WASHINGTON DC, Sept 8, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Opposition leaders meet in Islamabad, Below: Street protests in Karachi

Opposition Takes Crucial Step to Dump the Islam Karimov of Pakistan

By Dr. Tarique Niazi

WISCONSIN, September 8: The 4th of September will go down in history of Pakistan as the beginning of the end of military dictatorships in Pakistan.

The All Parties Conference (APC) that met on the 4th called upon Gen. Musharraf to step down as “President” and quit the army command. It has unequivocally declared that he is unacceptable in or out of uniform. To back up its call with action, the APC has announced a nation-wide strike on September 9 to shut down the whole country to protest the continuation of military dictatorship since 1999.

The APC is made up of the country’s liberal-conservative alliance that is respectively represented by the Alliance for Restoration for Democracy (ARD) and the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). Both alliances have come across from a gulf of divisions that were assiduously sown by Gen. Musharraf to keep them divided.

What has now brought the two together to forge an unprecedented unity against dictatorship? The broad-day heist of local governments’ elections that Musharraf held on August 18 and 25 and their robbery with “state-sponsored terrorism” is what has united them. The stealing of these elections has left the democratic opposition in no doubt that fair and free elections cannot be held on Gen. Musharraf’s watch.

Every democrat has now come to believe that he has to go and go soon if democracy is to return to Pakistan. He is the deathly contradiction of democracy and democracy is the fatal opposite of his. The two simply cannot coexist; one has to go for the other to live. He puts on the trappings of democracy by going through the farce of elections only to seek “legitimacy” for his illegitimate power.

He has long held this illusion that if he can secure the majority of popular vote, his “original sin” of power-grab will be forgiven. However, no elections, no matter how fair, can wash that sin, let alone fake ones.

His military seizure of power is the fatal breach of the Constitution, which only a court of law, not an electorate, can judge. Anticipating his fate under the law, he has lost faith in the courts either, although he has them recast in his own image by conducting a wide purge.

In January, 2000, he fired six of the 11 Supreme Court Justices who dared to accept for hearing a petition against his military coup. Later, he packed the Court with his hand-picked judges, and forced the entire bench to swear its allegiance away from the Constitution to his PCO (Provisional Constitution Order), which he issued in 1999 to substitute the Constitution.

Not only did the PCO put him above the Supreme Court, but it also subordinated the Federal Shariat Court to his will. With a stroke of pen, he, thus, became the Caesar who could double as God. Although the PCO was junked in 2002, the Supreme Court’s oath of loyalty to this charade remains intact to this day. He has not let any of the judges who took oath on the PCO to re-swear their allegiance back to the Constitution, because the Constitution punishes his coup with death. As a result, he has gone on throttling all the most basic democratic institutions of popular sovereignty, an independent judiciary, the Constitution, and above all democracy as a system of governance.

His hopelessness has now persuaded the democratic opposition that it cannot vote its way to democracy as long as Gen. Musharraf is in occupation of Pakistan. He has blocked all democratic avenues of peaceful change to keep himself in power.

Since his occupation, there is no institution left in the country that is powerful enough to hold him to account. He has turned the parliament, the judiciary, and the executive into forced accomplices of his military dictatorship. The parliament provides legislative cover to his unconstitutional rule as it did in the acceptance of the Legal Framework Order (LFO), the passage of the 17th amendment, the rushing through of the “Act of Parliament” to let him retain the office of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), and substitution of the presidential election with a “parliamentary vote of confidence.”

The judiciary does the same – legalizes his coup, blesses his unconstitutional presidential referendum, rules in his retention of the army command, and stays content with the mutilation of the Constitution. The executive keeps the “Pakistani street” clear of democratic marchers, jails his opponents, and shoulders his dictatorship.

The only source of resistance to his totalitarian reach is the military. Having weighed down by this fact, he already has divided it into three distributions of the top, the middle, and the base by systematically having its command ethnicized, personalized, and politicized.

Although the top that benefits from his dictatorship largely stays loyal to him, it is the broad middle and the broadest base where his moral authority as “leader of the men” has sunk to alarming lows. One may wonder, then, how he has weathered this division to continue into power. The answer lies in the long-held tradition of exemplary discipline of the Pakistani military that is ironically sustaining his dictatorship and subverting democracy.

The depth of this discipline can be gauged from its refusal in 1948 to take orders from an “unarmed” Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and its submission to the “armed will” of its British commander-in-chief. It has since kept up this tradition of serving its “military commanders” and doing in its “political leaders.” This exemplary discipline, however, is now fast eroding, as evidenced in a string of assassination bids that were mounted against Gen. Musharraf. Each of these bids was traced to the middle and the base of the military.

Yet he is willing to pit the military against the democratic opposition to keep himself in power. By all indications, he will fight the return of democracy to the last. His ultimate refuge from the surging storm of popular movement is raw force. He came to power at gun point and he will stay in power at the point of gun.

However, just as his coming to power was a one-off event, so will be his departure from power -- forever. He is not a democrat who will absorb her/his losses today in the hope of a comeback tomorrow. For him, there is neither hope nor tomorrow; only a despair of obscurity.

More importantly, unlike democrats, he has employed himself in a “dead-end job” where there is no way forward. Once out of job, he would have nothing but his obituary to look forward to, as had his predecessor dictators -- Sikandar Mirza, Ayub, Yahya and Zia.

Terrified of an insurgent democratic movement, he has recently taken the ax to his democratic opposition. He has attempted to split the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), especially two of its dominant parties – the Jamaat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) by placing the JUI on the Supreme Court’s chopping bloc, while menacing the Jamaat-e-Islami with a ban on its operation.

Similarly, he has been sowing divisions in the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) and its two dominant parties – the center-right Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and the center-left Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). By shutting their leaders out of the country, he apparently has turned off the mobilization power of the ARD.

The worst victim of his machinations, however, has been the unity of the liberal-conservative alliance of the ARD and the MMA, which he has kept apart, against his dictatorship. The moment the two agreed on a democratic challenge to him, he deftly linked the MMA to extremism and terrorism.

Suddenly, it was transformed into legions of barbarians at the gates, who were ready to seize the nuclear-armed Pakistan. This image of the MMA had the secular ARD and the gullible west cringing in fear. No one cared to ask if the MMA was such an extremist or a terrorist outfit, why is Musharraf propping up his dictatorship on its shoulders in two of Pakistan’s four provinces? Why does he still insist that MMA leaders sit on the National Security Council (NSC) that supposedly deliberates on such highly sensitive issues as “the war on terror,” “strategic implications of American operation in Afghanistan,” “the ethnic balance in the government in Kabul,” and “authenticity of American intelligence on Taliban?”

It is about time the PML and PPP stopped making fool of themselves and took a leaf from the General’s own playbook that they successfully did on September 4 by attending the APC that was called by Jamaat-e-Islami. They should have long ago brought the MMA into the mainstream political life and enlisted its immense street power for a democratic challenge to military dictatorship.

Both should have stood up in defense of the MMA that is neither an extremist nor a terrorist organization. It is a political grouping of conservative Muslims, who firmly believe in the democratic governance of Pakistan. Two of its component parties find natural allies in the mainstream center-right PML and the center-left PPP. The Jamaat-e-Islami that largely has urban base of support gravitates to the urban-based PML, and the JUI that has a broader constituency among Baloch and Pakhtun minorities embraces the minority-dominated PPP.

The challenge for the opposition, however, has been to bring together the MMA and the ARD into a democratic movement against the destructive advance of Musharraf’s dictatorship. On September 4, the opposition did just that. The two alliances – the ARD and the MMA – swore to rid the country of military dictatorship once and for all. They issued a loud and clear message that time for Musharraf is up. This message came out of the opposition’s deeply-held conviction that it cannot vote its way to democracy as long as Gen. Musharraf holds the forte. The natural corollary of this message is to immediately form a national unity government with a two-fold mandate”

(i) to restructure the Election Commission of Pakistan
(ii) to hold elections within 90 days as stipulated in the constitution

These demands, however, should be backed up with a solid action. The opposition cannot sound appealing in its demand for Gen. Musharraf to leave the scene if it goes on sitting in a parliament that exists only to strengthen his dictatorship and weaken democracy.

The opposition must quit the parliament to show its seriousness. It has 45 per cent of seats in both houses – National Assembly and the Senate. If it resigned en masse, there wouldn’t be any parliament left. Soon, the entire nation would line up behind its demand for Musharraf to step down.

Opposition’s mass resignation also will crack up the top military brass, bringing Musharraf under unbearable pressure to quit. For such a possibility, the opposition needs to have its “Rashid Dostum” ready to block all flight paths to a fleeing dictator.

The opposition may further raise the stakes for the dictator by making a two-step call for civil disobedience. First, it may invoke the universal democratic principle of “no taxation without representation,” and ask the under-delivered, overtaxed Pakistanis to stop paying taxes, which are going into subsidizing an illegal and unconstitutional military dictatorship.

Similarly, it may consider advising all domestic creditors to stop advancing loans to finance a military dictatorship after a well-defined cut-off date, for which future governments will not accept responsibility. In such measures, the opposition may seek the goal of starving the beast of dictatorship.

Second, it may call on civil and military personnel to refuse the orders of an illegal and unconstitutional military dictatorship. It may warn those who make the top of the civil and military bureaucracy of punitive action, under the law, for abetting an illegal and unconstitutional regime.

Many opposition leaders tend to contemplate to supplement such calls with advice to all authorized personnel in civil and military branches to hunt the country’s military dictator and bring him to justice for his trespass on the Constitution. They are relying on the military law that obligates every officer in uniform, right from a 2nd Lieutenant to a 4-star General, to arrest any of their comrades-in-arm who have committed an act of sedition.

The opposition, however, must remember that if there ever was time to mount a democratic challenge to Musharraf’s military dictatorship, it is now. If the opposition is ready to seize this moment in the cause of building a democratic Pakistan and willing to go all the way to bring democracy to the country, it will find Gen. Musharraf’s dictatorship no more fortified than a “house of cards” that it has become.

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