Consultation among institutions - Saleem Safi - Wednesday, March 23, 2011

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It is yet to be figured out that what strategy, compulsion or calculation caused Nawaz Sharif to float, through Shahbaz Sharif, the idea of a consultative conference among the judiciary, the army and the politicians? However, the idea is a solution to most of our problems. Consensus identification and solution to the problems by the three players is not only imperative but inevitable as well. As important players, they need consensus on all important issues. Though unfortunate, the three have instead been treating each others as opponents. Without exception, they are hostages to the mentality of confrontation and intervention in each others domain.

The military is subservient to civilian control in an ideal democracy. The judiciary works within its jurisdiction without crossing into the domains of politics or the military, and respects sovereignty of the parliament. But we have got our own ground realities. Our past search for an ideal democratic system like that in Britain or the US has landed us in trouble. Rulers who insisted on ideal democracy were sent packing along with whatever democratic system we had. Nawaz Sharif rejected the proposal of the National Security Council by his army chief, Jahangir Karamat, and insisted on ideal democracy. Resultantly, the prime minister landed in jail at Attock Fort but left us to contend with another bout of dictatorship for nine years. Unfortunately, politicians learnt no lessons; they neither claimed the moral high ground nor proved capable administrators.

The judiciary broke free from executive influence but could not throw away the chains of institutional and class prejudices. It could not escape the overall social decay as well. The tensions among the three pillars have often led them to the brink of confrontation. In the current scenario, confrontation between the executive and the judiciary appears inevitable.

The country is faced with mortal dangers of extremism and terrorism but the disconnect among the state institutions prevents a consensus strategy against this danger. They comprehend and respond to the threat in mutually exclusive prisms; the army deals the issue from its perspective on the national security and institutional interests; the politicians have a different angle while the judiciary deals with the cases of terrorism in traditional manner.

Notwithstanding public facades, the politicians hold the army responsible for the crisis. Ministers of the ANP and the PPP say that past and present policies of the institution are responsible for the current miss. On the contrary, in off-the-record comments the military blames politicians for the problems. The generals insist that policymaking is not their political domain. The army is mere implementer of the government’s decision on military operations or the limits on relations and cooperation with the US. They believe that politicians don’t recognise the army’s sacrifices in the fight against terrorism. They credit the military for successful operation in Swat and in the same vein point out the civilian government apathy towards establishing the civil and judicial systems there. The civilian and military rulers criticise the judiciary for failure to punish terrorists they arrest.

The intra-institution confusion is another puzzle. Political forces across the divide present identify various roots of the problem. A strand hold the US responsible for all what is wrong with us; another thinks that the double game between the US and Pakistan is the culprit. Some forces advocate reconciliation while some insist on use of brute force. There are political leaders who believe the CIA and Blackwater are behind bloodletting; still others think we are our own enemies. This has understandably not been limited to the three institutions, but rather decisively permeated our social strata.

The anti-politician media men speak the language of the army. Political spokesmen love the stance of our leaders. Our analysts have got their own leanings, prejudices and interests, which inevitably affect their analyses. The people are confused whom they should believe on important national matters. This disconnect can be noticed when it comes to critical issues like relations with India and the US. The military circles allege that political leadership want to earn US support by sacrificing critical national interests while the latter fear that the former plans to push them into a fight with the US. Same is the problem with economic issues and corruption.

How can the country move ahead in presence of such tensions and divisions? Currently, we are heading towards collision wherein the powerful as we know them will again conquer the weak. The democratic project will again go to the dogs. But this time, we should not forget that country’s survival is at stake. We have to get out confrontational mood and find a mechanism that brings the three players to same table for consensus on identification and solution of the dangerous problems. The mechanism may well go against the spirit of “pure democracy” but we should better do with “defective democracy” instead of none at all.

The proposal of consultation should naturally get more attention when it comes from a person none other than Nawaz Sharif, a staunch opponent of the military’s intervention in politics. He is a revengeful man and so least expected to forget the generals’ treatment of him. He is the one having highest stakes in continuity of the system for as he waits for his turn next. So it is unfair to think that his proposal invites the military or judiciary to intervene in politics. He presented it after a good reading of the prevalent ground realities.

The Sharif proposal stops at a onetime conference of the three players. One would go a step further and suggest a permanent consultative forum. This proposal may well be opposed by “democracy brigades,” but I am convinced that this is the key to solution of our problems. And if we didn’t act today, God forbid, we may rue our decision the same way as the rejecters of Jahangir Karamat’s National Security Council proposal did on Oct 12, 1999.

The writer works for Geo TV.


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