March 23 calls for introspection. Seventy-two years ago in a historic meeting held at Lahore, the All India Muslim League (AIML) passed a resolution that within seven years led to the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Quaid-i-Azam presided over the meeting and delivered a historic address in which he spelt out the future destiny of Pakistan. Seventeen years earlier, at Allahabad, Allama Iqbal had spoken about his dream of a homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent.
But 24 years after independence, we lost one-half of our country because of our follies - thanks also to our hostile eastern neighbour.
Because of the incompetence and poor performance of our political rulers, we have let the country be managed by military officers for half of the period of our history.
Despite colossal damage done by both civil and military stewards, the country has survived. It, however, stands battered and bruised suffering as it does, from all sorts of ills. Corruption and misgovernance have eaten into its vitals. Lawlessness is the order of the day. Economy is tottering. Severe shortages of energy and fuel have hamstrung industry and made miserable the lives of the people. Soaring prices of commodities of daily use have pushed tens of millions below the poverty line. Population has increased by leaps and bounds. Almost half of the people are utterly illiterate. According to the international human welfare and development indices, Pakistan is at the lowest rung of the international ladder. Our independence, too, has been compromised and we, more or less, have been reduced to the status of a neo-colonial entity.
Instead of addressing the pressing economic and social issues, we have permitted ourselves to be bogged down in one hellish crisis after another. Mercifully, there are some bright spots. The outstanding ones are the higher judiciary and the media.
Presently, three complex issues are holding the country hostage. Two internal and one external. These relate to (a) civil-military relations, (b) executive-judiciary confrontation, and (c) our tangled and twisted ties with the USA.
The first two have landed in the Supreme Court’s lap. The Executive is unwilling to comply with the verdicts of the court. The President, the Prime Minister and their legal counsels have chosen the path of defying the court to protect themselves from the long arm of the law. The Prime Minister has literally become “his master’s voice” and has questioned the Supreme Court judgment. He is presently being tried for contempt of the court. His current counsel, Aitzaz Ahsan, has come up with all sorts of bizarre argumentations and has gone to the length of expressing his lack of confidence in the Supreme Court bench, trying the case.
One wonders what the fate of the court judgments will be in this country, if a cantankerous government refuses to abide by the directives issued. People expect the government to strictly follow the law and ensure the enforcement of the court’s orders. The Constitution is unambiguous about the imperative of compliance with the judicial findings.
Delay in the disposal of such cases is bound to create an impression that the rich and the powerful are treated differently by the courts as against the ordinary citizens. It is desirable that the law is made equally applicable to all - rich and poor. The majesty of law must be made manifest.
The issue of civil-military relations needs to be sorted out - once and for all! The three cases, of the missing persons, the memogate and the mehrangate, surely, will yield landmark judgments. They are expected to stop the military and intelligence agencies from intruding into political affairs and indulging in extra - judicial activities, including manipulating election results.
The ISI has an important, nay a crucial, role to play for safeguarding the national interests. The agency, however, should have no business to interfere in political affairs, and influence party matters and the outcome of electoral results. General Kayani’s restraint has been recognised and appreciated. He should go a step further and ensure that no military officer violates the solemn oath – that is, not to involve himself in the country’s politics.
As for Pakistan-US relationship, the Parliamentary Committee has already placed its findings and recommendations before Parliament. The matter is to be discussed and debated in the joint sittings of the National Assembly and the Senate. The joint meeting is scheduled for three days. Let the various recommendations be thoroughly analysed and the session extended beyond three days. The previous pattern of verbal understandings with the USA must be replaced by written agreements. Pakistan’s integrity and sovereignty cannot be allowed to be compromised. Parliament has to play a decisive role in determining the conditions for the obligations agreed to, by both parties (after due process of scrutiny and consideration by concerned ministries). The relationship has to be transparent. Drone attacks violate our space and destroy civilian lives and property. Such strikes are definitely illegal and the US authorities have to be made to realise that they are indulging in unlawful activities.
The American record in Iraq and Afghanistan during the last decade or so has been deplorable, to say the least. In Iraq, hundreds of thousands of people were wantonly killed and displaced. Today, there is neither a workable democratic dispensation, nor peace and order in the country. Hundreds of Iraqis are bumped off every week. The attack on it was based on a false pretence. The failure in Afghanistan has also tarnished the US image beyond repair.
Congressman Walter Jones recently visited Bethesda Naval Hospital (outside Washington DC) to see the wounded troops. He met a young marine lance corporal, who had lost one leg. “My question is,” the marine asked Jones, “why are we still there (in Afghanistan)?” Wrote the other day, Maureen Dowd, a well known New York Times columnist: “The epitaph of our Sisyphean decade of two agonising wars was written last year by then Secretary of Defence Bob Gates: ‘Any future Defence Secretary, who advises the President to send a big American land army into Asia, or into the Middle East or Africa, should have his head examined’.”
It is time we tell Uncle Sam to stop interfering in our internal affairs and cease to violate our air and land space. We should be glad to help Washington manage a safe exit from Afghanistan and negotiate a settlement with the Afghan Taliban. It’s time we take a stand and faithfully implement Parliament’s directives in letter and in spirit.
The media and the Supreme Court are playing historic roles in establishing the rule of law and the viability of a democratic order in this benighted country.
The memogate, mehrangate and the PM’s contempt case will, hopefully, help to move the country towards a paradigm shift. The judgments in these cases will, to a large extent, clear the air and prepare the ground for the people of Pakistan to assert themselves in the forthcoming general elections.
The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.