An Indigenous Change In The Offing In Pakistan
By Gul Jammas Hussain
12 December, 2009
Pakistan’s Supreme Court began hearing petitions Monday in a case against President Asif Ali Zardari and key allies, including Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar. After expiration of the amnesty protecting him, the unpopular leader may face corruption charges that could force him to surrender key presidential powers or even to step down.
Anytime there is a shift of power in Pakistan, it is widely believed that the U.S. is behind the scenes, which in fact, has been quite true in the past, but this time the situation is different. Zardari is likely to emerge as a mere ceremonial president, like the one in India. This current transition is due to gradually increasing pressure from the people of Pakistan themselves and not as a result of overseas Machiavellian machinations.
Since Zardari was sworn in as president of Pakistan on September 9, 2008, he did everything in his power to comply with American demands in order to gain U.S. support. Under his administration, Pakistan launched a war to crush militants by force, sending the army to South Waziristan to fight tribal militants -- ignoring Pakistan’s constitution that bars any kind of military incursion in the semiautonomous region. He also gave covert approval for U.S. drone attacks in the northwest region bordering Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO forces continue to fight a bloody war against Taliban insurgents.
The people of Pakistan have suffered enormously in the backlash from all this, as Taliban militants unleashed their suicide bombers upon them (although many of the terrorist attacks appear to be the handiwork of certain countries’ intelligence agencies, who are probably exploiting the chaotic situation). Nowadays, many of the country’s major cities present scenes of war-torn devastation, particularly the army stronghold of Rawalpindi and the capital of the Northwest Frontier Province Peshawar.
So, the masses, fed up with daily terrorist attacks, fed up with corrupt and unscrupulous politicians, bureaucrats, and technocrats who gave them nothing but insecurity, lawlessness, corruption, unemployment, food inflation and perpetual power failures, participated heavily in the campaign to reinstate Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who was dismissed by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf when the independent-minded judge refused to submit to the dictator’s twisted logic.
With Justice Chaudhry back on the bench, Pakistan’s judiciary regained the independence to challenge the chronic corruption and misrule, and nation’s vibrant electronic and print media played its key role to build public opinion against the crooked officials.
The amnesty-beneficiaries’ list includes more than 8,000 politicians, civil and military bureaucrats. Civil rights activists argue that it was unjust to help so many people escape prosecution for alleged wrongdoing.
Zardari, who has denied the massive corruption charges against him, enjoys general immunity from prosecution as president, but the Supreme Court could choose to challenge his eligibility for the post if the amnesty is declared illegal.
The court session came two weeks after the expiration of the amnesty, which had been granted in a U.S.-backed deal by Musharraf to allow Zardari’s late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to return from exile in 2007 and run for office secure in the knowledge she would not be dogged by corruption allegations that had forced her from office twice in the 1990s.
So, in order to save himself, his ministers and his friends from the tightening noose, Zardari is desperately trying to hammer out a deal with the estranged opposition politicians. He is ready to transfer most of the sweeping presidential powers he inherited from Musharraf to the prime minister and assume a ceremonial role, but some are still calling for his scalp.
Pakistan’s 1973 constitution envisioned a parliamentary style of government, in which a popularly elected prime minister is the chief executive and the president is a ceremonial head of state. However, former President Musharraf amassed power for himself in order to stay in charge.
If Zardari and his crooked ministers would resign due to the mounting pressure, there would be a better chance that under the sensible leadership of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan could push the national re-set button. This could restore security, establish law and order, revitalize the economy, secure country’s energy needs, create job opportunities for young men so they would not drift toward militancy, improve the dilapidated educational system and lower the food inflation that has made life so miserable for the lower middle class.
Pakistan is a country where things change fast these days. In the coming days, the only government officials who will survive will be those who are serving the people. The rest will fall one by one by the efforts of the diligent media and the independent judiciary.