Archive for June, 2006

A disappointing Charter of Democracy As the date …

A disappointing Charter of Democracy

As the date for 2007 elections in Pakistan gets nearer, there is increased activity in the political circles inside and outside the country. The latest development is the meeting in London between Benazir Bhutto (PPP) and Mian Nawaz Shariff (PML), leaders of their respective political parties that are the two largest parties in Pakistan. The outcome of that meeting was the declaration of a “Charter of Democracy” signed by both leaders. President of Pakistan, General Musharraf responded, in a manner suited to his military habits, by denouncing the charter as empty words of shallow politicians. Pro-government parties have rejected the charter as was expected from them while opposition parties of all shades and colors were quick to approve the charter. The Charter has also opened the floodgates for journalists and political pundits to create as many scenarios about the future political landscape of Pakistan as there are voices. In this article we will sum up some of those opinions, explain in simple words what the charter really means and give or own opinion.

For quite sometimes there has been speculation that President General Musharraf has struck a deal with PPP to allow former Prime Minister Benazir to enter the country and participate in the 2007 elections. Political animal that she is, it provided her an incentive to gain wider support by approaching the other largest party leader thrown in exile by the General. With this, she killed three birds with one arrow. First, she gained wider political support in the country from both parties. Second, she got a deal to become the next Prime Minister from the other large party. And lastly, created greater political pressure on the General not to go back on his words as he has done in the past. Nawaz Sharif on the other hand had no other option left but to support his old political nemesis to delay his return to the country. It is also clear from one of the articles of the charter and subsequent statements of the leaders that Benazir has agreed to nullify the agreement he signed with the Musharraff government once she comes into power. It is also speculated that US has exerted its pressure on Musharraf to abandon his uniform and allow another prominnt political leader to participate in the elections. General Musharraf’s recent meetings with pro-government PML-Q and his directive to re-organize the party for 2007 elections prove that point. It is also speculated that General Musharraf is now looking for a graceful exit from the political scene and wants to avoid the closure faced by his predecessor General Zia.

To form an opinion it is important that we first take a look at the language, content and intent of the charter. The charter declares military intervention as an enemy of democracy. It also proposes a joint platform to pressure military Generals from grabbing power by using similar tactics used by them to coax politicians. The Charter outlines the formation of an accountability commission to question military generals about their financial gains. One positive element is the establishment of parliamentary committees, consisting of both treasury and opposition members, to conduct public hearing for the appointment of judges and accountability commissioner. The abolition of National Security Council is probably another step taken to undermine the power of the armed forces. In many countries National Security Council’s are formed consisting of both civil and military members. It would be unwise for the politicians to ignore military in the matters of national security. The other key element is allowing a Prime Minister to seek a third term in office. This, in plain words, is in self-interest of both the leaders as both of them have served two terms already and want still more power for themselves. The other important step is the formation of a caretaker government three months prior to the election date. The removal of the graduation requirement to run for a public office is a setback to the democracy, as it will bring all those old zamindars and landlords into the parliament.

Reading the “Charter of Democracy” reminds me of old times when one political party would announce a platform to take revenge on the other party during elections. This time the foe that the other parties are united against is the military. Although these leaders are targeting the military in their own self-interest, which is evident from, the wording of the charter; it is also a fact that for democracy to prevail in the country political parties have to strike at the political ambitions of the military. To undermine military’s political empowerment, it is important to have a transparent defense budget, military generals should be accountable for their financial assets, and political wings of the intelligence should be disbanded. But in large part this charter is not a sincere document and it is quite apparent that its producers are egocentric leaders who cannot differentiate between their self-interest and national interest. Through this charter Benazir might be able to gain political ground and form a government after 2007 elections but it is also evident from the document that her government will be busy taking revenge from people who supported the military government of General Musharraf. This will result in political chaos, which might result in the dismissal of the government, and the old cycle will be repeated.

In its essence, this Charter of democracy is a political platform announced by the two large parties for 2007 elections. Surprisingly, the charter does not introduce any reforms in the structure of the political parties to make them more democratic. The charter also does not address how it would handle the sectarian and ethnic terrorism that has plagued the country for two decades now. It is also silent about how it would create harmony between the center and its provincial units. There is no mention on how it would handle the economy of the country. It also does not address issues like re-organizing the police and enforcing speedy judgments to improve the law and order situation.

The nation needs self-less leaders who understand the fine line between personal and national interest. The country should not be treated as an inheritance that can be divided among political leaders. It has its own soul and body. It is important that people elect leaders who can steer the nation according to its potential and ambitions.


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