Minds like sieves

Amina Jilani April 30, 2010

The top-shot leaderships, catapulted by whatever means into the various power houses that make a mess of the Republic of Pakistan, all members of which are unrepresentative of the millions of citizens of this country as they emerge from a cocooned minute minority, tend to adopt minds like sieves — convenient of course.

Amidst all the triumphant crowing about the flawed and partially undemocratic 18th constitutional amendment, not only has a lasting scar on the body politic, the 8th amendment, been put out of mind, but so have later amendments. On April Fool’s Day 1997, Mian Nawaz Sharif, the then prime minister of the massive ‘mundayte,’ brought in the 13th amendment, duly signed into law by the then president of the republic, Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari.

This amendment did away with the much used and abused Article 58(2)(b), stripping the president of his power to dissolve the National Assembly and rid himself of a troublesome prime minister. It also transferred from president to prime minister the powers to appoint governors and, most importantly and significantly, the army chief — obviously also the chiefs of the other two services but then who is worried about them? So who says that the present president is the first to sign away his powers?

The circumstances and situation may indeed be different — Leghari was not even a member of a political party let alone a party head. As of now, the politicians were leaping up and down claiming that democracy had won the day, that military dictatorships were things of the past, that politicians ruled the roost and forever would do so. Those were the days when Pakistan was handed out the second-worst score in the corruption stakes by Transparency International — not that we are any better today.

Fine and dandy, and even more fine and dandy a few months later when Sharif came up with the 14th amendment which brought to heel members of all political parties sitting in the assemblies. Legislators could be dismissed instantly if they were to speak or vote against their party. Having fixed the president and legislators, the prime minister moved on to the judiciary, with emphasis on the chief justice.

In November his party toughs physically invaded the Supreme Court (of which Sharif is now champion-in-chief), and a pro-Sharif revolt by the majority of its judges led to the resignation of both the president and the chief justice. Triumph indeed, and in 1998 he topped it up by selecting his own army chief. In October 1999, he tried to deselect and bring in a pliant general.

Lo and behold, the 13th amendment notwithstanding, he and the parliament were sent packing and the nation – having much rejoiced – settled down for the nine-year rule of General Pervez Musharraf. Now, 11 years down the line we have the 18th amendment, another triumph for another lot of politicians who have learnt nothing and forgotten all.

The president of the Republic, against all constitutional norms, remains the head of his political party and should he so desire has the power to remove his now all-powerful prime minister, should the need arise. Party elections are out, convicts and criminals are in. In Naudero on April 4, if press reports are to be believed, members of the PPP central executive committee (hero Raza Rabbani among them) “decided to empower President Zardari to decide all national issues despite the 18th amendment.”

Military dictatorship may be out for the moment, for as long as the western powers find it undesirable, but Zardari forgets that the military have ‘other means.’ In July 1993, General Waheed Kakar, then chief of army staff, tired of the dangerous antics of Mian Nawaz Sharif in his first round as prime minister (then powerless) under a meddlesome president, stepped in, waved his swagger stick, and in one fell swoop sent home both the prime minister and the president. There was no army coup — merely army action.