Thursday, December 2

'BB and Sharifs are out for good'

AAMER WAQAS CH talks to PML leader Humayun Akhtar Khan, who says that it is for the parliament and the Supreme Court to endorse or reject the Constitutional package

Even the pro-government parties have shown reservations about the constitutional package; thereby putting the responsibility of approving or rejecting the package on the Supreme Court initially, and later on, the parliament. There is a general consensus that constitution-making and amending is the duty of the parliamentarians, who are the direct representatives of the people. The general impression is of a limited approval - criticising certain steps and commending a few - but there is a consensus that the military regime has no right to amend the constitution. The prerogative lies with the Parliament. Though brought up in a military background, Humayun Akhtar Khan believes in strong democratic institutions as he considers himself 'a product of democratic process'. He believes that we need a certain period for the parties to become democratic, strong and institutionalised, hence bringing an end to one-man-shows. 'Until that happens, there should be some checks and balances, which should not allow anyone to abuse power," he maintains. Following are excerpts from his interview:-
On the constitutional amendments:
I am of the considered opinion that it is the Supreme Court, which gave legal cover to the present regime and allowed it to make limited amendments in the Constitution without disturbing its fundamental structure, should take into consideration whether these two constitutional packages fall within the purview of that demarcation outlined by the Apex Court. Secondly, as the constitutional amendments are never meant for a brief period, it puts an added responsibility on the decision-makers to work more earnestly. Thirdly, the contentious constitutional issues should be addressed by the parliament, expected to be chosen in the October elections. Hence, no institution or individual has the right to make these or any other amendments part of the constitution. I am all for women's participation as it is difficult for them to contest general seats. I think it is a good idea giving them reserved seats as they were under-represented. As far as the technocrats' idea is concerned, I strongly feel that if the Parliament needs technocrats for consultation, it can invite them, but they should not be taken as members to various houses. Giving the right of two votes to Senators, looks ridiculous to me. If the idea is to make the Senate strong, then it is better to have a senators' Assembly only. This package would be placed in front of the newly elected parliament, which would stamp its approval by a two-third majority. Let us see what happens during the consultation process, and when the bill is placed before the parliament. I am sure that there would be some give and take, but the powers of the president are the ultimate one.
On the NSC
It is a recommendatory body. As we are moving from a military to a civilian rule, the parliament will have to take its own course, which would be very difficult for anyone to reverse then. The powers the president has honoured himself with, are more like a nuclear deterrent, but seldom used or should be used. There should be a constitutional process for such a use. A constitution must always be amended keeping in view the overall structure and its stability rather those for individuals. The changes should be objective and no body or the institutions of the State should abuse the powers they have.
On the unification of various factions of the PML
The real unification is between the Nawaz faction and the QA, which will have a significant impact on the October elections. Of course, we want all our former partners to come back to us. If Nawaz and the religious set-up field their own candidates in individual capacities, and the right wing voters split, then the writing is on the wall - PPP will be the winner - this is an historical fact. It is important even for Nawaz Sharif. Any body, who is a spoiler of the anti-PPP vote, will never be able to become an anti-PPP leader again. Nawaz Sharif's rise in politics was as a leader of anti-PPP vote bank. If those voters see him moving towards the PPP now, that would be the D-Day for his politics. My thesis is that he should have enough political sense of not meeting Benazir Bhutto because he will finish himself. If we split anti-PPP vote out of the two vote banks, that is, the pro and the anti-PPP, then the PPP would win and anybody who is seen as contributing towards voters' split, would be condemned after the elections. If the Muslim League loses, we will not be the culprits because we are here and putting up a fight. They would be the real culprits, who are sitting outside and acting as spoilers. Whatever Nawaz is today, he is because of the PML. He should never forget that. Moreover, he should realise that he has done his bit now for the Party, and those left behind will have to contest and take the Party forward. His downfall was not caused by the Party's decisions. Then why should the Party suffer? A lot of us have contributed towards the Party, who have the credibility and credentials to run this Party. I think it is time he acted for the unification of the Party, which would earn him a lot of respect. It may be the establishment's desire as perceived by a few, but it has to be done by the politicians.
On divisions within the PML
If the PML could survive after the Quaid, then it can survive any crisis. So I don't think that the absence of Nawaz would make much difference. The main difference is among the Nawaz and the QA factions. I think one day they will be together and will be able to bring the others back to our fold. As far the leadership is concerned, it should not be appointed. Put the party through the election process and one will see the young leaders coming up. Nawaz started his politics in 1981 and became a leader in 1991, so it takes time. It was his own mistakes which led to his personal debacle. Now, he should make room for others to come forward.
On the performance of the government
Public does not judge a military government as it does a political set-up. It is expected from the military regime that some major changes will be brought and life of a common man will improve immediately. I think this government has brought about fiscal stability in the economy, thanks to our donors and the multilateral agencies, which have moved rather swiftly in the post-September 11 scenario. Even in the economic area, the regime has not been able to bring about major micro-economic changes and have been unable to do much in restoring various sectors of the economy. Confidence of the investors and the growth rate is still dismally low. It might be because of the region where the growth rate is still 5.7 per cent. Ours is much lower than that. Some kind of reforms proposed for women and minorities are good steps, but the common man has not gained anything and his life has become more difficult.
On District government system
This is an under-privileged society where institutions are not doing their real job. If the municipal services and the law enforcement are performed properly, then the MNAs or MPAs would not be bothered. The public does not realise this. When we go to them for votes, they ask for something in return. Now the local bodies have been given more powers than before, but this system has many inherent flaws as well.
On Pakistan's support to the US
Since 1947, Pakistan has always maintained very close relations with the US. Whereas India flirted with both the East and the West, Pakistan went straight into the lap of the West. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, we were a front-line state and played an important role in the withdrawal of the Russians. Now we once again find ourselves in the same situation. I think Pakistan should take steps, which are in its own interests and try to gather support of the world community for its own problems. Basically, Al-Qaeda is a new phenomenon. The Afghan war was basically fought and won by Afghans. Any religious party, claiming to have contributed to the Afghan war, is making an invalid claim. The military was a major supporter. Towards the end of the Afghan war, foreigners started arriving from the Arab countries though their role in the actual war was insignificant. Some of them worked in the refugee camps and social welfare organisations. Civil war broke there, and Pakistan made the fundamental mistake of taking sides. Prior to that Pakistan never took sides and got all the anti-Soviet elements together in a seven-party alliance. The foreign fighters got involved in Afghanistan subsequently, and became tools in feuds. That was the start of the so-called Al-Qaeda factor. We helped our Afghan brothers and sacrificed a lot for them. If these foreigners enter our country for illegal acts, we should thwart such moves, and if they come as friends, they are welcome.
On India-Pakistan dialogue
I think we have given an opportunity to India to start the negotiating process and I don't think that we have taken a U turn as far as the Kashmir issue is concerned. Now, the ball is in India's court. India is our enemy and wants to extract the best deal through various manoeuvres. What kind of government exists in Pakistan, is not India's problem. It is the right of the people of Pakistan to choose their government. There were two democratic set-ups and no progress was made on any issue. India will not give us any concessions if there exists a democratic rule in Pakistan. The former will start talks only when it will suit its interests.
On the accountability process
The institution of accountability must exist in this country, which should be thoroughly professional and totally unbiased. It should lay a hand on somebody when it is absolutely certain that a wrong has been committed. Once they are sure, then the courts should be convinced through tangible evidence. It should be more focused in hitting targets. There are people who have been put in jails for years and later found innocent. May be this government is biased, but then what was the Nawaz Sharif doing? Was it not targeting his political opponents? I hope that we don't indulge in such things in future.
On leadership crisis
I agree that our major crisis has been of leadership. First, both Nawaz and Benazir got two opportunities each and could not do anything for the country. It is because of them that the civilian rule came to an end. They were not the commoners and average politicians. If the parliament is not functioning properly, it is the responsibility of the leadership. They both were trying to establish their own rule. Unfortunately, Nawaz tried to make the Muslim League like Bhutto's PPP. But the PML and the PPP are two different parties - PPP is a cult and not a party. The PML can change its leadership through the democratic process and take the party forward. The PPP would never be able to do that.
On support to the present regime
I am a son of a general. However, my mainstay in the political arena has been totally democratic. I had contested and won elections. We are not part of the government as we have tried to place the PML in a position where it can participate as a party in the political process, which this regime aims to start. We will take part in the general elections, as we did in the local body elections, to form the government. If I am supporting the present process, I am simply being practical. The Army had taken over earlier as well. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became a member of the military government of Ayub Khan. Nawaz Sharif became a part of Zia's military government. We did not join this regime rather we have placed the Party in a position where it can contest elections in a healthy way.
On General's assertion of fair elections
I think General Musharraf wanted to have a fair referendum. I don't feel that at any point, he had any nefarious intention of rigging the referendum. The exercise was not so perfect as he himself said. Now some people talk about being 'more loyal than the king'. But nonetheless, we hope that the inadequacies of the referendum will not be seen in the general elections. On the role of the military in the future governments: I think the role of the military in the future governments seems to be through the National Security Council only. It is not due to the reason that we have a military president now, and he would always be there. We can have a civilian president as well. Even the government's proposals are suggestive of the military's involvement through the NSC only, which is not a constitutional body, but a recommendatory one. This concept has existed in other countries too. There is no other military interference. I think that it is necessary to have checks and balances for some time. The whole issue is how much and what kind of checks and balances! I think, if that is fairly done, then we might be able to bring some stability, and democratic institutions would start becoming stronger. It all depends on how power is used and not abused.
On law and order situation in the country
I am not sure whether attacks in Karachi were suicide attacks, as that has not been established yet. But those were certainly very demonstrative bomb attacks. It is a very serious problem. We have seen an increase in such activities and one would expect that the law enforcing agencies would have more success in the future.
On regional parties
Certain problems have existed, but not out of proportion as projected by a few. I always think that a dialogue among these parties would be fruitful. Take the ANP's example! It had ethnic emotions at one time, but now you see that they have entered the mainstream politics of the country and that can happen to all the other ethnic and regional parties too. They should merge in the mainstream politics, which can happen only through dialogue and free elections. You see the National Assembly and the Senate are wonderful institutions where Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochs and Pathans; people with different backgrounds and regions are sitting together, and that generates a lot of interaction.
On possibility of coming back of the Sharifs and Benazir
The possibility of the Sharifs or Ms Bhutto coming back is zero as long as Musharraf is there. Both are on self-imposed exile as Benazir left this country voluntarily and the Sharifs left by striking a deal with the government, and Saudi Arabia appears to be the guarantor. If they wanted to come back, they wouldn't have left. If the PPP leaders assert about BB's coming back, that is strategy they use to keep its ranks and file intact. They do it so that the workers are not demoralised. There is no personal grudge between these leaders and General Musharraf. The Sharifs left voluntarily and I don't think they will come back, not even Shahbaz Sharif. He should realise that his coming back would be dependent on the decision of the Sharif family. The indications, which we are getting, are that the family is not supporting Shahbaz to come back. And if he comes back against their wishes, he will be like us. Though Shahbaz and Nawaz are not separate entities, but the Sharif family is not yet ready to pass the torch to Shahbaz.

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