July issue 2002

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 22 years ago

The disillusionment with the general is total. Following the controversial referendum, the President’s office has now come up with a constitutional package to beat all previous packages. It seeks to alter and distort the basic structure of the constitution from that of a parliamentary form of government to a dictatorial regime, with all powers concentrated in the office of President. General Musharraf talks of “shedding power” but the NRB blueprint gives him sweeping powers to virtually run the country like an army barracks.

Moreover, the concept of a National Security Council comprising key persons from the armed forces, intended to serve as a system of checks and balances against elected legislators, seeks to institutionalise the role of the army in a political set-up. The NRB chief maintains that the NSC is intended to block future army takeovers, but the council, in fact, firmly entrenches the army in the country’s politics for all times to come — and, in a sense, renders the army takeover final and irrevocable.

The package makes a mockery of democracy by placing elected legislators at the mercy of unelected officials. The creation of two seats of power, one all-powerful and the other powerless, is bound to lead to political instability within the country, and destroy those institutions that are the cornerstone of a real democratic state. All signs point to the October elections turning out to be a farce in the name of democracy.

While the army puts in place a system that rests on the basic premise that army rule equals good governance, it is ironic that its three-year tenure has failed to stem the increasing tide of lawlessness and brutality in the country.

A young woman is gang-raped by four men on the orders of a jirga near Muzaffargarh and five days later the accused are still at large. This, despite the military government’s personal interest in a case that has made headlines the world over. A hari girl from the Kohli community is raped by a landlord and his friends in Hyderabad but the police fail to recover the culprits. A man accused of blasphemy out on bail is stoned to death near Faisalabad at the behest of a mosque’s peshimam, who conveniently manages to get away. The police call it “an accident” and maintain that they cannot arrest anyone since no case has been registered. Never mind the fact that the family is so traumatised by the incident that they lock themselves up in their home to avert further tragedy.

If the army believes that its presence serves as a check against crime, how have the perpetrators of such horrific incidents committed before hundreds of eyewitnesses escaped? General Musharraf desperately needs to do a reality check in order to recognise the army’s limitations.

Sadly enough, while the army was found wanting in these particular instances, the people of this country are guilty of far worse. The fact that 300 to 500 people were silent witnesses to a woman being raped and a man being stoned to death speaks volumes about what we have sunk to as a nation: mute spectators and even worse, participants in the perpetration of bestiality.

We, as a people, have plumbed the depths of degradation.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.