide is legendary. There is no gainsaying that he won’t a third time. Soon after becoming prime minister he needlessly started needling the army again about which much has already been written and doesn’t need repetition here. But there is another shot in the foot still lodged in his chamber and waiting to be fired: the Senate elections come March when Nawaz Sharif will have a majority in both the upper and lower houses of parliament to change the Constitution. It is said that he then intends to bring legislation that will give the defence minister a role in the promotion of lieutenant generals and corps commanders. Given Nawaz Sharif’s track record in selections, merit at this vital level of the army will go out of the window and perceived ‘loyalty’ and sycophancy will take its place. That means goodbye army as an effective fighting force that can save the country for internal and external enemies. But when it comes to saving the country the army doesn’t “go by the book”, it throws it out of the window instead.