Amir Mateen

ISLAMABAD: Jamshed Dasti’s attempt to introduce an amendment in the Constitution was anything but benign. On the surface it seemed as just another bill but the devil was in the detail.


The maverick member from Kot Addu sought extension of two years in the retirement age of the Chief Justice. Unsurprisingly, the bill was disapproved in a jiffy. The whole political class, it seemed, waited anxiously for the ominous 11/12/13, the day when the big change will take place at that white marble mansion next to the Parliament.


This was obvious from the rare unanimity shown by our worthy parliamentarians in passing yet another resolution against the holding of the local bodies’ elections on the dates prescribed by the Supreme Court.


Lots of thunder and fire was heaped on the judiciary from both sides of the aisle. Some talked about establishing the supremacy of Parliament over every other institution.


Others suggested new laws and even an amendment in the constitution to cut the judiciary to size. Still others called for unity to implement the will of the Parliament to stop the judiciary from imposing its verdict about the local bodies’ polls. However, I hate Adiala Jail and in the interests of safe driving I can only report within limits.


The parliamentarians had some reasons to protest. There is little time for the logistics required for free and fair polls. Issues exist about publication of ballot papers, the supply of magnetic ink, delimitation, transfers and posting of the concerned authorities – you name it.


It is also true that most political parties had wasted years in not implementing what was their constitutional obligation to have a third tier of political class.


The PML (N) clearly nurses a prejudice against the institution of the local bodies. This has always been seen by Shahbaz Sharif as an obstacle to his political control in the Fortress Punjab where his family has now ruled for 20 of the last 28 years.


This is more than half of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh’s rule of Takht Lahore. And the state of development in Punjab’s districts and towns is no better than of Sikha Shahi. The PML (N) government deliberately wasted three years in the last government on one pretext oranother to stall the local bodies’ election. And the intent to stall sharing power continues – sometimes through the undemocratic notions of holding the local bodies on non-political basis or through legislation where babus will continue to micro-manage the elected people.


Actually, the royal bureaucracy of Punjab wants to revive the office of the vice-regal judicial magistrate, whether in the name of price control mechanism or controlling the police. And Shahbaz Sharif has no problem as long as the babus deliver power of thana-katchehri in the districts – the local tier be damned.


The PPP story is no different as proven by its five years in the government. Asif Zardari’s PPP too wants to replicate Ziaul Haq’s local bodies scheme, promulgated in 1979, because it gives the babus upper hand on local politicians.


Even the PTI, which professes immense fondness for the local tier, is far behind its electoral promise of holding the local polls in three months. It was the last one to legislate and is yet to give the poll date despite the Supreme Court orders. Khursheed Shah had reasons to feel the chagrin that why the PTI got scot free for disobeying the courts – so far, that is. Balochistan politicians seem to be the only ones who understand that the third tier is crucial for the local development and administration.


Our vets think this was the only way to get the political parties fulfill their constitutional obligation. They might just be waiting for the 11.12.13 – for the Jatt da Kharaak – so that they could delay or rig the process later. As if the world will change after the dreaded date. Others think that this might be the swan song of you know who.


Whatever the case, the current session of the National Assembly ended on a sorry note. The five-day debate on the security situation turned out to be futile. The Prime Minister chose to visit the GHQ instead of taking the Parliament into confidence about how he wants to get this country out of the current morass. His lieutenants failed to satisfy the public and the media about the government plans.


In fact, the session left us more high and dry as far as the crucial issue of terrorism was concerned. The Assembly seemed more divided as it failed to hammer out a consensual resolution on how to tackle the Taliban menace. The government took the appeasement road without appending it with a Plan B, which brought forth divisions instead of forging unity.


Obviously, the PML (N) presumptions on various policies are turning out to be wrong, one after another. The presumption that relations with India will improve the day Nawaz Sharif comes to power was wrong. The presumption that the energy crisis will be resolved in six months with a few tricks from the PML (N) kitty was, well, presumptuous. The energy crisis lessened but will, come summers, bounce back and may take years to go away. Even the economic presumptions proved far from true as the government falls short of its major targets. The PML (N) continues to pander the privileged elite. We noticed how Ishaq Dar withdrew one corporate tax after another from the business elite. What went largely unnoticed was the big benefit given to the agricultural elite. The Punjab government recently stalled the land reforms that would have benefited thousands of poor landless peasants. The Shariat Court had stalled the land reforms that sought a minimum holding at 15 acres for decades. Awami Workers Party’s one and only Abid Hassan Manto fought an epic fight to get the reforms implemented. But Khadim-i-aala Shahbaz Sharif came to the rescue of his class – so much for his recitation of Jalib.


The government might seem to be waiting for another ominous date— 29/11/13. For all we know that the Senate recommendations about reforms in ISI also went largely unnoticed. We have no issue with its suggestions that call for civilian supremacy over the ISI not just in theory but in practice. But the suggestion created quite a furore when it was tabled during the PPP government. We hope it was just a coincidence. May be not!

The News

November 13, 2013