Wednesday, August 25, 2010

MARCHING TOWARDS TYRANNY, AGAIN?

BY MAHTAB BASHIR
Correspondent
DAILY TIMES
ISLAMABAD

Altaf Hussain, chief of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), has appealed for a “martial law-like” intervention by “patriotic generals” against corrupt feudals and landlord politicians”. Coming from so meone whose party is
known for its ethnic exclusivism — despite pretending otherwise of late– and various other crimes like land grabbing, bhatta (protection money), torturing and/or
murdering dissenters, Mr Hussain’s statement could have been laughed at for its sheer absurdity. The only problem is, this is no laughing matter.

When General Musharraf was in power, we witnessed a militarisation of the state and society. Because of this, the people lost respect for the army. Ever since General Kayani became the chief of army staff (COAS), he has tried to portray himself as a professional soldier with no interest in politics. Under General Kayani, the army has refurbished its image by protecting our territorial integrity and internal security, which is its primary task. Apart from fighting the Taliban, the military has been at the forefront of rescue and relief efforts during the floods. This has done the army’s image much good. On the other hand, the incompetence of the incumbe
nt civilian democratic government is no secret; allegations of massive corruption against the government and its track record have not helped matters either. After the recent floods, despondency can be felt all over the country. It seems that the public has lost faith in the incumbents. An anti-government lobby is now trying to exploit this situation to its advantage. Thus, the MQM chief’s ‘call’ for a not-so-divine intervention by the army at this point in time may be a reflection of not just that anti-democratic lobby but some signals from the powers-that-be may also have something to do with it.

The MQM came into being with the support of the intelligence agencies to counter Sindhi nationalism. Since then it accumulated more and more power and eventually got out of hand, a la the Taliban. After a few ups and downs in its relationship with its mentors, the MQM is back in the game and wants to return to the fold of the establishment. Altaf Hussain’s statement has been criticised by almost every political party. Some have even gone so far as to suggest the ultimate penalty for him since this is a clear violation of Article 6(1) of the constitution: “Any person who abrogates or attempts or conspires to abrogate, subverts or attempts or conspires to subvert the Constitution by use of force or show of force or by other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.” This may only be wishful thinking because Mr Hussain has only ‘suggested’ a military intervention while no military dictator has ever been tried under this Article even though they directly subverted the constitution. Dr Farooq Sattar has denied that his party chief has asked for a martial law; he claims that Mr Hussain has taken a bold stance and has his finger on the pulse of the public. Now this is going a bit too far because despite the public’s reservations about the incumbents, no sane person wants a return of military rule. Those who oppose democracy argue that we would be electing the same faces even if the present government completes its tenure since there is a dearth of alternatives. This is true, but if one were to rationally think about it, the only way to find new leadership is to continue with the democratic process.

It would be wise if Mr Hussain could think with a cool mind instead of giving an open call to the military to seize power. Pakistan has already suffered greatly in its history by not adhering to democratic norms. Military interventions have brought nothing but pain to us and a fresh one will not bring anything new. Democracy on the other hand is a painfully slow process but to develop our institutions, there is no other alternative in sight. We should let it take its normal course instead of delving into tried and failed interventionist territory.

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