Guest Blog by Amjad Malik
20th September 2008, ‘Land mark’ presidential speech to the joint session of the Parliament was overshadowed by a quick reminder of the menace of terrorism in the form of an explosive terrorist attack at Marriott Hotel, Islamabad which took over fifty three lives and scores were injured. This condemnable attack not only highlighted the kind of danger Pakistan is facing, the war of top security agencies in the region and on its soil, and the loss of many lives & families which are unaccounted during this on going struggle in order to find viable answers how to secure sustainable peace and calm to the region and in return to the world in general. So far no one has found the right key to success in this ongoing onslaught. Pakistan is caught between rock and hard place, on one side US anger over poor performance and asking them to do more, and if they do, the sheer resentment over foreign policy is visible by outlawed networks and Jihadists and expressed by the sophisticatedly hit targets which are normally pro West outlets. In Pakistan these suicidal attacks have crossed a century in number in only last 1 ½ years though this individual Non NATO ally is at the brink of facing the wrath in the form of unitarily inside strikes by the super power for their lack of will and action despite losing over 1000 soldiers at the rear border at Durand line. High value target though is missed by inches each time, but this faulty intelligence is causing an increase the collateral damage day by day, and that is the sad other side of the multi colour story full of blood.
Now coming to the speech, The president however, has successfully replaced the Presidential slogan of Musharraf’s ‘enlightened moderation’ to that of Zardari’s brand of ‘national reconciliation.’ He practically tried to exhibit his genuineness with a gesture to approached Nawaz Sharif, the opposition head sitting in the gallery which warmed many of his critics though he did not openly give any major concession in his address. In response though a calm Nawaz once bitten desired for a concrete practical steps rather than words to reform Parliament. Looking at the positives of his speech, he has shown his willingness to continue with General Musharraf’s commitments with US on global War on terror, if not more, however, he has exposed cleverly a possible retaliation from army and resilience from general public which is anti war & tribal invasion if he gives more concession to USA in his own areas, though he showed by his silence in last few days that he wants to. He has also sought time to sell the idea to his people that its their war not of USA as he is minded that if he acts quickly, he will be adding to the popularity of hard hitting Sharif who can pocket all conservative votes without dong anything, which he would not wish at all. So he managed to stall his action on the major issues rather than announcing it boldly, and delegated to Parliamentary committees which may take months to have a full debate where his party will have a control over the ‘on’ and ‘off’ button. He has escaped without calling off any military operation in FATA and did not have to condemn or affirm US policy of July to attack Pakistani areas unilaterally and just reiterated what army has said earlier in their press release. So by default his wife’s policy statement on FATA giving access to US military and access to IAE to Scientist Dr Khan still stands. He did good by condoling the death of his brother in law Mir Murtaza Bhuttoo, the son of late Zulfiqar Bhuttoo though he was implicated in his murder by his family, and he managed to praise his wife’s sacrifice due to which he is at the top office which inspires many of his party loyalists for his humility. He has shown his desire to resume talks with India, with some confidence building measures coupled with a new liberal visa regime plus formation of an other committee of parliament on Kashmir to discuss its future and matters relating to Indus water treaty between both countries. He has acceded to the proposal of ANP the long awaited name change of their province to ‘Pakhtunkhua.’ Overall he escaped perfectly without giving any major concession, formed Parliamentary committees on almost anything and everything and avoided what does not matter to him. Though I believe backtracking on MOU’s and agreements may not work with USA, however, whatever rabbit he pulls out of his hat, if he manages to halt, postpone and stall US’s unilateral attacks in Pakistan till their November election that will be a big head start and a service to Pakistan.
Now if we look at the other side, he has not said a word on setting up any enquiry or a commission to investigate independently his wife’s death, Akbar Bugti’s killing, 12th May massacre, action on Red Mosque, 3rd of November coup at judiciary, indemnity or trial of outgoing dictator and above all the fate & future of Dr Qadeer Khan and Kala Bagh Dam. In fact, he managed to escape to give any commitment to restore the Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhary to that of 2nd November position as per his agreements of March, May and August with opposition and vowed to restore judiciary in accordance with law and 1973 constitution which was a step farther and there was no word on how the fresh judges will be appointed in future. Judiciary remains a pivotal point of disagreement between him and the opposition and he managed to stick to his guns. There was no announcement to halt the ongoing operation in FATA replacing a policy to win the hearts and minds of his own with an economic aid, rule of law drive and justice in those areas, and or any clemency to Baluch people. His three prong strategy may not work in the presence of jets flying and missiles coming through drones in his areas. He has not given any line of action how to advance trade, and relieve the poor people and bring the economy back to its feet in the wake of looming international recession and food crisis. He has also managed to avoid the question of handing over possible accused to USA for interrogation with a treaty to exchange prisoners and no policy statement on missing persons or DR Afia Siddiqui. Though his desires were kind to uplift the women of Pakistan.
Above all, he has not announced to bring back the constitution to that of 12 Oct 1999 position as agreed by his wife in a ‘charter of democracy’ instead, he has delegated it to a Parliamentary committee opening up an avenue of negotiation to give and take on the issue of legalising the provisions introduced by the Musharraf regime on 3rd November 2007. I believe in that discussion the question will be up that power to dismiss the parliament Art.58(2)b will only be scarped if the ratification of Musharraf’s acts are secured thus safeguarding the notorious ‘National Reconciliation Order’. He has failed to give a concrete policy how to tackle unilateral attacks of USA he vowed not to give permission but they already have violated territorial integrity in violation of Article 2(4) of the charter of United nations in the absence of any security council resolution but he did not elaborate how he would like his Govt. to tackle their future assault in this looming international crisis. In camera session on Nationals security may be a good step towards member’s awareness on core issues pertaining to national security but if leadership lacks political will, it will turn out to be a frightening exercise to tame the border liners.
In short, Presidential speech is a good mix of his desire to hang on to power and continue to believe in Charter of democracy on which he may like to start full implementation in the latter part of his 5 years tenure. His practical steps on COD, judicial independence, Parliamentary sovereignty and Pakistan’s role on US policy on war on terror will determine his government’s performance and the level of cooperation from his opponents and from those who matters in this arena. At this very moment, he and his government have a mountain to climb on credibility between his peers, trust deficit between civil and army, and governance front. Only concrete performance not merely words on those issues will determine how far he will go.
Amjad Malik is a Solicitor-Advocate of the Supreme Court of England & Wales