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Pakistan’s Political Crisis

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Pakistan’s Political Crisis

Dear leaders, please show some maturity and grace

The ongoing tussle for power among political parties, an ugly atmosphere of mistrust and a tendency of not recognizing others as political entities have plunged Pakistan’s politics into a serious crisis. Not a single policy decision in recent months – either by the PDM that rules nationally or Imran Khan’s PTI that rules in two provinces – has favoured the working class or the unemployed youth. Rather, they have attacked the masses with every possible means and shifted the burden of the whole economic crisis onto their 

shoulders while announcing huge subsidies and support packages for the rich.
However, it is not just a political crisis rather it is an offshoot of a state crisis in a larger context, because unrelenting tensions between and among political parties as well as with state institutions, or the so-called ‘establishment’, is itself a grave issue. Therefore, while our political leaders are responsible for the recent crisis, the establishment or the power centres also cannot remain immune to this crisis. In our country, decision-making, at present, seems driven more by personal interests than by the interests of the state and its citizens. This is why we are trapped in a vicious cycle of creating more problems rather than solving the old ones. However, it should not be lost to anyone that when politics, democracy and decision-making processes reach a dead-end, the result is more unrest and anarchical politics. Therefore, to avoid such a cataclysmic future, it is necessary that our leaders adopt a pragmatic strategy to solve political problems in the political arena and shun the practice of involving the judiciary or any other state institution in such matters.
But, it is, unfortunately, a fact that instead of finding solutions to national political problems in a political forum like the parliament, our political leaders are bent on using the shoulders of the judiciary to fight their political battles. And, in this dirty game, they often forget that taking issues that should be resolved in a political way to the courts further exacerbates the situation because when political decisions emerge from the courts, they are often criticized and courts are termed biased and influenced. It has, regretfully, become a common attitude that if the decision is in a party’s favour, the judiciary is hailed as being an independent and true guardian of the constitution; but the party affected by the verdict does not accept it and starts openly maligning the judges and a never-ending mudslinging starts. No doubt, the verdicts of the courts are public property and criticising them is absolutely legal and ethical, but criticising and scandalizing the judges is absolutely ludicrous, and unacceptable.
The now-former Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court Justice Athar Minallah, who has recently been elevated to the Supreme Court, has rightly pointed in his address to a full court reference organised in his honour that the state has, tragically, failed to shoulder its responsibilities. He advised politicians to resolve their disputes in parliament and not in courts. “It was the responsibility of the political leadership to resolve their issues in the legislature instead of dragging them to courts of law,” he said.
He further said the judiciary’s performance could be gauged by how much trust the public had in the legal system. “Political leadership can strengthen the implementation of the constitution, our institutions are accountable to public scrutiny and people should have confidence in the judiciary,” he emphasised. “Judiciary is also bound to observe the principle of separation of powers. We have taken an oath to protect the constitution,” he stressed.
In his thought-provoking address, Justice Minallah has explained the basic thing that is a panacea to all our problems: if politics, democracy and supremacy of constitution and law are to be maintained in the country, the political system, political parties and political leadership will have to play an effective role. But if the political leaders want to only save themselves by putting the burden on someone else instead of fulfilling their own responsibility, it would be like playing with the future of our country. Even a cursory look at the current political crisis suggests that both the government and the opposition look up to the establishment, or the judiciary, rather than solving their political problems in parliament or through dialogue. But, when the establishment or the judiciary intervenes, political leaders start bemoaning and shifting the burden of their own failure onto the establishment and the judiciary.
The citizens of the state have every right to ask their leaders: what has prevented them from strengthening the parliamentary system? Why do they look up to the judiciary or the establishment to come into, or stay in, power? Why they don’t bother to resolve their differences through negotiations?
Political parties in general blame that it is the establishment that does not allow the parliamentary system to stabilize and flourish. Intermittent military coups or a dominating say in many affairs of the state is often cited as the reason behind weakness and impotence of the parliamentary system. However, this is half-truth; the whole truth is that while the establishment is responsible for many issues, the political parties, too, have not played their due role in upholding democracy, the constitution, rule of law and the supremacy of parliament. Therefore, they are equally responsible for the mess in our political culture today. The politicians themselves, whether they belong to the government or to the opposition, must admit that there are huge contradictions in their words and deeds.
There is no blinking at the fact that the success of a parliamentary system hinges on a strong, powerful parliament because it is the parliamentary conduct and procedures that determine the extent to which a parliamentary system functions on democratic principles. In essence, there are six major problems with Pakistan’s parliamentary system:
(1) Most Prime Ministers and members of the cabinet do not give importance to the parliament. Due to their continuous absence, irresponsibility, lack of interest in the legislative proceedings, and disregard to parliamentary norms develop.
(2) The Standing Committees of the Parliament are inactive and are not able to achieve their objectives due to the non-cooperation of ministers.
(3) When important political decisions are taken behind closed doors, and not in the parliament, the credibility of the parliamentary system gets questioned.
(4) The power of the Prime Minister and his cabinet comes from the parliament. So, there is nothing to be gained if a premier discusses issues with his kitchen cabinet, and tries to run the parliamentary system from the outside by a remote control.
(5) When the government is not accountable to the parliament for its decisions, and the opposition only plays the game of a conspiracy, instead of playing its due role in the parliament, it will not be possible to run the parliamentary system successfully.
(6) If there is a conflict between the interests of the parliament and those of the people, or if the parliamentary system protects the interests of a powerful class by ignoring the masses, such a system also undermines the usefulness of the parliament.
Although the last of the above six questions is related to the politics of a layman, the educated class of this society, too, understands that there is no solution to our problems in the current parliamentary system which has become a club where the interests of the powerful classes are protected. Likewise, when the status of parliament becomes only that of a mere debating club – rather than a legislative body – the common man will gain nothing from the discussions there.
There should be in-depth discussions about whether the supremacy of the parliamentary system is possible with a weak system of political parties and their internal undemocratic structures. Since most leaders themselves do not believe in fostering a democratic culture within their political parties and prefer to run things in a dictatorial way, how credible are their claims that they are fighting for the supremacy of parliament and democracy in the country?
Similarly, along with the weakening of political parties, the country’s governance system and political leadership also face an impending decadence as such pieces of legislation were enacted that limited the role of civil society in the country. However, civil society is a true watchdog as it reinforces public interest in politics by exerting pressure on the political system. Therefore, we need a clear and transparent roadmap to stabilize the parliamentary system which requires a strong political commitment to the system and a vibrant civil society. This is, however, not possible with mere political slogans, sentimental talk and pursuing personal interests.
Today, with the emergence of powerful media, the state of affairs has drastically changed and there are significant changes in people’s thoughts and concerns as well. This vehicle of politics will not run on an old engine. For this, we have to get out of the unconventional and old ideas and adopt the model of modernity. We have to learn from the democratic countries around the world as to how they developed their systems and how they moulded themselves into a better democratic system. We can move forward only by learning from the experiences of the world, but the first condition for this is to take stock of our internal political and parliamentary system and find aspects of reform. This is the most pressing requirement for protecting and safeguarding our national interest.
Problems do arise at the national level, but finding a solution to those is the core responsibility of the state, government and society. Only finding a path that leads us from problems to solutions can ensure political, social and economic stability and, indeed, the development and prosperity of our country.
The writer is an expert on International Law.

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