2018 has been a year of momentous changes in Pakistan. As an outcome of the general elections, new federal and the provincial governments have been installed. With Imran Khan taking over as 22nd prime minister of the country, the nation looks towards him with a sense of optimism and expectations. Another significant change is due as the time is closing for President Mamnoon Hussain to take parting salute from the ceremonial guard with customary pomp and show. In all probability the election contest for the top slot will be between Mr Arif Alvi from PTI and Mr Aitazaz Ahsan from PPP / opposition but things seem to be still in a state of flux. We all hope to warmly welcome the new president in September this year. However, I have penned this op-ed solely in the honour of our president Mr Mamnoon Hussain. I want to express that what a notable president of Pakistan he has been. Avoiding juxtaposition, I have not exactly contrasted his tenure of duty with any of his predecessors. Nevertheless, it is equally relevant to understand the political milieu and constitutional paradigm prevalent for each president of Pakistan.
Mr Mamnoon Hussain is the twelfth president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Mr Sikandar Mirza being the first one from 1956 to 1958. In between these two, ten presidents had varying constitutional roles, empowerment and determinants of comportment. Sikandar Mirza was elected to the top office upon promulgation of the first constitution of Pakistan in 1956. During his tenure he dismissed four prime ministers in a matter of two years. In Oct 1958, he abrogated the constitution and imposed martial law with General Ayub Khan as the Chief Martial Law Administrator. He was removed by General Ayub who forcibly took over as the second president of Pakistan. He continued ruling Pakistan as an authoritarian president till he was forced to resign in 1969 and General Yahya Khan imposed martial law taking over as the third president of Pakistan. During his presidency the country was dismembered after the war and the General exists ingloriously in history of Pakistan.
Yahya Khan handed over the title to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in December 1971 who continued as the president till 1973 till he took over as the prime minister after enactment of the constitution. Fazal Elahi Chaudhry was the fifth president who functioned as the ceremonial head of the state in accordance with the injunctions of constitution. In 1978, General Zia Ul Haq staged a coup d’état and became the sixth president. He continued his dictatorial rule till his death in an aircraft crash in 1988. Ghulam Ishaq Khan (GIK) was the seventh president who, in accordance with the constitutional authority vested in him under eighth amendment, had dismissed the government headed by Benazir Bhutto and later of Nawaz Sharif. As a result of an ugly political impasse GIK was forced to resign. Farooq Laghari was the eighth president elected with the support of PPP. However, he fell apart from his party and dismissed the government of Benazir Bhutto in 1996. Rafique Tarar, a former justice and a Nawaz Sharif loyalist with somewhat tainted background, was president from 1998 to 2001. General Pervez Musharraf became a self-appointed president in 2001 and continued in the exalted office till 2008 when replaced by Asif Ali Zardari.
From the explication in the preceding paragraphs it will be discerned that out of twelve presidents our country had, only three i.e. Fazal Elahi Chaudhry, Rafique Tarar and Mamnoon Hussain were the ceremonial heads of state in letter and spirit of the constitution of 1973. GIK did not interfere in the functioning of the government but exercised his powers to dismiss two elected governments and dissolve assemblies. Asif Ali Zardari was though a ceremonial president as per the constitution, yet he exercised overbearing control over the government policies and functions. Thus when we tend to appraise the performance of President Mamnoon Hussain it should essentially be done in light of his defined role and functioning as per the constitution of the country. It defies logic and sagacity if Mamnoon Hussain’s presidential tenure is compared with those of all-powerful presidents who wielded immense executive authority or those who overstepped constitutional limits but remained in limelight.
It was back in 1949 when a nine year old Mamnoon Hussain migrated from Agra, India along with his parents and siblings. No one would have then thought that Pakistan will prove to be a promised land for this young lad and he will rise to the highest appointment in the country. Settled in Karachi the family was engaged in small scale business. Mamnoon continued his education attaining commerce degree from Karachi University in 1963 and later did his master’s in business administration from Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi. Established and developed his own business attaining a reputation of being honest and trustworthy businessman. Joined politics in 1968 and continued to attain higher positions becoming Governor of Sindh in 1999 and later elected as the president in 2013. He represents the common man, smaller province and the city whose inhabitants have seen in the past prolonged exploitation, violence and neglect at the hands of their own gangster style leaders. It gave them hope and solace to have their own man up at the top office.
President Mamnoon has proved worthy of the exalted office he held for five years. He demonstrated towering standards of integrity and honesty. In a societal environment where rumour mongering and character assassination is so rampant, we didn’t hear of any scandal or conspiracy theory about the president. Alas, his own government let him down which bungled with governance, brought about economic decline and indulged in corrupt practices with a finesse so characteristic of white collar crime. One wonders whether he ever pointed out these follies to Nawaz Sharif. He himself kept a low but dignified profile staying away from controversies. Humble in his demeanour and courteous in his interaction with others, he never let the aura of high office engulf him. He is a diehard Pakistani - his speeches echoing his love and concern for the nation. His famous and stirring speech on Panama leaks must have shaken many – its reverberations reaching as far as Jati Umra and Clifton. His sagacious piece of advice to governors of provinces after the recent general elections to continue their gubernatorial duties till suitable time bespeaks of his political acumen and love for the country. He is a democrat by nature and has never taken any position that had even a semblance of interference in the functioning of the government. In nutshell he has been what a president ought to be. I earnestly wish to write an identical eulogy for the next president when he leaves the exalted office five years down the lane.
Mr President! The nation is grateful to you for serving the country with honour. Adieus.
The writer is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and is a freelance writer.