Pakistan Opposition Meets in London Amidst Challenges

Posted on July 6, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Politics
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Adil Najam

I was going to use the term APC – All Parties Conference – in the headline but just realized that Dawn is now using the term MPC – Multi-Party Conference – to describe the meeting of opposition parties which is to begin in London within a few hours.

This is not just a semantic issue, it highlights one of the many challenges faced by this very important meeting which was already postponed once and will now be held under the shadow of the ongoing Lal Masjid operation in Islamabad.

An editorial in The Nation, lays out some of the key challenges.

DESPITE the diversion created by the Lal Masjid operation, many in Pakistan are keenly waiting for the outcome of the two-day APC convened by Mian Nawaz Sharif in London. Besides the ARD and MMA it is being attended by the nationalist parties and minority representatives. While Ms Bhutto has declined to attend the meeting despite being in London, she will be represented by a PPP delegation led by Makhdoom Amin Fahim. A committee of PML-N and PPP leaders has reportedly finalised the joint document to be issued at the end of the conference. This is likely to underline commonly agreed points like the restoration of the 1973 constitution as it existed prior to the military take over on October 12, 1999, formation of an interim set up and a neutral Election Commission in consultation with the opposition, an independent judiciary and the return of the exiled leaders.

What remains to be seen is how the participants resolve some of the issues and overcome suspicions that continue to divide them. The MMA has accused Ms Bhutto of trying to broker a power sharing deal with General Musharraf. The PPP, on the other hand, has challenged the religious alliance to resign from the Balochistan cabinet to prove its credentials as an opposition party. The nationalist parties accuse the others of ignoring the key issue of autonomy and want ironclad guarantees on it, while on their way to London, some of the MMA leaders have again condemned the PPP leadership in a veiled manner. To pre-empt criticism by the sort, Makhdoom Amin Fahim categorically ruled out on the eve of the APC any possibility of understanding with General Musharraf. He also maintained that the party would abide by all decisions taken by the APC with consensus.

Those participating in the APC hope to produce an action plan to remove Gen. Musharraf. It is here that the opposition stands badly divided. The PPP disagrees with the proposal to resign from the Assemblies in case the President was to seek election from them. Similarly, it insists on taking part in elections even if they are held under him. Most of the opposition parties, however, take a different stand on the issue. They also favour initiating a countrywide movement to remove the government. The PPP, on the other hand, maintains that nothing should be done to provide an excuse to the government to impose emergency and postpone the elections. Unless the opposition leaders devise an agreed action plan, and the exiled leaders announce a final date of their return, the APC is likely to be considered an uninspiring exercise.

Lets explore some of these points.

Much is, of course, being made of the timing of the Lal Masjid operation and how it might divert diverts attention from this meeting of the opposition. The timing is, indeed, suspicious. But then, given the state of current Pakistan politics, just about any timing would have been suspicious given that the government had let the Lal Masjid militancy brew for so long. The head of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), Makhdoom Amin Fahim of PPP believes that the timing will affect the APC but is probably not a conspiracy.

Indeed, the distraction – which is very real – may well be the least of the challenges that the assembled leaders will have to face and resolve. The meeting has already been postponed once (in March, because of the Chief Justice issue) and postponing it again woudl not have been well-received. However, the real significance of the Lal Masjid operation is NOT the distraction, it is the very real differences amongst the assembled parties that it brings to fore. The issue is whether they can agree on dealing with religious extremism. It is not at all clear that they can; nor is it clear how their constituencies will react if they do. Tactically, the best approach for them would be unite against the ‘way the operation was carried out’ (on which they can agree) rather than to try to find a consensus on their views about the Lal Masjid and its leadership (on which they may not be able to agree).

There are also other significant differences within the opposition parties. The only thing that binds them is a desire to oust the Musharraf government, and even on that they seem unsure. Benazir Bhutto is refusing to attend even though she is in London right now. She argues that MMA is not really an opposition party because it is a government partner in two provinces. MMA for its part has raised the issue of whether there are any ‘deals’ between Benazir Bhutto and Pervaiz Musharraf. It has also been argued that if she can ‘talk’ to the government she should also be able to ‘talk’ to MMA. This rift and these mutual doubts are serious but will not be show stoppers, PPP will be represented but not by Benazir Bhutto. If steered rightly, the meeting will focus on what they can agree on rather than what they disagree on.

The real momentum behind the meeting comes from the Lawyers’ Movement in support of the Chief Justice. Till now the opposition parties have, literally, held on the coat tails of the lawyers who are clearly the leaders of this movement. The political reality is that it is the lawyers and not any political party that has captured the public imagination on this issue; not yet. But on the issue of the restoration of the institutional integrity of the judiciary, the parties do agree. The success of this London meeting will depend in great extent of whether they can build on this agreement to craft agreement on other issues, especially on the issue of the uniform and the next election.

And the next election, including the uniform issue, is really what this meeting is really about. The success of this meeting will – and should – be judged by whether the opposition parties can agree on a clear and united strategy on these issues. It is far from clear whether they can. They all have stated a public support for democracy, an opposition to the future of the presidency in uniform, and to transparent elections. However, too many Pakistanis doubt the level of their commitment. The real challenge before the leaders assembling in London is to convince Pakistanis that such doubts are unfounded.

Will this meeting be able to demonstrate resoundly that such commitment actually exists? Will the parties be able to arrive at and state clearly a common position and a clear strategy on these issues? Will they be able to excite the public and convince them that the parties goal is not simply to get back to power but a deep and real commitment to democracy?

If the meeting is able to do so, it will indeed be historic. If not, it will soon be forgotten; and not because of the Lal Masjid distraction.

55 responses to “Pakistan Opposition Meets in London Amidst Challenges”

  1. MQ says:

    Frank.y, I am not impressed with the Declaration. It’s too long winded — over 6 pages and over 2000 words — and short on specifics. Incidentally, the US Declaration of Independence had only 1300 words.

  2. Adil Najam says:

    UPDATE
    Test of the Declaration from the APC/MPC (available at Watandost):

    We the political parties assembled here together declare that military dictatorship has brought Pakistan to the edge of a precipice, leading to strife, chaos and the threat of disintegration. The Musharraf regime uses brute state force against its peoples to perpetuate its illegitimate rule and suppress dissent. Innocent citizens are kidnapped by the state as militancy and sectarianism thrive. Provincial autonomy has been denied, leading to further strains in the federation. From Khyber to Karachi, the regime is unable to maintain the writ of the state, and as a consequence there is a total breakdown of law and order.

    Parliament has been marginalised, and stripped of all its powers. It has no access to information, nor can it legislate or hold the regime accountable. Both houses have been reduced to a rubber stamp for the chief of army staff who unconstitutionally occupies the office of the president. The cabinet too is subject to the whims of an individual.

    Instead of resolving the crisis, the regime muzzled the media to black out ground realities and block live coverage of the turbulence on the streets. Working journalists have been murdered, kidnapped, tortured, detained and harassed. Today, Pakistan has been declared the third most dangerous country for journalists. Having failed to suppress the truth, the regime on June 5, 2007, promulgated an ordinance while the senate was in session and the National Assembly was to meet the next day.

    On May 12, 2007, at Karachi, an engineered massacre of opposition workers was orchestrated, unarmed political workers were at the mercy of gun-toting Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) workers while the police and rangers watched. The Sindh High Court was laid siege and judges had to run to save themselves. The district courts were surrounded by MQM activists and lawyers including women were beaten. While the federal and provincial regimes watched 48 innocent people lost their lives and over 200 were injured; yet General Musharraf says there is no need for an inquiry.

    Today Balochistan bleeds under the heels of an army operation, where gunship helicopters are used for silencing dissenting political voices. The murder of Sardar Akbar Bugti on instructions of General Musharraf is most condemnable.

    The Musharraf regime is responsible for the highest unemployment in the country. Low grade employees have been axed, trade unions banned, and anti-labour laws have been promulgated and enacted. This, coupled with the cartelisation of the economy has allowed big businesses to reap huge profits at the cost of the common man. It has resulted in unprecedented price hike. Today wealth is concentrated in a few big business houses and the market manipulators are in control of political offices

    The regime continues to spend billions of rupees on a political witch-hunt against the opposition. It continues to institute concocted cases under laws that fail the test of international norms of justice or judicial review. No institution is safe. The due process of law is subverted with impunity and the violation of fundamental rights is the norm. The assault on the judiciary reflects the regime’s contempt for law, justice and institutional autonomy. The summoning of the chief justice of Pakistan to the Army House, meeting him in uniform along with heads of intelligence agencies and using coercive measures for his resignation amounts to a total desecration of the office of the chief justice of Pakistan. This is General Musharraf’s attempt at creating a pliant court in a year when his quest for the presidency is going to be riddled with inherent constitutional disqualifications. The resistance by the bar is unprecedented, it has involved members of the bench, political parties and civil society.

    The Musharraf regime is in the process of rewriting the civil military equation, to the advantage of the latter. There is a deliberate attempt at militarisation of civil society which is evident from the large scale induction at all levels of serving or retired army personal in the civil bureaucracy, police, autonomous and semi autonomous corporations and bodies.

    The national wealth has been plundered through the use of ministerial offices, cartels, stock exchanges, misuse of official information and non-transparent privatisation. The mega scams to mention only a few are: the Pakistan Steel Mills, oil pricing, sugar prices, cement prices, Habib Bank, Karachi Electric Supply Corporation, Pakistan Telecommunication Limited, railway engines and locomotives, sale of islands in Sindh, railway golf course, black cabs, purchase of defence lands and the Defence Housing Authority, loan write offs from the banks and not to mention the scandals that have been exposed by the public accounts committee of the National Assembly.

    The APC notes that the Charter of Democracy initiative ratified by the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy is a positive step toward the restoration of the supremacy of civil society and democratic governance.

    Since the unconstitutional take over on October 12, 1999, the state and its institutions have been used to perpetuate General Musharraf’s rule. After creating laws that were aimed only to serve one man, the regime now seeks to elect General Musharraf in uniform as the president of Pakistan through the existing assemblies. This act is unconstitutional, morally unjustifiable and smacks of political bankruptcy. Assemblies whose terms are to expire in one month have no moral justification to elect a person for a term of five years. This will constitute “the mother

  3. Kruman says:

    Just a clarification, I am not a part of the ATP group. I am just a regular blogger.

  4. mullah jat! says:

    What is a nice educated guy like Imran Khan doing with MullahEAzam Qazi Hussain? Imran any reputation you had is being eroded by your Born Again Mullahism. Get away from this CryptoTerrorist and stand up on your own two feet.

    And where Nawaz ‘GOOF’ Sharif is concerned how many would really want him to be Pakistans leader again after his twice abuse of Pakistan?

  5. Kruman says:

    Thanks Daktar! I was having fun too as you could probably guess, especially with Mulla Diesel emanating loud ones from his rear end.

    I have compile all of the posts above at:
    http://free-pakistan.blogspot.com/2007/07/live-rep ort-from-apc.html

    I’ll try to upload the events on youtube later today.

    That’s it for me. I have exceeded my posting quota for a week.

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