Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Exile Overturned

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank. 23-08-07

The Supreme Court in its landmark judgment allowed Nawaz Sharif and family to return to Pakistan. The court also ordered the federal and provincial governments and their agencies not to create any hindrances on his return. It came at the expense of government’s claims that there was some kind of a deal between Nawaz Sharif and the government facilitated by a friendly country prohibiting him from returning. The court declared that it is an inalienable right of every Pakistani to be able to come to his country at will. Now Nawaz Sharif is a free man who can come to Pakistan at his will. An eminent American jurist once commented that a change of a single judge makes a new court and Pakistanis are blissfully experiencing a new and different kind of court. Another petitioner got his relief from the new supreme court of Pakistan. Supreme Court further acquired the father figure stature this nation was longing for.

These were tough times for Sharifs. From the corridors of power they were forced to jail and that also of the worst kind. With the help of foreign friends they were exiled humiliatingly after surrendering personal properties. Exile is tough irrespective of privileges and more so for politicians who interact with people a lot. It is true that Nawaz Sharif was prosperous and spent much of his exile as a royal guest in Saudi Arabia, but still it was a forced exile. No amount of comfort could lessen the pains of being away from home. According to most reports the Sharifs were like fish out of water and longed for returning.

During this time the Sharif family also had to endure serious health problems and then the biggest loss of father. Troubles come in droves and the Sharifs carried themselves reasonably well during these testing times. They were repeatedly tempted to support the military government but managed to stay steadfast. This ability to withstand adversity neutralized many allegations concerning their past.

Deal or not, there was certainly an understanding with the government which can be debated. Nawaz can be accused of deserting his people and saving himself. He is compared with ZAB who laid down his life but refused to deal with the usurper and the constitution breaker. Although these arguments are partially correct, they need to be seen from a different angle also. During such lawless days of display and use of brute strength protecting ones life becomes a duty and Nawaz was the only one whose life was at risk.

Despite ZABs stature and sacrifice his hanging very painfully exposed the limits these generals can go to in their lust for power. ZAB was no ordinary person and such people are not born everyday and he sacrificed his life on principles. Despite his bravado and character I have yet to find a benefit this nation derived from his execution. This most tragic part of our history only harmed Pakistan seriously damaging the basic fabric of our society. There comes a time when courage becomes your enemy and one becomes a hero when it is too late to be anything. Nawaz made his choice which will be debated for years.

Now there is no hindrance and Sharifs should return soon although still it might not be without risks. The rulers are cornered badly and are yet to respond to the new situation. They have repeatedly shown their ability to be reckless and I doubt if they will give up without a fight. Our courts have shown their courage and ability to dispense justice in testing times. Our lawyer community and the media has shown its commitment to the rule of law and the civil society has also shown its willingness to stand for principles, now it is time for our political parties and politicians to rise to the occasion. They are the most maligned segment of our society and must start correcting the bad image imparted partially by the vested interests and partially due to their own weaknesses.

To begin with our polity should analyze the mistakes it made and resolve to correct them. Charter of democracy was a good beginning but this effort must be carried on. It must be realized that constitution, rule of law and institutions are our best security against the worst of tyrannies. Our peculiar culture and traditions will again tempt politicians to build fiefdoms and personality cults but these must be guarded against. And then no one should try to justify its relations with older tyrants or promise to fulfill their missions as the only mission of all the ruling generals was to stay in power at the expense of the nation for as long as possible. BB, Nawaz and Altaf, our 3 most popular leaders, all exiled now must return and make their contributions for the betterment of the country. They all are nearly the same age group and have dominated the political scene since late eighties. They are now older and more experienced and this must have made them wiser. This wisdom must be visible from their actions.

Our exiled politicians after returning must adjust to the new realities in Pakistan. The judicial movement that finally enabled these bold decisions was not out of love of any person but for the rule of law. Anyone disregarding law for own ends will be rejected by the civil society just like the ill-fated reference against the Chief Justice. Vindictiveness and propensity to concentrate power in fewer hands are major risks that must be guarded against. Now is the time to strengthen institutions disregarding personality cults.

This new assertiveness of the civil society and judicial activism are the best things to happen to the wonderful but a bit unfortunate Pakistanis for a long time. These recent changes have opened up a lot of possibilities raising hopes all around. Despite these healthy developments there are risks too. Nature can only give us opportunities but it is people who need to take advantage of them because mishandling of opportunities can convert them into disasters. Together the mobilized civil society and the polity should be able to protect the recently dawned privileges. It must create a new Pakistan without any baggage of the past only looking towards its bright future.

It is time our ruling elite realizes that times have changed. It is 2007 and 1999 is over. The civil society has risen and the more suitable older times would never return. The civil society has earned its new rights with hard work and sacrifices and such rights are always permanent. Pakistan is going through historical times and in the process the fulcrum has markedly shifted towards the civil society from the ruling classes. These are changes of colossal magnitude that will affect every segment of the society. The society has shown its willingness and ability to sacrifice for the rule of law and the days of exceptions for individuals are over. Status quo forces might delay the process but even that would be at enormous expense because wheels of history cannot be turned back. And then it must be appreciated that changes have just started to happen. It is just the tip of the iceberg and more, much more is on the horizon. The best policy here would be to make this transition as smooth as possible as any attempt to derail or resist it is bound to fail.

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