Posted by: Duncan Chowdhury | July 25, 2009

Pakistan : Is Democracy on Anvil

On September 10, former Premier of Pakistan Newaz Sharif had been deported from Islamabad Airport when he attempted to return to his country after about staying 7 years in exile. An aircraft kept ready in the airport had whisked him off to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia after about 4 hours altercation with the authorities at Islamabad Airport. Prior to his arrival the Anti Corruption Bureau had rejuvenated corruption cases against him and  threatened to arrest him, if he didn’t agree with the deportation. A verdict of the Supreme Court on August 23, declared that it was his “inalienable right” to return to his country. This historical verdict triggered his attempt to return home. This deportation was an act of ignoring and insulting the judiciary on the part of the Government.

Newaz Sharif’s deportation have enraged the judicial community in Pakistan. Supporters of Newaz Sharif have filed cases protesting the deportation and surely one can expect a proper remedy since the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary  is a staunch proponent of democracy and opponent of Musharraf.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 now wants to be reelected in the forth coming Presidential Elections without relinquishing his position as army chief. This lead to a huge political and judicial upheaval in the country.

President Musharraf earlier in March sacked the Chief Justice Iftikar Muhammad Chaudhary. The Supreme Court’s verdict of July 20, reinstated the Chief Justice. This was another challenge for President Musharraf. Justice Chaudhary is one of his strong opponents and engaged in judicial battle in restoring democracy in Pakistan. He posed a great threat to President Musharraf not only in assuming the position of the President in the next elections but also to hold it during his present tenure.

The US have special interest in keeping President Pervez Musharraf in power, because he had been loyal to the US in supporting the US lead war against terrorism. Though President Musharraf has proved very little to be successful in wiping out terrorism in his very own country, still he is deemed to be one of US strong ally in South Asia, especially in respect of Pakistan’s role in war against the terrorism in neighboring Afghanistan. The US cannot take any risk of changing the political leadership in Pakistan at this moment, lest the whole campaign could be jeopardized. To address this issue, the US had brokered a deal with exiled former Pakistani Premier Benajir Bhutto, for power sharing with President Musharraf in the next Presidential Elections, where President Musharraf would continue to be the President while Butto would take over as the Premier. This would help the US to maintain the status quo in the region. Benajir Bhutto is more acceptable in the western world to Newaz Sharif. Benajir has been benefited through the deal as corruption charges against her would be dropped. She would manage to return home and participate in the elections. She also demanded constitutional changes to strip off the President with sweeping powers to dismiss the government and also President Musharraf should shed the army uniform.

Newaz Sharif well knew about his fate if returned to Pakistan, for this reason only on the eleventh hour his brother Shahbaz  Sharif had been left out from his entourage to evade possible deportation in Islamabad. It has been learnt that now is wife, Begum Kulsum might take an attempt to return to country to examine the motive of the Government, if she faces deportation, this will work to stir up the local politics, the movement against the Government.

Newaz Sharif had been signaled earlier that at present he is not expected to return to Pakistan and play any role in Pakistani politics, The center-stage has already been pre occupied by President Musharraf and Bhutto, endorsed by the western nations. Initiatives were taken by the Saudi Intelligence Chief Prince Muqrim bin Abdul Aziz and Saad Harriri,  son of late Lebanese Premier Rashid Harriri, under the US patronage to arrange for deportation of Newaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia, when he arrives in Pakistan. Both of them visited the capital during the first week of September. Now it has been learnt that the passport of Newaz Sharif has been seized by the Saudi Authorities upon his arrival at Jeddah to prevent him to travel elsewhere and more specifically Pakistan. In fact after Parvez Musharraf came to power, Newaz Sharif had been forced exiled in Saudi Arabia in the year 2000 and having a gentlemen agreement with the Saudi Government that he would not return back to Pakistan within next 10 years and involved in politics. The Saudi Authorities now ensured the embargo on Newaz Sharif’s by seizing his passport and expected to retain it until 2010.

It is early to comment whether the road to democracy in Pakistan is far ahead or just round the corner. President Musharraf’s popularity is now in the lowest ebb. His participation in the reelection is now a controversy. The present constitution does not permit him for reelection, especially while holding the position of the chief of the Armed Forces. Though he is in full command of the military, but his popularity amongst the mass people have evaporated. This is because his unconditional support to US  policy. Pakistan had been historically supportive to the guerilla warfare in Afghanistan against the erstwhile Soviet regime,  that has turned now to fundamentalist Islamic movement. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan also had support of the Pakistani people. The bordering tribal regions were very much involved in supporting the Talibans, now the US lead anti terror military campaign in Afghanistan drew discontent amongst the Pakistani people and President Musharraf is rowing against the popular current, the question is how long he can keep on rowing. Recently, several attempts against his life indicate that the Islamic fundamentalists are looking for revenge for his stand against terrorism.

The civil society’s quest for returning to democracy is increasing rapidly. Recently the judiciary have taken up stand in this matter which seems a serious threat for President Musharraf. Historically Pakistan had been under military regime for majority of the time since its independence in 1947. The possibility of imposing Emergency or Marital Law could have been an option open for President Musharraf but it seems that US is not in favor of such move on the part of President Musharraf, perhaps it might rekindle the democracy movement and destabilize the Government. President Musharraf also have declared that there is no such possibility of imposing martial law or emergency. Though such a step could bless him with unlimited power, imposing ban on fundamental rights of the people, suspending the constitution and postpone the elections, paving the way for him to stay in power for a much longer period. However, on the contrary, in such a situation the possibility of people’s upsurge cannot be ruled out which eventually might lead to his fall.  We look forward to see where Pakistan marches on, whether backward towards the days of military regime for onwards towards the road of democracy.

(This article was written on 25th September 2007)

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