The Supreme Court issued its detailed judgment in the Asghar Khan case last week, directing the government to take action against former COAS General (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg and former DG ISI Lieutenant General (retd) Asad Durrani for violating the constitution. The judgment in the case regarding the rigging of the 1990 elections by ISI on the orders of the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, also observed that the President cannot play any partisan political role. Earlier in the week, a speech by the present COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was interpreted by the mainstream media as directed against the court and not just people in the media, who seem to be on an army-bashing campaign. And rather predictably, stalwarts of the PPP government insisted that President Asif Zardari had every right to continue playing politics sitting in the presidency. Everyone agrees that the institutions of the state must be strengthened. The question is: who is weakening them?The PPP leadership under the dictatorial control of President Zardari is clearly the biggest villain when it comes to the institutions of the state. As it utters hollow mantras about respecting and strengthening state institutions, the PPP-led government has acted to damage them for its short-term petty political objectives. Its persistent defiance and subversion of the independent judiciary is not a secret. The insistence on a political role for the President is only the recent example of how the party has taken upon itself the task of interpreting the constitution according to its convenience; a task that actually falls into the domain of the Supreme Court that has the final word on constitutional matters. By refusing to follow orders, protecting (even rewarding) those who should have been punished or investigated under court orders, and orchestrating malicious judiciary-bashing campaigns by its leaders, the party has done all in its power to weaken the institution.Similarly, the PPP government’s efforts to mute criticism in the media and to make it sing tunes that suit the party are also common knowledge. Instead of working towards strengthening the free media by creating a framework that would check the abuse of freedom and implementing and improving the existing rules and regulations, the government has resorted to official and jiyala-led arm-twisting and bribing media organisations and individuals with taxpayers’ money to influence them in its favour. Even the institution that is considered to be the most powerful in the state structure, the military, has not escaped damage due to the quest for total control by the Zardari regime. Whether it was the role of former Ambassador Hussain Haqqani in the memo affair and the military-related conditions in the Kerry-Lugar Bill, the government’s reaction to the Abbottabad operation or its dubious conduct in the aftermath of the Salala incident, the PPP leadership has treated the institution more as a competing contender for political power, issuing statements about a ‘scheming establishment out to subvert democracy’, rather than separating its political past from the professional challenges it faces today.Ironically, the state institution most badly damaged by the Zardari regime is Parliament, along with the government it elects and the party he heads. The PPP wallahs shout from the rooftop about parliamentary supremacy and democracy, but the party’s nearly five-year record in office shows a very different picture. To begin with, Parliament has been reduced to a powerless debating club good only for scoring points and passing laws conceived and approved in the presidency, usually without debate. What is touted as the biggest achievement of the present Parliament, the 18th Amendment, has been made redundant when it comes to the transfer of presidential powers to the Prime Minister. President Zardari has clearly encroached upon the functions of the Prime Minister and his cabinet. He is seen discussing important national issues with foreign dignitaries at home and abroad and has no qualms about dictating policy decisions to the government. He is actively involved in micro-managing the coalition partners.Under Zardari, even his party has moved further away from democracy. Forget about electing office bearers, even the nominated party structure has been made redundant by its Co-Chairperson. The Central Executive Committee is a ghost of the past and policy decisions are taken in arbitrarily summoned meetings of core committee at the presidency. The core committee itself is not a notified body, and who is and who isn’t a part of the committee is left to the whims of the Co-Chairperson. The party, just like the government it leads, has nothing to do with parliamentary democracy, and they act more like components of a regime headed by a dictatorial President cum monarch. Institutions of the state have no chance of being strengthened by such a government. In fact, whatever strength they have gained or retained has been despite the Zardari regime and because of positive action on their part.The Supreme Court has emerged as a strong pillar of the state because it has consistently given judgments without fear or favour, upholding the rule of law and interpreting the constitution in public interest, rather than doing the bidding for those in power. The military has also cleaned its stable and distanced itself from engineering politics in the country. It has the chance of improving its image further by distancing itself from officers, who violated the constitution and abused the power that they had and being more vigilant about the conduct of those in service. High-ranking army officers, now retired but involved in corruption and illegal activities when they were in service, have been exposed in the courtroom. To strengthen the institution, the military leadership must take special measures to ensure that such activities are curbed and the military focuses on its professional duties.While no institution is perfect, each one is indispensible for the state. As we criticise their shortcomings, we’d do well to criticise particular shortcomings or cases of abuse, rather than making any institution a target for unbridled bashing. That would defeat the whole purpose of strengthening them.

The writer is a freelance columnist.Email: hazirjalees@hotmail.com