Press Gallery: From sham to real democracy
By Rana Qaisar
ISLAMABAD: Rarely does one want to miss someone speaking on the floor of the house. Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan (Warriach) is just such a person; a seasoned parliamentarian, lawyer and an intellectual with Chaucerian wit.
Whether you agree with him or not, you long to hear him speaking on the floor of the house.
As the speaker invited Mr Ahsan to speak on the presidential address, many journalists enjoying breakfast tea in the cafeteria rushed to the press gallery and the prime minister too entered the house, maybe coincidently.
Members normally surround the prime minister when is in the house, and he does not listen to a speech unless it has substance. But he listened to Mr Ahsan with rapt attention and at one time he asked a treasury member who wanted to speak to him, to wait.
Aitzaz Ahsan focused on three issues – nuclear proliferation, hanging Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the supremacy of parliament.
To start with, he referred to the confession by Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan which, he said, was made in haste without consultation with the political parties represented in parliament and without considering its fall-out.
His concern was that this issue could have been delayed administratively by appointing a judicial commission to investigate whether nuclear proliferation had really taken place and if it had, was it Dr Khan alone who had committed acts of “indiscretion”.
To him - and it appears to many others as well - the hasty confession by Dr Khan was a “cover-up” for the “real faces” involved in this crime. Right or wrong, the public perception is that Dr AQ Khan was not alone.
Mr Ahsan is one of a few parliamentarians who despite being in the opposition, do not believe in politics of agitation and protest for protest’s sake.
He believes in the strengthening institutions and the supremacy of parliament, with a consultative process taking place between the government and the opposition to forge a national consensus.
Though the record of political governments is unenviable, their spirit to take the government along has always been lacking when the generals are calling the shots.
It’s now almost fourteen months that we have a parliament but there is not a single occasion that any issue of national importance, be it foreign policy or nuclear proliferation, was ever brought up for discussion. Maybe it is a question of trust. But even if there is mistrust, who is responsible for this, and why is it not being removed?
Then there is a question of power-sharing. Aitzaz rightly pointed out that despite having an elected prime minister, an agreement with the Indian prime minister on the sidelines of 12th SAARC summit was signed by the president who believes in centrality of command rather than sharing power, not to speak of transferring power.
So it’s just a cry in the wilderness to call for parliament’s supremacy. But it does not mean that people like Mr Ahsan should not speak up for the supremacy of parliament and a democratic culture. Historically, it’s the battle by such people that the world today supports democracy and condemns dictatorship in all its forms.
Political parties are no exception. To them the role of intelligence agencies is overwhelmingly intrusive and these states within states have damaged every institution in Pakistan.
The prime minister listened intently to Mr Ahsan, who often made sarcastic remarks to make Mr Jamali and the long line of ministers sitting on the front benches realise they had a role to play in making parliament the supreme institution instead of bowing to a general who is seen to have insulted the august house with “macho gestures” as if he had won a war against an enemy.
One expects that when the prime minister winds up the debate as he did in the Senate, he would certainly come forward with a response to Mr Ahsan’s willingness on behalf of what he called the real opposition (the ARD and other parties) and the friendly opposition (the MMA) to help the government establish supremacy of parliament with a regular process of consultation.
PML-N’s Khwaja Asif was critical of what the military government had trumpeted as across-the-board accountability.
He referred to many federal ministers and senior members and leaders of the ruling party for their alleged involvement in acts of corruption and irregularity but given a clean chit only for their support to General Musharraf despite the fact that most of them were still facing cases in accountability courts.
Mr Asif has perhaps forgotten that the transition from sham to real democracy is incomplete and the present political system is what the people call “Musharfocracy”.
But one hopes that true democracy will come to Pakistan with the completion of this transitional period. President Musharraf is an optimist and one does not doubt his intentions. So let’s not give up hope.