As Pakistan heads towards parliamentary elections expected by the end of April, the country’s political situation is worsening fast. On Jan. 15, the Supreme Court ordered the arrests of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and 14 other co-accused, charged of receiving billions of rupees kickbacks in awarding tenders to rental power plants two years ago when he was as the minister for Water and Power.
Being the head of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), President Asif Ali Zardari is considered the controller of the prime minister, all members of his cabinet and their corruption. He has escaped punitive measures from the Supreme Court for the past five years because the country’s constitution protects the president and other state office bearers from criminal proceedings. However, the apex court pursued the prime ministers and other political office bearers on corruption charges. The court disqualified the previous Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani four months ago for disobeying the court order seeking the reopening of corruption cases against President Zardari in Swiss Courts that were closed by a controversial legislation during the era of retired General Musharraf .
Apart from the corruption allegations against the prime minister, the Supreme Court’s orders annoyed PPP supporters who dubbed it anti-democratic and considered the Supreme Court to have become a party against the government. The timing of the arrest orders was also critical. It was issued when controversial cleric Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri staged a sit-in with his 50,000 followers near to the parliament, demanding electoral reforms to end the capitalists control over politics. Riding in a bullet and bomb-proof luxury trailer, Qadri led the long march of vehicles from Lahore 300 kms away and staged a sit-in in the capital Islamabad which witnessed such an activity after decades. Despite his jugglery of words, antics, fast changing demands and carrying controversies and allegations of spending U.S. money on the march, Qadri created quite a political stir.
Spending billions of rupees on mobilizing people for the costliest ever political rally in history and pumping another billions to create media hype, Qadri badly failed in attracting common people to his march. The masses stayed away because politicians especially those close to west were fast losing credence. Yet people agreed to his demands of purging politics since continued corruption of politicians and bureaucrats deprived masses from basic facilities like power, fuel, gas, food etc.
Out of frustration, he kept changing his demands for his face-saving, beginning from dissolution of assemblies and election commission, and postponing elections to revolutionizing laws to kick out corrupt politicians. After four days of a tantalizing stay in cold weather, he was left with no option to withdrawing all of them.
In contrast to his politicians-bashing, Qadri praised the army and the judiciary for serving the country selflessly, indirectly pointing towards those institutions backing his march. Prior to the start of the long march, official quarters indicated Qadri enjoyed complete backing of army and judiciary, and that his march was a ‘soft intervention’ by the country’s powerful military. Indicating to judiciary’s acquiring supremacy in state affairs, some intellectuals foresaw Pakistan becoming a Bangladesh like model where judiciary banned political activities for two years in 2007.
Since ‘judicial revolution’ of Bangladesh remained unsupported by the masses, such a revolution looked a far cry in Pakistan too. Though Pakistani politicians carry a long legacy of corruption and bad governance, people believe they could strengthen democratic institutions by electing a new government after the present one completes its term in Feb 2013, only the third government to achieve this feat in history. Pakistani media and Western governments have been reiterating firmness that the army will stay away from interfering in politics.
Elections are expected to be held in early May, yet people fear they could be delayed considering the present tumultuous situation. The armed forces led by Gen Ashfaq Pervaiz Kiyani will be quite satisfied to see elected politicians running the country, yet this is also a reality that army will continue to enjoy control over security matters, foreign affairs and some strategic issues.
It was heartening to see none of the major political party welcoming Qadri’s antics and the implied demands to delay the elections, which reflects their commitment to democracy. In his capacity as PPP chairman, President Asif Zardari, and leader of opposition’s largest party PML-N, Nawaz Sharif, remained firm on their commitment that the parliament must complete its term and elections must not be delayed. Imran Khan, leader of fast emerging opposition party, Tehreek-i-Insaf, also fully backed this commitment.
The chances are slim that major countries of the world, particularly the donor countries of Pakistan, except China, could support any unconstitutional takeover of the government. Informed officials say army chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kiyani, who is enjoying a three year extension in his term, wants to retire now after serving for about six years at the most powerful office in the country. His successor will be chosen by the new government.
The army appears to have realized that distributing money among politicians and weakening the government serve only the personal interests of generals and not those of the country.
(Mansoor Jafar) is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached through email: mansoor.jafar [AT] gmail.com and Twitter: @mansoorjafar