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      Volume 11 |Issue 30| July 27, 2012 |


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The Hard Truth

Shakhawat Liton

The Supreme Court in Pakistan has finally sealed the fate of the notorious political cell of the ISI–the Inter Service Intelligence. It has recently declared the cell– if it did, or does exist– illegal and has adjudged the cell "void ab inititio"-meaning "null and void from the start".

The court came up with the landmark decision in a petition, commonly referred to as the Asghar Khan petition, dealing with the intelligence agencies' direct manipulation of the 1990 general elections to prevent Pakistan People's Party, led by Benazir Bhutto, from winning the battle of ballots.

Existence of the notorious political cell of the ISI was an open secret in Pakistan. It was well known that Benazir's father, former Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, allegedly established the cell in 1975 to serve his vested personal interest. But the political cell later turned into a boomerang for his party, his daughter, and also for the politics in Pakistan. The ISI and its political cell witnessed a rise during the martial law regime of General Zia-ul-Haq, who usurped power by overthrowing Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Raja Pervez Ashraf, Photo: AFP

It is indeeded interesting to notice that during the hearing of the petition, the government was reportedly unwilling to produce evidence of the existence of the cell. The apex court repeatedly ordered the attorney general to produce the notification under which the political wing of the ISI was established. But the attorney general demonstrated his failure to do so. And finally the court on July 16 came up with the ruling.

The landmark ruling spoke against the Army's meddling in politics, sending a message to the military high ups to stop their interference in politics. The ruling may contribute to some extent to consolidate Pakistan's democratic process and it may discourage Pakistan's generals to meddle in politics for the time being. The ruling may also brighten the image of the Supreme Court which was facing criticism for its judicial activism to oust elected Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from office recently.

But the crucial question is whether disbanding of the ISI's political cell will be able to prevent Pakistan's military from meddling in the country's politics. Power hungry Pakistan army has got the taste of the blood of democracy long ago. It may again want to quench its blood-thirst by grabbing state power. Under such a situation, Pakistan's civilian leaders, politicians have many things to do to protect the country's democratic process.

Despite growing animosity between ruling Pakistan People's Party and the main opposition PML-N, both the parties did not stop talking to each other. On July 16, they held a meeting to discuss the upcoming general election. Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf is expected to announce on August 14 the roadmap for the next general elections likely to be held in the first week of November, months ahead of schedule.

The next general election is scheduled for March next year, when the PPP-led government will complete its five-year tenure. But the PPP is under pressure from the opposition to advance the polls in the wake of allegations of widespread corruption and poor governance. The opposition has also been emboldened by a standoff between the government and the Supreme Court, which has given Prime Minister Ashraf time till July 25 to approach Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. Ashraf's predecessor, Gilani, was convicted of contempt and disqualified by the apex court after he refused to revive the cases against Zardari.

At the July 16 meeting, the PPP and PML-N leaders, according to media reports, agreed that the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers, and other federal and provincial ministers in the caretaker set-up would be residents of Pakistan. The caretaker Premier will be from neither the PPP or the PML-N nor one who has been a member or leader of any other political party. The President will appoint the caretaker Prime Minister in consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in parliament.

Both the PPP and PML-N leaders know it very well that the failure to reach any political consensus about the mode of holding the next parliamentary election will trigger political unrest and violence. In case that happens, the democratic process will be hindered and the army might take over like the way they did in the past.

In Bangladesh, the current political situation is not at all making the country's people hopeful of their future. They have witnessed quite a few extra-constitutional takeovers. Annoyed by the meddling in politics, the parliamentary standing committee, in a special report placed in the House on February 6 this year, on the 2007 Dhaka University campus violence, recommended steps to put an end to the DGFI's meddling in politics, and closing the interrogation cells of the task force and joint forces. “Common people and politicians are tortured in these cells, which can't continue in any civilised and democratic country,” noted the parliamentary body in its report.

We don't know the fate of the committee's recommendations. People don't know whether the government has taken any measure to stop military intelligence agency DGFI's meddling in politics. However, the government has been claiming that it has blocked the way for extra-constitutional takeover by amending the constitution. The latest amendment to the constitution introduced a stringent provision providing punishment for the offence of abrogation, suspension, etc of the constitution.

But the latest amendment has also made the political situation volatile by scrapping the provision for a caretaker government system. People now fear of a possible political turmoil ahead of the next parliamentary elections. The gap between the ruling Awami League and the main opposition BNP is widening gradually. There is no sign right now of any dialogue between them to resolve the political stand off. All signs suggest that the ruling party and the government will make all out efforts to hold the parliamentary polls without installing a non-partisan government to oversee the polls. On the other hand, the opposition will desperately try to resist the polls in which they will not participate.

Given the developing political situation, people fear that the political turmoil may pave the ground for extra-constitutional takeover again as it happed in past. In that case, the stringent provision may not be able to protect constitutional rule as it earlier failed in Pakistan. Almost the same stringent provision still exists in Pakistan constitution, but Pakistan politicians seem to have understood the truth that the stringent provision alone cannot protect the constitution. In the wake of the current political situation, one may question whether the politicians are working against or for an extra-constitutional takeover!

The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.


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