It was October 12, 1999 a prime minister with two third majority in the National Assembly was sacked by the then Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf. Genuine democracy lovers were sad and shocked. It seemed they had been pushed back to square one. However, the popular reaction was in favour of GPM. It seemed to be day of deliverance, people distributed sweets while party and supporters of deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif behaved like fattened mice who took to hiding in their holes, only his wife — Begum Kulsoom Nawaz — showed rare courage and came out to defy the dictator
While MNS was rotting in prison waiting desperately for his foreign patrons to rescue him, reaction in the street remained buoyant and of immense relief. People at large had developed an aversion to deposed prime minister’s oppressive style of governance. Even sections of democrats and liberals saw a silver lining in Prime Minister’s unceremonious disposal.
In his last days he had laid bare his scheme of things by introducing his brand of Sharia. He had the bill passed by the National Assembly where he had overwhelming majority. It was good fortune for the nation that PPP had enough strength in the Senate to block the passage of the Sharia bill tailor-made to make MNS Ameerul Momineen.
Had Pervez Musharraf remained apolitical and delivered instead of exposing his ambitions to remain in power by baptizing as new born babies all his corrupt political supporters waiting in the wings to be available to provide a crutch to any dictator any time, things could have been different for the country. In addition his decision to beef up religious parties by putting all his might and resources to get them electoral legitimacy through overly rigged polls in 2002, he inflicted on body politics and its political complexion worst possible blow.
He killed two birds with one stone. His tried to market his government as a democratic dispensation while it gave him room to continue in power as well have leverage to blackmail his Western supporters that if he was somehow removed, power and Pakistan’s nuclear assets would pass into the hands of Jihadis — virtually a red rag for the Americans and the British.
Although GPM emerged as American Knight Templar after 9-11, he as well continued to be in cahoots with Jihadis. Finally they were convinced by the argument of Pakistan’s only internationally recognized leader Benazir Bhutto that a dictator cannot win war against terrorism and that it will have to be multi-pronged effort by a democratic government to win the hearts and minds of the misguided people to bring them in the main stream and save them from being used by terrorists. A prominent British statesman Lord Patton in an article in Wall Street Journal advised the west that in order to have stability in Afghanistan they shall have to have strong democracy in Pakistan.
However, GPM wouldn’t give up that easy. He manipulated to get himself elected by the old Parliament for another five years but had to give up his uniform. In his last bid to stay in power he sacked the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and gave the judges fresh oath of office. This was the last nail that he put in his own coffin.
Notwithstanding his desperate attempts, domestic political compulsions and thinning of his foreign support, his hold on power became weak. His wheeling dealing could not keep at bay intensified struggle for the restoration of democracy and rule of law backed by massive lawyers’ movement. His fall had become imminent sooner than later. Murder of Benazir Bhutto — whether by Jihadis or his agents — could not save him. He had lost his grip, PPPP won the elections. He had to resign to save himself from impeachment.
Most outstanding achievement of PPPP government and President Zardari was to sustain democracy for five years and to smoothly transfer power to Mian Nawaz Sharif. Credit must be given to PPPP government for strengthening Parliament as the arbiter of all power, its Prime Ministers and Ministers regularly attended its sessions and carried out unprecedented number of legislations including the 18th Amendment giving maximum autonomy to the provinces.
Now after nearly four years in government PML-N has not acquitted itself well. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his ministers don’t take Parliament seriously nor do they show any respect to its proceedings. Legislation work by it is minimal, negligible attendance- by Prime Minister and his ministers-is deplorable and has been undermining the Parliament. Not only that, in Punjab which is the bastion of their power, the Chief Minister, too, does not attend Assembly proceedings. They forget the fact that it was Parliament that saved it from being sent home in 2014 when PTI leader Imran Khan with his dharnas was sure of the umpire’s finger going up.
Comparing 1999 and now when the country seems to have travelled long way, the perception is that the rulers have not learnt any lesson. This could be judged from the fact that had the Supreme Court unanimously declared the Prime Minister as neither sadiq nor ameen as two judges have categorically branded him, nor the Army having expressed its anger by rejecting the Inquiry Board’s finding in Dawn Leak investigation, had DG ISPR not retreated — Prime Minister would have faced a similar situation like that of October 1999.
No doubt all is well that ends well. Whatever, MNS needs to know independently how disappointed people at large have been due to the outcome of the Supreme Court proceedings in the Panama Papers as well as the findings of the Dawn Leak probe. The writing on the wall is so big that only blind would not be able to read it.
The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist