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بدھ، 16 جنوری، 2013

Is Pakistan in for an Arab Spring?

Pakistan has a healthy democratic environment culture which is being challenged by the militants and the radicalization of Pakistan is a threat which the democracy has to contend with. And only a military of Pakistan can create a context where the radical forces will have lesser say in the democratic polity of Pakistan.

Tuesday’s events have destabilised the political system and the country as a whole. First came Maulana Tahirul Qadri’s ultimatum of Monday night that the governments should dissolve the Assemblies and go home. He gave a deadline of 11:00 am Tuesday to carry out his ‘directive’. As it turned out, the logic of ground realities ensured that 11:00 am came and went and nothing stirred except the agitated supporters of Qadri in the rally in Islamabad. Qadri’s address to the rally was interrupted by another bombshell. The Supreme Court (SC) ordered the arrest of Prime Minister (PM) Raja Pervez Ashraf and others in the Rental Power Producers (RPP) case. The order is questionable on a number of grounds. First and foremost, the order was passed on the basis of a preliminary investigation report presented by NAB before the SC, which carried a rider that the recommendations of the report were subject to legal advice, which the court did not wait for. Nor did the bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry wait for the lawyers of the government and NAB, who were not able to appear on the day, to present their side of the story. The order therefore is flawed on the benchmark of an incomplete investigation, arrest orders without any conviction by a court of law, arbitrary, and ex parte. Although the order evoked immense joy amongst the rally participants and Qadri went so far as to say that half the work was done, the other half would follow the next day, it also aroused a great deal of anxiety, not only amongst the supporters of the government, but across the political spectrum. Criticism of the court’s order followed, with great suspicion being voiced about the legality of the order as well as its timing. The SC has unfortunately, through this step, opened itself up to a new controversy, which cannot be good for the standing of the judiciary. Whether the order was passed coincidentally at the exact moment Qadri and his followers were hurling all kinds of demands and threats against the political system on Constitution Avenue in Islamabad or, as some critics have said, was playing to the gallery by the SC, we leave to the imagination of the reader. In the RPP hearing in question, the NAB chairman was castigated and issued a contempt notice on the grounds that NAB had misused the name of the SC to dismiss two NAB investigators in charge of the case. Further, the NAB chairman was made responsible for putting the name of the PM and others named to be arrested on the Exit Control List and told he would be held responsible if any of these people left the country.

This development produced its toll. The Karachi stock market crashed by 525 points. The SC’s order for arresting the PM provoked angry, sometimes violent protests in interior Sindh, including exchange of firing in Hyderabad between protestors and shopkeepers, blocking of the National Highway, large parts of Karachi shut down, and the country braced with bated breath and in shock for further trouble. Imran Khan joined the MQM’s chorus in support of Qadri’s agenda, with the rider that the PTI would prefer change through the ballot box, whereas Qadri claimed that his 40,000 supporters at the Islamabad rally were sufficient to prove that the government had lost its mandate and should immediately go.

Not only the conspiracy minded, even ordinary citizens are forced to speculate that this series of developments coming thick and fast on each other’s heels could not be a coincidence, and that suspicion centres on a deep rooted conspiracy to abort the upcoming elections that are to be held under the constitution in the light of the 18th Amendment, which enjoins the treasury and opposition to come to a consensus on a Chief Election Commissioner and a caretaker setup that would be non-partisan and conduct free, fair and transparent elections. The historic nature of the moment is not lost on those with a sense of history. It may not be an accident therefore that these ‘concerted’ moves appear just as the country is poised to stabilise the polity through an agreed procedure and move on to a relatively consolidated democratic system. The actors up front are obvious: Qadri, MQM (half in half out), Imran Khan (in but with a difference), and sundry others who either do not have a stake in the present dispensation or want a shortcut to power. What is not obvious are the possible hidden hands orchestrating these moves and playing the situation like piano keys. This discordant melody can and will be exposed only in the fullness of time. Meanwhile, the advice to all citizens is: fasten your seat belts.

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