Via Bhatinda or via Bangladesh By Asha’ar Rehman - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Source :

THE Punjab chief minister`s call to include the army and the judiciary in the search for solutions to the Pakistani puzzle helps to crystallise current positions in the country`s politics.
The suggestion came at an opportune moment when the PML-N appears to be poised to spearhead a concreted assault on the PPP-led government. The seriousness of the growing challenge from the opposition faced by the PPP is borne out by the latter`s own resort to politics of the street in its stronghold.
It doesn`t take much of an effort to eventually link Shahbaz Sharif`s remedy for the country`s ills with the unusual happenings in Sindh last week where a sitting government thought it fit to lodge strong street protests against the challenge to its appointee as chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The show of street power was followed by a confrontational presidential move aimed at reappointing Justice (retd) Deedar Hussain Shah as NAB chief. This is not the first time Chief Minister Sharif has sought guarantees from the army as well as the judiciary. He has actually re-floated the idea of a national conference of politicians to explore solutions to national issues. What he is looking for are visible guarantors as he says members of the army and the judiciary must sit in on this meeting.
The idea, of course, has its origins in the distrust that the Punjab chief minister has time and again shown in the PPP government, with President Asif Ali Zardari the prime target of his attacks. But, over and above, it has its roots in an old system in which the politicians are dependent on help and approval from the local and international establishment for their turn in power.
Yet the bitter pill is supposedly coated with sugar: unlike others such as Mr Altaf Hussain who have been openly heard inviting patriotic generals, what Mr Shahbaz Sharif is trying to ensure here is a bit of elderly guidance to the government along with some accountability. What`s more, the group chorus in the background is that the idea enjoys considerable support among the real agents of change in society.
The force with which some of Mr Shahbaz Sharif`s colleagues are defending this line of his betrays the growing impatience of the PML-N which has in recent months reflected itself in developments such as its formal split with the PPP in Punjab.
He and more so his leader Mr Nawaz Sharif have for the past 11 years been associated with the ideal of civilian supremacy. As politicians with a just desire for power, in the latter part of that period, however, they have made no secret of their urge to paint the incumbents in Islamabad as corrupt.
At the same time, they have been careful not to give the impression that they are inviting the army to take over from President Zardari. Their thrust has been on corruption and on ensuring that the independent judiciary that they had helped restore had the final word.
For the last few months leading up to the PPP agitation in Sindh, the PPP-led government has been striving to establish that this finality rests with parliament by virtue of it being the product of the people`s aspirations. As popular ratings go, the PPP leaders may have found fewer takers for this refrain of theirs with the all-too-juicy stories of corruption by senior public officials hogging the limelight.
The ingenious proposal by a politician as important as Mr Shahbaz Sharif at this crucial stage is consistent with his party`s emphasis on the judiciary as an instrument of political reform, but ultimately it is the army`s arbitrary powers that the Punjab chief minister could be accused of looking to invoke, even if in a roundabout way. The judiciary can sit on the grand national meeting and it can spell out its thinking on important issues, but short of an army nod, it has no powers at its disposal to convert its thought into action.
This is what had happened in Bangladesh, which is from where we draw our so called Bangladesh model of reforming the system corrupted by the politicians. The 2007 crisis in Dhaka had as its basis a tussle for supremacy between the judiciary and parliament. Yet as its outcome was an interim rule by `technocrats` who were watched over by the wise army generals wisened by circumstances, some Bangladeshi observers at the time had accused the local and international establishment of imposing a Pakistan model on their country.
This particular Bangladeshi experiment came at a time when Pakistan had already been through about eight years of Gen Pervez Musharraf`s reforms. The observers had then wondered why the global powers which had earlier greeted Gen Musharraf with bitter reminders about the need for developing democracy had failed to condemn the takeover in Dhaka.
Could it be that at that particular juncture in Bangladeshi history, the battle cry against corruption and the involvement of the judiciary had given the interventionists sufficient material to project the takeover as a social change with greater acceptance in civil society as against a simple military coup?
Pakistan today may offer a few powerful parallels with the Bangladesh of a few years back, but in the end it will be worthwhile to remember that the same old corrupt politicians did eventually return to power in Bangladesh. It was Sheikh Hasina Wajed`s turn to be in power there just as so many believe that it is the Sharifs turn in Pakistan next. It is difficult to see Mr Shahbaz Sharif`s proposal in any other context but that of a politician attempting to find greater civil society acceptance with a quiet coup against rival politicians. Via Bhatinda or via Bangladesh, all courses by Pakistani politicians lead to the same old godfathers.
The writer is s resident editor in Lahore.

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