Pakistan’s emerging democracy may be facing attacks from some elements the political establishment, but the people of Pakistan are not giving up hope, and continue to support the government’s efforts to implement democratic reforms.
Aitzaz Ahsan is a former President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association, and was a leader of the Lawyers’ Movement in Pakistan that opposed Gen. Musharraf’s unconstitutional attempt to suspend the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Iftikhar Chaudhry. Today, Mr. Ahsan finds himself opposing the actions of the Chief Justice, warning that Pakistan’s Supreme Court is acting outside its constitutionally mandated authority.
A recent episode of Pakistani television talk show Merey Mutabiq included a disturbing conversation with Qazi Anwar, President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association, in which several troubling assertions were made including that the parliament does not have the power to amend the constitution, and that the Supreme Court has the privilege of striking down any part of the constitution of which it disapproves. The proliferation of such statements and actions by justices and advocates of the Supreme Court are deeply troubling, and pose a potential threat to the stability of Pakistan’s emerging democracy.
A United Nations Commission yesterday released a report on the facts and circumstances of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.[PDF] While stopping short of pronouncing criminal guilt, the report serves as a searing indictment of General Pervez Musharraf and the actions – or lack thereof – of authorities under his regime. While the report will likely spur criminal investigations in Pakistan, it serves as a harsh reminder of the vital importance of supporting the struggling movement for democracy in Pakistan.
Following the National Assembly’s passage of the 18th Amendment package of constitutional reforms, Pakistan’s upper house Senate approved the measure this morning, sending it to President Zardari for ratification. This historic event is culmination of unprecedented cooperation and consensus between Pakistan’s political parties.
President Obama met with Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani over the weeked as the global nuclear summit kicked off in Washington, DC. The US has consistently said that it is not worried about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal per se, but sees a greater threat in efforts to destabilize the democratic government.
Pakistan has approximately 70 to 90 nuclear weapons according to a report by Havard University’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs, titled Securing the Bomb. According to the authors of the report, while “Pakistan has taken major steps to improve security and command and control for its nuclear stockpiles,” the greatest opportunity for terrorists to seize nuclear weapons comes from the fragile stability of Pakistan’s democratic government.
Ultimately, no nuclear security system can protect against an unlimited threat. Hence, reducing the risk of nuclear theft in Pakistan must include both steps to further improve nuclear security measures and steps to reduce extremists’ ability to challenge the Pakistani state, to recruit nuclear insiders, and to mount large outsider attacks. Fortunately, the Pakistani government, with support from the United States and other countries, is moving on both fronts, seeking to wage both a military/intelligence battle and a “hearts and minds” campaign against violent extremists in Pakistan…
This concern was echoed by Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund, a nonprofit foundation that supports nuclear disarmament, in an interview yesterday with National Public Radio. Mr. Cirincione stated that a key concern about Pakistan’s nuclear security was the stability of Pakistan’s democratic government.
Joseph Cirincione, Ploughshares Fund: It’s not that the material isn’t secure right now – it is – it’s that the government isn’t secure.
Robert Siegel, NPR: So, in effect, it’s the stability of the Pakistani government, and indeed the policy or the orientation of the Pakistani government that’s the measure of how dangerous that arsenal is.
Joseph Cirincione: Right.
Pakistan’s democratic government has made great strides in both domestic political reform and security. But supporting the democratic government against destabilizing elements is not only in the interest of promoting democracy. Pakistan is a key ally in the fight against militant groups like al Qaeda, and the stability of Pakistan’s democratic government is the key to keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists.
President Obama today met with Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani at Blair House on the margins of Pakistan’s participation in the Nuclear Security Summit. The President was joined by Secretary of State Clinton and the Prime Minister was joined by Foreign Minister Qureshi.
President Obama began by noting that he is very fond of Pakistan, having visited the country during college. The leaders reaffirmed the positive relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, a relationship of significant importance because of the shared values of our countries and the fight we are both engaged in against extremists operating in South Asia. The President also noted that our multi-faceted and long-term strategic relationship goes far beyond security issues.
The President expressed his appreciation to the Prime Minister for the quick reaction of Pakistani security forces to the terrorist attack on our Consulate in Peshawar on April 5 and expressed his condolences at the Pakistani casualties from that attack and the attack on a political event in Lower Dir on the same day. He commented that these two attacks on the same day are important to note because the extremists do not distinguish between us and we are truly facing a common enemy.
The President discussed with the Prime Minister the bilateral progress made during the March 24-25 Strategic Dialogue and reiterated the U.S. pledge to work with Pakistan to address issues of mutual concern in the long-term relationship. The Prime Minister also indicated his approval of the progress made during the Strategic Dialogue and his hope that the working groups that have been established to address various aspects of the relationship would yield progress in advance of the next Strategic Dialogue meeting, scheduled for late 2010 in Islamabad.
The Prime Minister noted that his participation in the Nuclear Security Summit comes at a time when popular support for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is growing. By way of example, the Prime Minister noted that prior to embarking for the United States, he met with the National Command Authority, both houses of parliament, the political opposition, and military leaders. The President indicated his appreciation of that broad-based sentiment and used, addressing the topic of the conference, reasserted the importance of nuclear security, a priority he has reiterated for all countries. The Prime Minister indicated his assurance that Pakistan takes nuclear security seriously and has appropriate safeguards in place.
The Prime Minister also expressed his appreciation for the broad U.S. assistance program to Pakistan, a multi-faceted effort to make progress on various sectors including: economy, trade, education, infrastructure, security. He noted that energy is an existing and growing problem. The President reiterated that we are committed to helping Pakistan address its real and growing energy needs and noted that he is pleased that implementation is proceeding on the $125m in energy-sector projects Secretary Clinton announced in October.
The democratic government in Pakistan continues to advance women’s rights as a legislative priority. Just last month, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari signed the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill and appointed Dr. Shama Khalid the first woman as Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan. Now, the democratic government is moving closer to passing legislation that will ban domestic violence.
Despite recent progress on the issue of women’s rights, Pakistan continues to see dramatic and violent attacks on women. According to the Aurat Foundation’s 2009 report on the Situation of Violence Against Women in Pakistan, “A total of 8548 incidents of violence against women were reported in the four provinces of Pakistan and in capital territory Islamabad during year 2009.” And these are only the cases that were reported in the media, meaning that the problem is likely vastly more severe.
The proposed legislation would go far not only in providing criminal penalties for violence against women, but in establishing an infrastructure that could help deliver a cultural change that would get to the root of the problem.
The bill lays out a broad definition of domestic violence beyond assault, including emotional abuse, stalking and wrongful confinement. Depriving a spouse of money or other resources needed to survive is also considered a violation.
The bill strives to cover everyone in a household, including elderly parents, children and husbands. It also sets up local ”protection committees,” which are required to include women and empowered to file complaints on behalf of victims.
Abusers can face months or years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines if they violate court protection orders, the bill says.
Ambreen Salman, writing for the blog Global Voices, discusses the importance of supporting the democratic government in passing this legislation.
Pakistani women can achieve their goal by joining hands together and motivating each other. Educate women which will ensure awareness of what is happening to women around the world today is an essential step towards improving their situation. It is a surprising fact that women are made to do some of the things simply because of the fact that they are women. No one can change the world by themselves, but many people doing a little can make a real difference in the society. The nations that put up with the ill-treatment of women must know that they are being watched. A good number of governments are run by men who may not have the wish to transform things unless the world makes some noise.
The things which we can do at our level are:
- We can educate ourselves.
- We can be supportive of organizations that promote women’s rights.
- We can join hands and make our governments know that we are conscious of what’s happening around the world and we will not allow it.
- We can write to foreign embassies about the violence so that they can help us in promoting awareness.
- We can increase awareness.
- We can read about it.
- We can write about it.
- We can blog about it.
- We can talk about it.
Pakistan’s National Assembly has demonstrated in recent weeks that members are able to put aside party politics and unite in consensus around important issues. Without this sense of democratic unity and cooperation, the historic 18th Amendment to the constitution could not have passed. Let them show the same urgency in passing this bill to provide protections to Pakistan’s women and continue the important progress that has been made this year.
Though Pakistan continues to face a number of challenges, in its struggle for democracy it is, perhaps, a lesson for other nascent democracies. By tabling a package of constitutional reforms that will repeal several aberrations adopted under dictatorships in the 1980s and 1990s, the democratic government of Pakistan has achieved a landmark in democracy and brought hope to people around the world.
Events over the past week have sent a ripple of hope and optimism through the nation and its diaspora as the government prepares to right past wrongs and prove that, even as dictators attempt to preserve their misrule through constitutional vandalism, the natural desire for freedom will always overcome their tyranny. English-language daily, The Daily Times wrote on Sunday,
With the strengthening of parliament, the provinces, local governments, dispute resolution amongst the provinces and with the centre, transparent appointments of chief election commissioners and the superior judiciary, the citizens of Pakistan can draw a sigh of relief and feel justly proud of the consensus-building inherent capability of a democracy, the odd hiccup notwithstanding. This is an all too rare moment to celebrate in our national life, and it would be best to let bygones be bygones and not labour the respective contributions (negative and positive) of all the parties to this historic compact.
Washington-based attorney and former Pakistani military officer Mohsin Awan wrote this past weekend that the constitutional reforms represent “The Greatest Moment in Pakistani Democracy.”
This week may very well be remembered in Pakistan as the greatest point in the restoration of democracy in its 63 year history. Yesterday, after a year long legislative effort led by President Asif Ali Zardari and his Pakistan Peoples Party in the National Assembly of Pakistan, agreement was finally reached on the most dramatic and sweeping constitutional changes in Pakistan’s history, restoring the 1973 Pakistani Constitution, which created a Pakistani parliamentary democracy based on the British Westminster model.
That Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, has voluntarily pushed through a package of constitutional reforms that will repeal power consolidation by previous presidents is an unprecedented move that will secure his place in the history books as a leader who put his nation before his personal interest. Again, from Mohsin Awan:
Contrary to those who would belittle him, Asif Zardari is hardly a recent convert to the restoration of the 1973 Constitution. President Zardari had planned to complete the transition to democracy and to return the country to the foundations of the 1973 constitution from his first day in office. During his address to the joint sitting of the parliament last year, he advised the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Fahmida Mirza, to immediately form a constitutional committee comprising representatives of all political forces in the parliament to look at not only doing away with the arbitrary amendments including the infamous 17th amendment inserted by the dictator but also to settle the question of provincial autonomy according to the wishes of the federating units. He called upon his party in Parliament to enact a package of constitutional reforms as quickly as possible.
Irrespective of what his detractors may like to say, the fact is that Zardari has ungrudgingly consented, as was his original promise and intention, to forgo the powers conferred on the President under the 17th amendment thus implementing the public commitment of his wife and of our Party. He is not being “stripped of his power” as some have characterized it either out of ignorance or mischief, but rather has been in the vanguard of democratic change. The constitutional committee that was created at his request, specifically for this purpose, has completed its job and the reform package will be put before the National Assembly on Thursday and the Senate on Friday.
Letters to newspapers in Pakistan echo these sentiments of optimism among the Pakistani public.
Perhaps it can be dubbed the best constitutional package after the 1973 Constitution. It has a great deal of resemblance to the original 1973 Constitution, as the former like the later — is expected to be unanimous when it is finally passed by parliament.
Credit goes to all stakeholders in parliament, the media, lawyers and the President without whose generosity and cooperation such an achievement was not possible, at least in a friendly environment.
An atmosphere of optimism would develop in the country. At large, all provinces — especially the smaller ones — would regain their powers. A sense of deprivation prevailing in the smaller provinces would decrease to a considerable level.
After decades of constitutional manipulation and bold power grabs by dictators Ziaul Haq and Musharraf, Pakistan is teaching the world a lesson in democratic governance.
Pakistan’s democratically elected President Asif Ali Zardari has suffered repeated accusation of corruption, including what is referred to in Pakistan as the so-called “Swiss Case.” What is largely missing from discussion of these charges, however, is historical context. These and other corruption charges were part of a widespread practice of using kangaroo courts to silence the democratic opposition to Pakistan’s past military dictators.