leaders walk out of Parliament. Below: Scene of the general strike
Opposition Must Put Action Where its Mouth Is
By Dr. Tarique Niazi
October 3: The liberal-conservative alliance of the democratic
Opposition in Pakistan has moved critically forward with its public
declaration on September 27 to make a final push against military
dictatorship in coming days. Having found all lawful avenues of
articulation closed upon itself for the past six years, the Opposition
has decided to take its case for democracy to the “Pakistani
street” in the ultimate showdown
with the country’s dictator.
democratic Opposition has come a long way to agree on its unified
agenda. A consensus began to emerge when its liberal arm in the
Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) held an All Parties
Conference (APC) on August 11, which also was attended by its
conservative competitor in the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).
APC resolved to mount a no-holds-barred challenge to an illegitimate
regime in power. Days after the APC, the MMA held a National Leaders
Conference (NLC) on September 4 that was attended, among others,
by the ARD as well. The NLC declared that fair and free elections
are impossible on Gen. Musharraf’s watch, which it will
not contest unless Gen. Musharraf steps down. To follow through
on its resolve and demonstrate unprecedented unity in its ranks,
the Opposition’s liberal-conservative alliance called for
a nation-wide strike on September 9, which put the entire country
out of business. Despite this grand success, the need, however,
is to put dictatorship out of business.
of the liberal-conservative alliance again gathered in Lahore
on Sept. 27 to pay homage to the late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan,
an icon of democracy whom Jehangir Badr, a leader of the Pakistan
People’s Party (PPP), put next to M.A. Jinnah and Z.A. Bhutto
in the pantheon of Pakistani leaders, on his second death anniversary.
On this occasion, they each resolved to launch a final push against
the continuation of military dictatorship after Ramadan, the month
ARD Chief Makhdoom Amin Faheem, while paying rich tributes to
the late Nasrullah Khan, emphatically vowed: “Pakistan and
dictatorship cannot coexist. The time has come for pro-Pakistan
forces to unite against anti-Pakistan dictatorship.” He
warned the nation of “government agencies” (a reference
to the national intelligence agencies) that Musharraf has tasked
to keep it divided.
said: “We reject past, present, and future dictators. We
shall walk hand in hand with the MMA to put an end to military
dictatorship once and for all.” The ARD Secretary General
Zafar Iqbal Jhagra challenged his colleagues in the Opposition
“to mean what they say.” The Pakistan that thirsts
for a deep gulp of democracy will say “Amen” to Mr
Jhagra’s challenge. Here is, however, a thought for the
Opposition to put action where its mouth is.
it must remember that it cannot see its resolve taken seriously
unless it is ready to pay the price, although insignificant, for
its cause: Resign en masse from the Parliament whose very existence
is meant to shoulder the Musharraf dictatorship. The Opposition
has close to 140 seats in the National Assembly alone, and a similar
percentage in the Senate. Its mass resignation will bring the
Parliament down and knock out the spine of dictatorship. Above
all, it will give the Opposition and its struggle for democracy
a moral edge to defeat a government built on a biped of coercion
deny the Opposition this moral edge, Gen. Musharraf will have
every incentive to send the Parliament packing long before his
foes have a chance to quit it. If Gen. Musharraf acts smart and
dissolves the Parliament before the Opposition kisses it goodbye,
he will have the latter fatally discredited with the masses. It
will, then, be seen as a “greedy bunch” that continued
to cling to the “crumbs of perks” to the last minute,
until it had its back printed with Musharraf’s jackboot.
is puzzling, however, is the Opposition’s unwariness of
the cost of losing such a moral initiative? A case in point is
its scramble for the “cut-rate democracy” of unabashedly
rigged local government elections has only helped to breathe longer
life into the muscles of dictatorship and suck it out of parliamentary
its struggle for democracy, the Opposition’s weakest link,
many believe, has been the MMA’s leader Maulana Fazlur-Rahman,
who is the biggest hurdle in the path of Opposition’s mass
resignation from the Parliament. Gen. Musharraf knows to his delight
this soft belly of the Opposition. Which is why he is doing everything
that he needs to do to keep the Maulana aboard the “gravy
train” that his dictatorship has become?
number of MMA supporters publicly acknowledge that the Maulana’s
presence in the Opposition has been a double-edged weapon against
its cause for democracy: It has helped Gen. Musharraf just as
much as it has harmed the democratic movement. The ARD, especially
the PML and PPP (listed alphabetically) will better serve the
cause of democracy by leaving Maulana Fazlur-Rahman alone to find
his own way, should he refuse to abide by the decision of mass
resignations from the Parliament.
Second, the Opposition should
think and act like a government in the making. One way of doing
this is to announce the formation of the “National Unity
Government” (NUG), which is to hold elections within 90
days of its assumption of office. It is critically important to
have such a government in place, for Pakistan is the world’s
only country of its size and strength, which is enslaved to the
will of a wayward man who is accountable to none but himself.
If he does not wake up one morning, it will trigger chaos, especially
in the ranks of the Opposition. It is therefore way too important
for the Opposition to stand ready to step into such a breach as
and when it occurs, while struggling for the defeat of dictatorship.
anticipation, the Opposition should have all matters related to
the nature, size and leadership of the National Unity Government
settled. An early announcement of the formation of a Unity Government
will boost the Opposition’s credibility with the masses,
i.e., it means business. The National Unity Government should
be manned and womanned by completely “non-partisans.”
members should be disallowed to contest elections. No party of
the democratic movement should name its members to the Unity Government.
Its size should not exceed more than 16 to 20 cabinet members.
Its leader should be even more carefully chosen, and partisanship
in her/his choice should be even more scrupulously avoided. Here
are a few names for the leadership of a National Unity Government
to do brainstorming:
1. Chief Justice Saeed-uz-Zaman
2. Ms Asma Jehangir
3. Jurist Hamid Khan
4. Justice Ameer-ul-Mulk Mengal (despite his brief association
with Musharraf, his honesty and integrity still remains unassailed).
The announcement of a consensus
Unity Government will act as the mass mobilizer for democracy
on the one hand, and “daisy cutter” for dictatorship
on the other.
in parallel to the National Unity Government, the Opposition should
also decide beforehand the formation of the Election Commission
of Pakistan (ECP). It belittles itself by asking the illegitimate
Musharraf regime to restructure the ECP. The Opposition, initially,
may consider Justice Tariq Mahmood as the Chief Election Commissioner
(CEC) and all five of the six Supreme Court Justices, who refused
to re-swear their allegiance away from the Constitution of Pakistan
to the Musharraf Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) in January
2000, as its members.
that is not workable, members of the Supreme Court Bar Association
and those of the Pakistan Bar Council be enlisted to re-make the
ECP. It should be modeled on the Supreme Court of Pakistan in
terms of its administrative and financial autonomy and its “eminent
domain” over the executive branch with judicial power. Once
announced, the ECP should begin its work immediately by holding
its exploratory sittings in all capital cities including Islamabad.
Not only will such sittings herald the dawn of democracy closer,
they also will further drown the prospects of the survival of
democrat in Pakistan acknowledges that the liberal-conservative
alliance in the Opposition is the last ray of hope for returning
democracy to the country. In the past, it has missed umpteen “lifelines”
to show the dictator the door. This time around, it has only one
lifeline left: the support of the masses. Should the Opposition
decide to call the people for the cause of democracy, it had better
mean what it says! And the litmus test for its seriousness is
this: Is it willing to resign en masse from the Parliament, or
is it still waiting for a giant kick to have itself pushed out
of it? Let the Opposition put action where its mouth is.