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Opposition leaders walk out of Parliament. Below: Scene of the general strike

Opposition Must Put Action Where its Mouth Is

By Dr. Tarique Niazi

WISCONSIN, 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.

The 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).

The 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.

Leaders 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 of fasting.

The 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.

He 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.

First, 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 and corruption.

To 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.

What 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 democracy.

In 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?

A 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.

In 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.”

Its 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 Siddiqi
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.

Third, 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.

If 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 dictatorship.

Every 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.

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