STRAIGHT TALK

On Monday, the 14th of August, Pakistan, the country of the Pak and the Pure, celebrated its 70th Independence Day with the usual ‘Zeal and Fervor’.

But sadly, the clarion call of ‘Faith – Unity - Discipline’ by the Quaid, the father of the nation, has been forgotten and replaced by the octopus of corruption, which has spread its tentacles in all sectors of government and society.

After the death of our founding fathers, Pakistan has become a rudderless ship, without a captain and a crew to manage its course and we have drifted from crisis to another, mostly of our own making.

Unfortunately, during the 70 years of Independence, we have had three military coups in Pakistan. They began in 1958 and the country has spent several decades under military rule, 1958 to 1971, 1977 to 1988 and 1999 to 2008.

While, not a single prime minister has been able to finish his five-year term immediately after the murder of the country’s first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951, the British-trained civil bureaucracy started ‘palace intrigues’ against politicians weakened by infighting and lack of popular support and political legitimacy.

As many as five prime ministers namely Khawaja Nazimuddin, Mohammad Ali Bogra, Chaudhry Mohammad Ali, Hossain Shaheed Suharwardi and II Chundrigar were sent home by Governor General Ghulam Muhammad, a former bureaucrat, using immense powers that his office gave him.

Later, another ex-bureaucrat, Iskandar Mirza, conspired with the military to replace the old and ailing governor general.

Initially, he kept the prime minister, Feroze Khan Noon, chosen by his predecessor. But that wasn’t for very long. Soon Mirza struck again, imposing martial law and firing the prime minister with the help of the military. But he too was ousted before long.

Army Chief Gen Ayub Khan had decided that the military should rule the country directly instead of playing second fiddle in the chess game going on and imposed martial law. All this happened in a span of less than seven years.

Two times the military directly staged a coup against elected governments were in 1977 when Gen Zia ousted the nation’s first popularly elected prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and in 1999 when Gen Musharraf ejected Nawaz Sharif from the PM House.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was sent home for the third time after the Supreme Court disqualified him under the Constitution’s Article 62(1)(f) for concealing his assets when he was just 10 months away from completing his five-year tenure in office.

Nawaz Sharif became the 15th prime minister of the country who got sacked without completing the term. He also became the first prime minister who was elected thrice, but couldn’t complete even a single term. The PML-N leader was first booted out of the office by his close ally in the presidency, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, in 1993. Although the apex court reinstated him, he agreed to quit along with the president under pressure from the military command. His second term was terminated prematurely when he was ousted in a bloodless coup in 1999 by Gen Pervez Musharraf and the generals close to him. This time the burden of sending Nawaz Sharif packing was borne by the country’s top court, which used the Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, which, political leader Makhdoom Javed Hashmi recently said, were inserted  in the constitution by dictator Gen Ziaul Haq to use them as a stick against politicians.

Ironically, Nawaz Sharif lost the opportunity of removing these Articles during the previous PPP tenure.

PPP’s Yousuf Raza Gilani was the first premier to vacate the Prime Minister House on the court orders.

He was also the first chief executive of the country to have been disqualified in 2012 under the Article 63(f)(1) after the judges found him ‘guilty’ of having committed contempt of court because he did not write to the Swiss authorities to reopen corruption cases against the then president Asif Zardari under their order.

In the 1980s and ’90s, the establishment used the powers given to the president by Gen Zia through the notorious eighth amendment to the Constitution immediately after the party-less elections in 1985.

The now defunct Article 58(2)(b) of the Constitution that gave the president vast powers to remove a prime minister and his government and dissolve the assemblies was used by its creator Gen. Zia to dismiss his hand-picked prime minister Mohammad Khan Junejo.

Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who had replaced Gen Zia after his death in a mysterious plane crash, used the Article to dismiss both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif before the military forced the president to also call it a day.

Even a close relationship of Farooq Leghari with his leader, Benazir Bhutto, who had ditched Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan to send him to the presidency, didn’t stop him from using these powers to throw out his party’s own government.

Some important parallels can be drawn from the political instability and removal of prime ministers in the 1950s, and in the 1980s and 1990s. Both periods were fraught with political rivalry and politicians seeking support from the civil-military establishment instead of their constituents.

On most occasions, save for the two military coups, the massive powers allocated to the offices of governor general and president were used by the civil-military establishment to remove the political governments — both elected and unelected. And all the premiers lost their jobs and had their governments dismissed on charges of corruption and bad governance. Ever since Independence, Pakistan’s political class is on one side and the middle class, which controls the state apparatus, including civil and military bureaucracy and the judiciary on the other. The middle class state functionaries hate the guts of politicians whom they consider corrupt, inefficient and not entitled to rule the country,” says Dr Mohammad Waseem, a professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

If the middle class is challenging the legitimacy of politicians, it shouldn’t surprise us. After all, the state functionaries were there and wielded power long before the creation of Pakistan and the political class emerged quite late, just before the partition.

With the presidential powers under the Article 58(2)(b) withdrawn by parliament under president Zardari after the 2008 elections and the military stuck in the war against terrorism in the region, the onus of prematurely sending the prime ministers home at the behest of the establishment appears to have fallen on the shoulders of the judiciary.