President Asif Ali Zardari got sick and had to go to the UAE to get medically looked after. The media began to talk most blatantly about his ‘exit’ from Pakistan without realising what it would look like to anyone looking in from outside the country. The visceral, non-intellectual approach to the issue of the president’s illness conveyed the extent of degradation Pakistan has allowed itself when it comes to democracy. It recalled the ‘escape’ from the political system by two former prime ministers: Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mr Nawaz Sharif.
The quality of comment assumed that not only was the exit of President Zardari welcome as a step towards ‘cleansing’ the system from corruption but, also, that the earlier departures of the two prime ministers were good for Pakistan.
From the nature and quality of discussion in the country, it appears that there is a consensus against the democratic process and there is subliminal support for any unconstitutional replacement that may be in the offing. No one cares for the Constitution because the reflex of ignoring it in favour of military intervention is highly developed. Public statements after the memogate affair are worshipful of the Pakistan Army and accusations of ‘treason’ are being directed at an elected government. (It would be a first in the history of democracy if treason is presented as a crime aimed against the army.) No one is thinking of the constitutional way of changing the government — that of challenging it to show majority in parliament or waiting till the next elections in 2013 and defeating it at the polls. President Zardari has to be removed because the next elections may not be ‘fair’ under him. No one thinks of what the Constitution says.
Governance in Pakistan was never exemplary and now that the situation of law and order has become this bad — because of al Qaeda and sundry other state-supported non-state actors — it is possible that it would be even more abysmal under any post-PPP government. Politicians who would remove President Zardari seem to have a worldview which sees nothing wrong with reconciling with non-state actors who commit acts of terrorism and militancy.
There are cases being heard by the Supreme Court involving the PPP government and President Zardari, but no one makes any pretence of remaining impartial till the honourable court has delivered its verdict. It appears as if the accused is being prejudged and as if a groundswell of ‘national consensus’ is perhaps guiding the honourable court.
Pretend to be a non-Pakistani for a moment and one will see that that there is a collective tendency for self-destruction in all this. Intense politicians looking for populist acclaim repeat that President Zardari is partisan and that, somehow, it is not right that he is president and leader of the party at the same time. The truth is, the Constitution is silent on the matter and a future legislature must amend it to disallow a party leader becoming president. Innovative legalist thinking expects that where the Constitution is silent, the Supreme Court will somehow stretch its activist agenda and remove this constitutional grey area.
Instead of doing all this, why not wait till the next elections and force the PPP government to meet its comeuppance? If corruption has become a national crisis and there is no way out left but to kick out an elected government prematurely, again the Constitution will need to be amended if the PPP’s majority in the National Assembly can’t be broken.
It doesn’t look nice that the people of Pakistan are currently giving the impression of ganging up against their own elected government and that even the Supreme Court is being made to look like the bellwether of the march in all this. The media and the politicians are their visceral worst, if for nothing else, than for the crime of consolidating the traditional supremacy of the army. The PPP government’s mode of survival, given these circumstances, is to blindly follow the lead of the military. Surely, it needs to assert itself and, for this, its biggest strength would be its electorate and no other institution.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2011.