Saeed Afridi |
This unworkable and wholly undemocratic architecture rendered Pakistan’s democracy in a state of constant struggle between two forms of authoritarian dictatorships, military or civilian. During the first decade of the new century, under the hybrid rule, a credibly revamped local governing system opened up the urban political sphere.
The final verdict, another act of judicial activism, disqualified but did not entirely decapitate the executive yet set a clear date for the guillotine to fall; in thirty weeks
The media, hitherto controlled, or muzzled, by respective governments, was provided greater, but as yet restricted, freedom. With economic progress and a demographic bubble, a larger, predominantly young, a middle class emerged that found its voice in new local democratic institutions. The middle class, somewhat familiar with non-patronage western democracies, was gradually becoming self-aware.
On the heels of this realization came a stand-off between the Judiciary and the military-backed hybrid government over the dismissal of the Chief Justice. Despite a history of acquiescing to the military and executive, a large portion of the judiciary, buoyed by exiled politicians, decided to resist his dismissal. Obvious individual ambitions aside, the movement gained momentum and eventually led to the reinstatement of the dissenting judges.
This followed three years of independent, but not unbiased, judicial activism, required and absurd. Judiciary dismissed an executive from office and all but forced proceedings against a former dictator for treason. The military, functionally sound and with an institutional memory, was quick to learn the new lesson; the judiciary could no longer be assumed to turn tricks. Since then the military has avoided any clash that could invite judicial ire. The judiciary had carved out its sphere of influence and began to guard it aggressively.
The investigation unearthed yet more graft, uncovered money laundering carousels and revealed the executive to be an employee overseas, all be it for his son, that glee vanished
The media too found its voice during the Judicial struggle and began to yield its power over narrative creation and propagation. No longer shackled by the suffocating control of the military and the executive, it began to carve its own niche, becoming self-aware and realizing its power.
Among the first undemocratic steps taken by the returning Democratic authoritarians was to abolish the local government system, denting the urban middle class’s newfound influence. Increasingly self-aware, but yet unskilled in urban agitation, it seethed but remained largely non-participatory; waiting and seeking a figurehead. One manifested himself in a relatively clean sportsman turned bungling politician, and it found its political voice. Self-awareness fed into an unprecedented surge of political participation during the next general election.
This presented a direct challenge to Pakistan’s dynastic and venal status quo which successfully pushed back through systemic manipulation, rendering the election all but farcical. A widely expected hung parliament materialized into a super majority government returning a corrupt but popular politician to near absolute power. Rather than remain historically aloof, the urban middle class stood behind their figurehead and resisted. This followed three years of periodic and passionate agitation; the only real political challenge faced by the executive.
Politicians assumed ICIJ’s revelations would blow over amid bureaucracy’s procrastinations and the judiciary favoring the executive while venal political opponents and the military would negotiate away reservations
Then came ICIJ’s Panama revelations, confirming the perceived truth of corrupt wealth stashed abroad. Among hundreds of Pakistanis named, one inclusion was significant. In substance, the governing executive had offshore assets; in form, his children owned them, though minors at the time of purchase. These assets had been part of previous civil-military tussles but now came a confirmation from a credible external source. Back then, these assets were investigated, registered and leveraged; both the investigating bureaucracy and adjudicating Judiciary prostituting then for the military.
With a change to the civilian rule, the bureaucracy all but shelved civilian corruption investigations. Politicians assumed ICIJ’s revelations would blow over amid bureaucracy’s procrastinations and the judiciary favouring the executive while venal political opponents and the military would negotiate away reservations. After all, this is how everything had always worked.
Perhaps that explains the executive’s doddering, contradictory and dismissively ineffectual legal defense
The ruling politicians were right. In ‘that’ Pakistan, Panama was a ‘non-issue’, in ‘this’ Pakistan, they were sorely mistaken. The Panama revelations did not die a silent death. The sportsman turned politician, with his army of self-aware and vocal youth, just wouldn’t let the matter go. One by one they knocked on the doors of every political and bureaucratic institution to do its job and faced, constitutionally backed and completely legal, executive manipulation.
After six months this policy found itself pursuing its niche; agitation. In ‘that’ Pakistan, these people would have gone home after a few hours, in ‘this’ Pakistan they stayed on the streets. They had carved out their sphere of influence, which they defended with bodies in the street. When they threatened to lock down the capital city the executive agreed to allow the highest court of the land, the supreme court, to investigate the matter. After all, in ‘that’ Pakistan, a verdict in favour of the executive was a foregone conclusion.
When the agitating mob agreed on judicial arbitration on the Panama matters, the executive and courtiers’ glee was palpable. The judiciary had historically favoured the incumbent; this executive especially so. Perhaps that explains the executive’s doddering, contradictory and dismissively ineffectual legal defence.
Once in court, the bureaucracy, acting for the executive, was uncooperative and, at times, dismissive of the judges. In ‘that’ Pakistan these manipulations would have gone unreported. In ‘this’ Pakistan there was a free and independent, though not unbiased, media which kept all shenanigans under the microscope.
The non-enamoured section of the free press took to task every executive manipulation. Forged documents outed, false testimonies ridiculed, hastily arranged foreign royal saviours mocked and the litany of contradictory statements played on nightly shows adnauseam. ‘This’ Pakistan had media trials and the executive was perceived guilt ridden much before the final verdict.
When the agitating mob agreed on judicial arbitration on the Panama matters, the executive and courtiers’ glee was palpable. The judiciary had historically favoured the incumbent; this executive especially so. Perhaps that explains the executive’s doddering, contradictory and dismissively ineffectual legal defence. When a split judicial decision was announced favouring a further investigation, bureaucracy and military led under Judicial oversight, the executive’s courtiers all but held a gala, welcoming impending vindication.
The Panama revelations did not die a silent death. The sportsman turned politician, with his army of self-aware and vocal youth, just wouldn’t let the matter go
When the investigation unearthed yet more graft, uncovered money laundering carousels and revealed the executive to be an employee overseas, all be it for his son, that glee vanished. For the executive, courtiers and co-opted Democrats, this was unchartered territory, they responded by maligning the judiciary, some even threatening their families. In ‘that’ Pakistan, the judiciary would have cowered, begged forgiveness and prostituted itself sooner.
In ‘this’ Pakistan, the judiciary had carved its sphere of influence that no executive could encroach, let alone dictate. The final verdict, another act of judicial activism, disqualified but did not entirely decapitate the executive yet set a clear date for the guillotine to fall; in thirty weeks. In ‘this’ Pakistan, the judiciary could find a reason to bite, within or outside its remit, and it did.
The writer is a former management consultant focusing on the Energy Industry and writes on Energy Security and the Politics of Energy Resources. He is conducting research related to the role of Central Asia’s energy resources in China’s Energy Security at the University of Westminster, UK. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.