First, some plain facts about what is happening within and then what that really means for democracy.
The main opposition party, the PML-N, has finally decided to confront the PPP-led coalition government using resentment found in the public over the economy and governance issues. The much-delayed confrontation was, however, influenced by the popular wave led the Kaptaan, more than the ineptitude of the regime itself. The alleged memo attributed to Husain Haqqani, the most controversial ambassador ever appointed by any government in our history, has given the PML-N a new and perhaps more serious issue to attack the government with.
The reason for the party to go to the Supreme Court is that the inquiry by an independent commission, in its judgement, may reveal the real persons behind the memo and continue to raise questions about the loyalty and commitment of some of the top PPP leaders to the country.
Two decisions of the Supreme Court within a week — rejection of the federal government’s review petition of the court’s NRO verdict and the formation of an inquiry commission to probe Haqqani’s memo — place the government in a difficult situation.
Our troubled history is that no senior functionary has ever accepted or even respected the independence of the superior courts; Haqqani may well be no exception. But in our defining phase of democratic transition, the coalition government has decided to defy court orders in several cases and if the press conference of Mr Babar Awan, the verbal hitman of the PPP, is any indication, it is hell-bent on defaming, discrediting, insulting and politicising the apex court. The same evening, the prime minister’s was also quite unclear when he obliquely characterised any probable action by the Supreme Court to implement its decisions as a ‘rebellion’ by the court.
Out of formal politics, the security establishment seems to be convinced that Husain Haqqani wrote the memo, which asked the American military to put pressure on the Pakistan Army to give space to the elected government in lieu of concessions that, if true, undoubtedly amount to treason. Whatever side of the story we look at, it is clear that since the May 2 Abbottabad incident, civil-military relations have deteriorated. There is hardly any trust left between the political executives and the security establishment that, interestingly, played a major role in shaping the post-Musharraf political arrangements or the NRO regime.
At the popular level, there are two types of movements emerging; one, by Imran Khan, and the other by the religious political parties that seem to be heartened by the electoral outcomes in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt.
I am not sure if the relatively open politics of Pakistan and the strands of moderate political culture will allow the religious parties a popular mandate, but they have proved pretty good at street agitation.
My fear is that the inner circle of Zardari’s political tribe has decided on taking an aggressive and defiant posture against the Supreme Court. Yet another fear is that it might like to cause the collapse of the political order rather than see itself defeated in a free and fair elections
and continue to live on the myth of political martyrdom. I hope my fears prove unfounded, but they are not out of place because major actors in formal politics and in state institutions — security establishment — don’t want to play clean, democratic and constitutional politics.
The writer is professor of political science at LUMS
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2011.