It proved difficult to put pen to paper today as the whole country waited with bated breath for the Supreme Court (SC) to pronounce on the petition challenging Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari’s ruling rejecting 10 Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) MPAs’ votes in the run-off election for Chief Minister on July 22, 2022.
On Saturday, July 23, the SC bench of three members headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial held the requests of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and top lawyers’ bodies for a full court to hear the case and issues surrounding it in abeyance.
On Monday, July 25, the SC bench first postponed a decision on the formation of a full court bench till 5:30 pm, but after the hearing resumed at that time, decided the parties before the court should be heard on the matter first and the issue of formation of a full court bench be decided later.
Last reports said the PML-N counsel argued that his case included the reasoning behind the demand for a full court hearing, but if the bench was not inclined to hear this, he would refrain. The court seemed to appreciate this attitude and approach. What may transpire next and how the hearing goes cannot at this point be predicted or commented upon.
What can, however, be dilated upon is a recap of how we got here, what are the implications of the extreme polarisation between the two sides of the political divide, and where the political and economic crisis may be headed.
Imran Khan’s removal as Prime Minister (PM) in April 2022 through a no-confidence motion marked the start of the present round of political turmoil and instability, which further roiled a struggling economy bequeathed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s mishandling of the economy.
During the no-confidence drama, the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) betrayed their partisanship towards Imran Khan by the former refusing to preside over the session and the latter dismissing the no-confidence motion on the basis of a trumped up foreign conspiracy. This conspiracy theory has fortunately been finally shot down by the superior judiciary.
Since his fall, Imran Khan has gone on the warpath against his political foes (now in office) and (off and on) the establishment. Ironically, the way things have developed since in terms of the daily barbs hurled at each other by the PML-N-led ruling coalition and the PTI, one is left scratching one’s head about the emerging trend of both sides ‘wooing’ the establishment, yet not hesitating to criticise it if things go against their will.
While the establishment has been maintaining an enigmatic silence, reports have now surfaced of a ‘soft intervention’ to persuade the warring politicians to sit down calmly and find a political solution that helps bolster the teetering economy.
If we cast a glance back at our history, it seems the more time passes and things change in Pakistan, the more they remain the same. From Independence till at least the General Ziaul Haq era (1977-88), the military, bureaucracy, and the ruling elite comprised largely of capitalists and large landowners held the country in thrall to an authoritarian dispensation. But this period also saw firm and principled resistance to this oppressive legerdemain.
However, from 1988 to date, while the military did overthrow a civilian democratically elected government (Nawaz Sharif’s) in 1999, it did not declare martial law, unlike past military regimes. It had no need to, as subsequent events that transpired proved.
First and foremost, most liberal and some progressive elements bought into the ‘liberal’ image projected by military coup-maker General Pervez Musharraf and jumped like lemmings off a cliff into his lap.
Next the SC not only resurrected the so-called doctrine of necessity to justify the coup, it anointed the military dictator with the power to amend the Constitution, without even being asked to do so! The ‘lemmings’ first mentioned eventually came to rue their shortsighted, unprincipled support to General Musharraf, but by then it was too late.
The superior judiciary (under CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry) eventually fell out with the military dictator and was ‘dismissed’. Then the right and left combined to turf out Musharraf through the Lawyers’ Movement.
The coup de grace to the Musharraf dictatorship however, was the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, for which the self-exiled (with the help of his mother institution) and now reportedly seriously ill former dictator has still to be brought to justice (not to mention the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, which impelled part of the otherwise traditionally quiescent Bugti tribe to revolt).
I quote these historical facts to point to what we have become: a society of power worshippers and collaborators, with principled, ethical people with integrity being reduced to a threatened species.
The current tussle between the factions of the ruling elite appears to make even the prospects of our deeply flawed parliamentary democracy darker and graver. The rumoured split in the establishment in support of one or the other side of the political divide threatens its traditional iron discipline, with even graver implications for the country’s future.
While all the shenanigans of the two sides of the political divide play out daily before our eyes, the people seem to have no say as to their fate or future, nor their troubled present.
More than ever, what is needed is a mobilisation of the masses to wrest from this wretched order a new social contract in favour of the people, if not a completely new order in confirmation of the people’s rights.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022