Why Nawaz Sharif And His Undeterred Daughter Are Ready To Risk It All
That Constitution civilises people is well known. That constitution guarantees basic human rights and civil liberties such as freedom of speech is a concept many have easily grasped. It is, however, lesser appreciated in political discourse that constitution underpins the organisation of government and determines how the country is to be governed. These enshrined rules are the foundational blocks of state functioning, separation of powers and mode of governance. These constitutional points are deliberated and agreed upon after a negotiation process between elected political class, civil society organisations and legal community. Perhaps this is why a study in 2009 revealed the average time for drafting a constitution is 16 months. German philosopher Freidrich Hegel called it ‘consciousness of rationality….; so far as that consciousness is developed in a particular nation.’ Constitutional deference has translated into political debate and discourse in democracies around the world, informed by constitutional demands.
Polarisation in Pakistan’s politics is actually split along constitution, in more ways than imagined. Pakistan’s politics has moved into dictatorships in complete abandonment of constitution but moved back into democracy. From elected governments in the 90’s to Musharraf’s emergency/suspension of constitution, not much was left to debate. Former was constitutional, the latter a contravention of constitution. One was right, the other was wrong. It was as clear as the distinction between black and white.
In today’s Pakistan, there has been an attempt to grace extra constitutional forms of government. The abject disregard for elected government being sole arbiters of decision making and policy ranging from foreign policy to domestic is appalling. One has to be naïve to miss this striking indifference to Pakistan’s constitution which places Parliament and PM office at the helm of affairs. The gate no.4 regular from Rawalpindi, Minister Sheikh Rasheed claims on national TV that he is spokesperson of the armed forces who have underwritten and guaranteed continuity of the system.
A retired General and approved spokesperson compares Pakistan army’s popularity to political parties on national television. In their more unthinking moments, the quest to control narrative by overlords has translated into ridiculous notions of ‘hybrid government’ spewed on national TV. Similarly, thousands of Twitterati flock to defend criticism of the establishment’s political angle and swiftly label critics as ‘traitors’.
That legitimising a ‘hybrid government’ is blatant rejection of Pakistan’s constitution cannot be underestimated. That establishment’s role in filtering political candidates has zero constitutional grounding cannot be ignored. In bicameral setup, with a directly elected Parliament and Prime Minister, there must be no room for debate over who is in charge of Pakistan’s legislation and government policy. Grandiose, romanticised and popular notions of Hybrid government run by Army and Prime Minister in close collaboration showcase an era of political discourse that seems to have gone above and beyond constitution.
While political interference by powers-that-be in Pakistan can be traced back to 1950’s (explicit in dictatorships), the increased understanding and true extent of it however became known relatively later. Two factors led to it: the consistent effort for government upheaval in 1990’s. The penchant to remove ‘deviant’ PM’s like Benazir and then blue eyed Nawaz Sharif became clearer as both civilian leaders spoke against efforts to remove them.
Second, the rise and rise of electronic and social media laid bare the dirty gimmicks in power corridors to unsettle elected governments, legislation manhandling and so on. To take stock of Cyril Almeida’s infamous theory of changing variables in the equation to achieve the same outcomes is crucial. Be it using Presidential power to send an elected government packing or pulling strings from behind the scenes, the powers-that-be have been successful in consolidating power.
The politicians, however, remained unsuccessful. Through faults of their own and systemic targeting and dismantling by the overlords, mainstream politicians have run around like pawns for decades. The biggest disruption to the trend has been Nawaz Sharif. In stark contrast to Nawaz of the 80’s and early 90’s, his fire breathing, anti-establishment narrative packaged in ‘vote ko izzat dou’ has brought a polarised polity at an impasse. Here is a man who has changed and fired more Chief of Army Staffs than anybody in this country. The three-time Prime Minister understands the system inside out. His is a stance that offers a turning of the tables in alignment with the constitution. Nawaz’s tussles with the powerful establishment in no less than three governments seem to have provided him with the one lesson: asserting control via negotiation and backdoor politics is useless. Case in point, calling on Jindal for backdoor diplomacy yielded nothing when facing a strongly embedded national security wisdom. Sacking close aides over Dawn leaks resulted in zero furtherance of political space. Inviting Vajpayee to Lahore against military’s wishes triggered Kargil. One can go on and on.
For tables to turn and the infamous ‘equation of changing variables to be broken’, Nawaz Sharif and co seem to have realised an all-out war must be undertaken for survival. This is exactly why the elder Sharif and his undeterred daughter are ready to stake it all. Maryam Nawaz’s statement hinting at jail for Asim Bajwa is just the start. The resultant sloganeering after Shahbaz Sharif’s arrest is manifestation of that dangerous sentiment.
From the time when hanging Zulfikar Bhutto was the only viable option to demanding accountability for dictators and challenging interference by the overlords, Pakistan’s political class has come a long way. In many ways, Nawaz Sharif is the exception, not the norm. On one side of the aisle, there are those who believe in constitutional supremacy and by extension, civilian supremacy. There are those who believe that politicians and civilian institutions deserve strengthening without control from top and understand the need for democratic legitimacy.
Then there are those on the other side of the aisle. For them, it is time to read constitution of the Islamic republic of Pakistan.
The writer is co-founder Future of Pakistan Conference and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science.