Today Pakistan’s dominant crisis is the judicial crisis, the battle between the lawyers and the army-controlled government. The debate on how to resolve it is endless. Seen as the make or break crisis for the Musharraf government the government went into high gear to ‘damage control.’ Conversely majority of the political Opposition is going ahead full steam to use this crisis to put pressure on the Musharraf government. The government will likely tide the storm. That however does not address our more crucial challenge. Yet reeling from the decades long absence of rule of law and its direct role in the US-Saudi funded covert war orchestrated in the name of Islam and religion, Pakistan is experiencing the more fundamental battle over what ruling framework is to be applied for managing State and society in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s cumulative crisis of governance and unintended consequences of foreign policy decisions have created fragmentation and discontent in large sections of the Pakistani society. Denial of justice combined with absence of compassion has left people searching for extraordinary solutions. Those occupying public space, whether to promote shariah enforcement, peoples’ political and economic rights, national sovereignty, provincial autonomy, patriotism, sectarianism or transnationalist war against the US and against ‘unIslamic forces’ , can be divided into three categories. Even if all of them today are critical of the government and of a general in uniform, the fundamental political contest represents a three way divide. This contest is a contest essentially over the framework within which State power must be exercised.
There are endless daily manifestations of this framework contest. The following recent events reveal the three approaches that the contestants apply.
(*) On March 25 in Mingora the banned Tehreek Nafaz-e-Sharia Muhammadi (TNSM) has set a 72-hour deadline for the release of former TNSM chief Maulana Sufi Muhammad, threatening suicide attacks all over the country if the demand is not met. TNSM workers participated in a public meeting at Mela Ground in Matta after forcing their way through several roadblocks set up by the administration. Addressing the participants, TNSM leaders Maulana Abdul Haq, Maulana Dost Muhammad and Maulana Safiullah warned the government that 100 suicide bombers were ready to hit various targets across Pakistan if Sufi Muhammad was not freed. On March 26 the girl students of Jamia Hafsa launched a campaign against video centres in the federal capital on Monday.
The seminary statement said that the "Students of Jamia Hafsa and Lal Masjid have started making rounds of various markets of the city, including the Melody Market, as part of their drive against video shops…"The statement said that girl students also entered a ‘brothel’. "Women teachers and students found fully made-up girls in the brothel, while they (the people in the brothel) were disturbed to see burqa-clad (veiled) girls." The girl students claimed that the manager of the brothel threatened them, while they told her that "they only fear Allah". "We will not back off because of your threats. We don’t fear anyone," the students told the manager. They said that the brothel owner had also tried to intimidate their teachers over the phone.
The Supreme Court is currently hearing the case of missing persons. According to many human rights groups and families of the missing persons various law enforcement agencies are responsible for their disappearance. On March 26 Contesting general Musharraf’s position that most disappeared persons were Islamic militants who had disappeared to participate in jihad the HRCP chairperson Asma Jehangir said that at least 60 percent to 70 percent on the list of the 141 disappeared people that we have given to the Supreme Court are Sindhi and Baloch nationalists. The same day the president of Supreme Court Bar Association said that "Our demands, which include withdrawal of the presidential order and restoration of the chief justice, are non-negotiable." While the reference was Constitutional the President’s order to render the Chief Justice "ineffective" was not.
(*) On March 26 the Governor of Punjab general Maqbool said on a television network that the country’s judicial crisis had neither weakened democracy in Pakistan nor had it weakened general Musharraf’s standing. On the same day in Peshawar the Federal Political Affairs Minister Amir Muqam has asked religious scholars to support President Musharraf’s initiatives for the development and progress of the nation. Talking to a delegation of Muslim League Ulema and Mashaikh Wing led by Maulana Muhammad Shoaib, Muqam said that President Musharraf was working for the progress of the nation and that every Pakistani should be proud of his inspirational leadership.
Underlying these events that fall under the rubric of defiance of State power and the endless official and opposition statement that occupy public space there is essentially a three way ‘frame-work contest’ underway. One a totalitarian framework, two a Democratic-Constitutional frame-work and three an Establishment-controlled framework
Those promoting a totalitarian framework believe their way is the only ‘right way.’ It must be promoted at all costs. There is no room for debate and democracy. That they are not accountable to anyone but to their own belief system however they understand it to be. Those promoting the Democratic-Constitutional framework believe in the rule of law at all costs and that State authority must be exercised within the framework of the Constitution. Most democratic forces when in power have not fully supported rule of law. And finally those promoting an Establishment-controlled framework are those who believe that they alone understand how to best manage the affairs of State and society even by violating the spirit and letter of the Constitution. Pakistan has seen various models of this framework ranging from general Ayub to general Zia ul Haq and now general Musharraf’s model. Musharraf’s model is one that has given maximum space for freedom of expression and of dissent. It does set limits and extracts a price from dissenters as for example in the case of Baluchistan.
Significantly the three way contest is not a static one in which the contestants will remain locked in their positions. It is a dynamic contest insofar as these contestants will respond to changing circumstances. The creation of these categories was caused by how the State and those who wielded State power in Pakistan have functioned. Essentially these categories have been a response to Pakistani State and government to play by any rules. Absence of fair play and of short-sighted policies has led to this three way framework contest. The presence of fair-play will attract many, not the hard core, more towards rule of rule and away from supporting a totalitarian framework.
This is not a contest between equals. The State still wields the maximum power in a context within which many substate powerful and disruptive actors have emerged. However the only way that this contest can be won is if the State opts for rule of law, it seeks to promote Constitutional rule. That alone will create an environment within which the State will find allies from the political and peoples groups who will join forces with the State to promote rule of law. Half-way journey towards rule of law will not work.
The first step in that direction must be a fair and free elections. The return of the exiled leaders alone will ensure that. In the absence of rule of law Pakistan may find an increasing number of its well meaning and patriotic citizens making the nightmarish choice of supporting a totalitarian framework for exercising State power.