Friday June 21, 2024

Back to the status quo

By Abdul Sattar
August 19, 2023

The recent hasty legislation carried out by parliament clearly indicates that the houses of public representatives have become merely a rubber stamp. It is thought that, since July 1, more than 96 laws have been passed by the lower and upper houses of parliament. Most of these bills were not properly deliberated upon and, in some cases, they were not even referred to the concerned committees, prompting lawmakers to protest this. Some legislators complained that they were not provided the drafts of the bills.

Some of these acts have tremendously increased the powers of undemocratic forces. Now, it will be extremely difficult for politicians, media and the ‘intelligentsia’ to account for those who have always wielded immense power in the country. Cybercrime legislations will deter the general public and dissenting voices from raising questions over the conduct of those who are believed to have unaccountable power and authority. Any criticism that does not fit into a certain definition of national interests could be considered anti-state.

The mainstream media has already been controlled by those who decide what should be published or aired. Social media platforms were the only places where non-conformists could air their differences but with recent legislation it will be very difficult for critics to question the conduct of the most powerful institutions and personalities of the country.

It is the duty of journalists, intelligentsia and those who care about democratic norms to speak to power, exposing their corrupt practices and questioning their unlimited authority. In Pakistan speaking against corporate authority was already impossible but saner parts of society would pose tough questions to the state. This may no longer be possible.

Exposing corruption of politicians is very common in Pakistan but unearthing scandals related to other elites is impossible. Despite these difficulties, journalists have in the past managed to break some of these stories. Now, the government of former PM Shehbaz Sharif has not only passed laws that will have ramifications for journalists and critics but has also allowed the civilian domain to be encroached upon by non-elected persons and bodies. In this, Shehbaz turned out to be the weakest chief executive of the country. Some critics believe that he is even milder than Mohammed Khan Junejo who at least had summoned enough courage at one point to openly talk about constitutional limits on institutional power.

Both the PPP and PML-N blindly extended support to all these bills that were not in consonance with democratic norms and traditions. Only former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani, senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan and National Party senator Tahir Bizenjo summoned enough courage to protest the insane way of legislation. Some other legislators also murmured their anger, forcing the government to at least refer one of the bills to a Senate committee and removing a few extremely controversial clauses that would have turned the country into a complete banana republic.

Pakistan came into being at the height of the cold war when the developing countries had to make a choice: whether to join the capitalist camp or the socialist bloc. Pro-establishment elements tried to ally with London, Paris and Washington but people’s resistance movements threw their support behind the socialist camp that was being considered a liberator in the developing world. These pro-people elements resisted every move of West-oriented politicians who were bent on siding with the former imperialist powers and the emerging hegemon that wanted to control the world in the aftermath of the Second World War.

During the decade of the 1950s, the National Awami Party, with roots almost in all parts of Pakistan including its eastern wing, strongly opposed the policies of the ruling elite to appease the Western world. It is believed that the party was so popular that it could have secured a number of seats in parliament had the general elections been held in 1958 as planned. The military coup in 1958 and the pro-West policies of Ayub Khan clearly indicated that the pro-people political organizations were not wrong in asserting that the ruling class of Pakistan wanted to hobnob with Washington, London and Paris. The dictatorship of Ayub Khan entered into military pacts, turning Pakistan into a vassal of the United States, at times jeopardizing its core national interests.

During the decades of the 1960s, both the National Awami Party and the Pakistan People’s Party emerged as potent voices against the policies of following the western camp while students’ bodies, trade unions and intelligentsia also opposed such policies of the Ayub government.

Unfortunately, after coming into power, the PPP in a way allied with the establishment to counter trade unions and the rising powers of pro-people organizations. But after the military coup of 1977, the party of Z A Bhutto and other progressive people vehemently opposed the dictatorship of Gen Zia that had imposed a retrogressive agenda on the country. Saner voices in nationalist politics also warned Zia against igniting a fire in Afghanistan, warning that it would haunt Pakistan.

After the restoration of democracy in 1986 and the elections of 1988, Benazir Bhutto’s PPP, Muslim League Nawaz, MQM, Sindhi nationalists and Pakhtun and Baloch regional parties continued to oppose interventionism politics – depending on policies and political timing. After being dislodged from power, the PTI also tried to create an impression that it was a resistance force but many would be reluctant to buy this given the political somersaults of Imran Khan.

Critics believe that the last such potent voices on the political landscape were former senator Hasil Bizenjo, Pakhtun nationalist Mehmood Khan Achakzai and the late senator Usman Kakar who always resisted the encroachment of civilian institutions, mounting a robust defense of civilian dispensation. Civil rights movements are also opposing such encroachments but their presence is confined to a few places. The current political situation in Pakistan clearly indicates the end of such politics.

The writer is a freelancejournalist who can be reached at: