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Daily Times Editorials – 20th April 2016

Accountability: a dream in Pakistan?

Never failing to prove the cynics right, government allowed the former military dictator, former president, General (Retd.) Pervez Musharraf, to leave the country amidst serious legal proceedings against him. In a country in which constitutional development has been plagued by arbitrary suspensions and abrogations, it has become necessary to realise the importance of the constitution. Many mature democracies of the world treat their constitution as a sacred document and subject it to the occasional amendment. In contrast, the history of Pakistan’s constitution is filled with amendments and counter-amendments, mostly as a result of dictators trying to concentrate power in their own hands. Not only does this amount to undermining the will of the people, but it also leads to the retardation of the country’s institutions. These are not just limited to state institutions but they also include political parties and media. If patronage-seeking politicians are rewarded for providing a base of support for dictators, then the abysmal quality of the current political leadership can hardly be attributed to the unsuitability of democracy in Pakistan. This does not mean that corruption should in any way be tolerated. However, it needs to be understood that only democratic development can provide the underlying framework over which adequate accountability can be realised.

A constitution is a document that defines the role of the various institutions of the state. It lays down the power of the state and protects the citizens from governmental abuse. A government that functions under a constitution is limited by the laws enumerated in it; it cannot function under the arbitrary command of any individual. A constitution derives its legitimacy from the fact that it is devised and agreed upon by the people’s elected representatives. This means that it stands above any unelected individual or institution. Pakistan’s constitution was passed in 1973, unanimously, by all political parties that had representation in parliament. It is a document that provides for the roles of all three pillars of the state, namely, the legislature, executive, and the judiciary. It is absurd to believe that this structure of parliamentary democracy, which is practised worldwide, does not contain adequate provisions for most of the exigencies that a state may have to deal with. In any case, there is the procedure of constitutional amendment that can be used to address those rare occasions in which, constitutional provisions may prove inadequate. Hence, instead of legitimising the suspension and abrogation of the constitution under the pretence of addressing issues that the constitution has not foreseen, one should call it the brazen hijacking of government that it actually is.

While things are getting better in Pakistan as for the first time a democratic government completed its term, and the succeeding government is well on its way to complete its term as well, the primacy of the constitution must be asserted in order to discourage any future adventure seekers. Pakistan’s political leadership surely does not miss any opportunity in getting embroiled in controversies. At present, both the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan People’s Party have their plates full as they defend their leaders from the allegations that have surfaced after the Panama Papers’ revelations. Regardless of whether these allegations prove to be truthful or not, they point towards a much broader issue of the lack of accountability in Pakistan. People’s representatives are the trustees of their money, and in this matter, they are accountable to them. In the absence of proper mechanisms to make these representatives more accountable, people get resigned to this self-perpetuating cycle of corruption, and this causes some to lose faith in democracy. It needs to be realised here that democracy allows for the gradual evolution of institutions with the main mover being public feedback. As people start demanding greater accountability from their leaders, the leaders eventually have to acquiesce. Hence, the Pakistani people need to be more vocal of their demands and make the politicians work for their vote.

Taliban’s spring offensive

Any hope for the Afghan reconciliation process have been shattered after the Taliban announced the launch of a fresh spring offensive against government strongholds backed by suicide and guerrilla attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan, as part of the quadrilateral coordination group involving Afghanistan, China and the US, was trying to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, but this latest announcement of the Taliban has made the prospects of a peace process uncertain. Islamabad is irked by the decision of the Taliban, and it has warned them to shun violence or pay a heavy price. The Taliban earlier this month had announced the start of Operation Omari, named after the late Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, pledging to launch large-scale offensives to oust the west-backed Afghan government from power.

After the stalling of the Murree talks, a second round of meetings has been initiated to find a roadmap to bring the bloodshed to an end in Afghanistan, but all have proved futile so far. It is still unclear which faction of the Taliban is ready to become part of the peace talks since internal divisions within the Taliban stepped up attacks in Afghanistan, and their refusal to hold talks with the incumbent Kabul government has added uncertainty to an already complicated situation. On its part, Pakistan is making efforts to convince the Taliban to join the talks. Pakistan is making efforts to mediate between the Taliban and Afghan government. According to a media report, Pakistan had agreed to cut off financial support to the Taliban fighters, including in Quetta and Peshawar. If true, the development shows that Pakistan’s role is critical in bringing peace to war-torn Afghanistan. After recent development, Pakistan can no longer deny the presence on its soil or its links with the Afghan Taliban. So far Pakistan has remained silent on the presence of the sanctuaries of the Taliban in Pakistan. Islamabad itself has realised that it could no longer hide its links with the Taliban who are posing a real threat not only to Afghanistan but Pakistan too. The involvement of China and the US is significant as it can help strike a peace deal with the Taliban. Those militants who are ready to quit violence must be engaged in talks while those who are not ready to lay down their arms should be eliminated. Peace is in the interests of all stakeholder countries, the region and the world. Now there is a scenario where the Taliban leaders have announced that they will increase their intensity of attacks to derail any dialogue process. Given this scenario, Pakistan’s much vaunted influence over the Taliban, upon which the hope for the resumption of the peace process is reliant, seems increasingly doubtful. But, even when all pessimistic prognoses are made, the talks remain the only viable solution for the problem of the Afghan insurgency. The process, no matter how fraught or uncertain, must be persisted with for the sake of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the entire region. The only alternative is continuation of war, which is not affordable anymore.

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