The deficit of political choice

Amina Jilani April 14, 2010

Democratically speaking, there can never be enough newspapers, as there can never be enough blogs and television channels — and heaven knows (as we do) that Pakistan has a fair share of the last lot.

Some fall by the wayside, others irritate, some are outrageous, others unwatchable, and there are of course, those that induce acute boredom. But, again democratically speaking, we welcome all as we are free to move on from one to another, to pastures fresh. When it comes to the media we live in an age of mass and instant communication and of wide choice — so let’s be happy on that score.

When it comes to governments of Pakistan, to the country’s politics and its politicians, our choice has been restricted for more decades than we wish to remember. Right now as leaders of the two main political parties – one doubling as head of state and the other lurking in the wings waiting for the lifting of his royal bar on elected participation – gentlemen who have been with us on the political scene, hanging around for far too long without ever shedding their skins.

They, and we, do not believe in moving on. Asif Ali Zardari came to us in 1988 courtesy of his wife, 22 years ago, and Mian Sahib of Lahore and Raiwind started off in 1985, 25 years ago, courtesy of General Ziaul Haq. Both are dodgy characters, in their own different ways, but their charm, their clout, their money, or their ‘ways and means’ have managed to persuade a brainwashed electorate that one or the other is the answer to their woes.

Of course, they never have been and today with certainty it can be said they are not. Who on earth truly believed that the party of Benazir Bhutto and that of Nawaz Sharif could ever unite in the public interest? That much touted document, the Charter of Democracy, drawn up and signed in London in May 2006 was nothing but an effort in the interest of each to face up to a common enemy.

In the tragedy of December 2007 that removed Benazir, Zardari staged his coup, took over the PPP, set his sights on the presidency for a number of valid reasons, managed to outsmart and renege on arrangements made between him, the mighty US and General Musharraf, and, voila, set himself up as our accidental president.

With the common enemy removed there was absolutely no reason to continue the footsie game with Nawaz Sharif. The latest bout of squabbling was over the spoils of power handed down by a mutilated constitution and inadequate amendments.

The 17th amendment cannot possibly go in toto, for if it did this entire governmental structure would go with it. A large number of parliamentarians owe their seats to Musharraf and his upping of the numbers in the assemblies and senate — we trust they are duly grateful. As for the transfer of any powers, it makes not a bit of difference as long as the party chief holds sway over his appointed prime minister — and over them all looms the shadow of the army chief. And when it comes to benefiting the people, it is all but a bluff.

The 8th amendment, with its entailing wickedness, remains firmly ensconced in our constitution. To take but one instance, what use are the laws that this democratic government has come up with regarding the rights of women when the Hudood Ordinances not only exist but are functioning, as are the laws of evidence, both of which are heavily discriminatory against women?

How are democracy and human rights served – and how is democracy any form of revenge – when sitting in the Pakistan Penal Code are the iniquitous blasphemy laws dreamed up by Ziaul Haq, a perfect tool to be used by those seeking personal revenge or material gain?

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