May 22 - 28, 2000
The promissed crackdown seems to have gathered speed after the
The military take-over on the eventful day of October 12 last year
received the stamp of Judicial approval exactly seven months later on the twelfth of this
month. It came in the shape of the verdict given by the apex court, the Supreme Court of
Pakistan, in several petitions challenging the takeover. The decision justifying the
takeover called it constitutional which was necessitated by the failure of the political
process in the country. The Court has also given three years, from the day of the
takeover, to the military government for the restoration of democracy and to amend the
constitution with certain limitations. It also said that the constitution is still valid
though a number of its sections have been held in abeyance.
The three-year time-limit given to the government of General Pervez
Musharraf, the Chief Executive of Pakistan, will end on October 12, 2002. Seven months of
this time limit have already passed and the government now has two years and 5 months or
some 875 days left to implement its agenda the most vocal features of which include an
across the board accountability without fear or favour, stern action against defaulters to
recover the trillions of loans, a sweeping anti-corruption drive, devolution of power to
the grass roots levels, and the establishment of real democracy in the country.
The verdict has asked the government to complete its agenda within the
prescribed time and to announce election within the last 90 days of its rule which should
be carried out within 90 days after the expiry of the three-year deadline. So what does
the Supreme Court's verdict mean for the present government?
Firstly, the judicial time limit legally binds the government to
complete its unfinished business within the prescribed period. This in turn means that the
government which refused to give any time frame for the restoration of democracy, or
whatever which passes on for democracy in Pakistan, to the high and mighty worldly powers
including the US and the UK is now legally bound to return the power to civilian rule.
Observers also see it as a hint to an accelerated accountability drive resulting in the
disqualification of the majority of politicians.
The arrests of Lakhani brothers, the heads of powerful business group
which owns a string of businesses including one of the two leading tobacco companies, an
ISP company as well as a publishing house, and the former federal trade minister and
influential industrialist and politician Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar shortly after the Supreme
Court verdict indicates the gearing up of the accountability process. Newspapers are
filled with reports of imminent arrests of hundreds of politicians and bureaucrats by the
National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The promised crackdown seems to have gathered speed
after the verdict.
During its seven-month rule the Pervez Musharraf government has started
a crackdown on bank loan defaulters, initiated the ongoing Tax Amnesty Scheme till June 15
to bring the massive black money in to circulation, crackdown against massive smuggling
bleeding the national economy, the resolve to impose the general sales tax at the retail
level and the planned house-to-house and shop-to-shop survey to detect the wealth and
property tax evasions.
During its seven month tenure the military government has increased the
prices of petroleum a couple of times and has announced a Rs 100 increase in the salaries
of government employees in grade 1-16 which is not yet been received by workers and staff
of many departments.
The absence of any public reaction against the military takeover
October last has been construed by the military rulers as a support for the sacking of a
inept government. However, critics say that the seven-month performance of the government
has achieved little to bring any relief to the people and the promise to initiate a swift
and stern accountability still remains unfulfilled. For many who expected the military
government to honour its promise of stern and quick accountability the slow pace of
accountability, a fact accepted by the Chief Executive himself from time to time, is
unacceptable. Many others who made the materialising of the said promise as the benchmark
of the government's future performance are fast losing hope.
The recovery of the negligible portion of the massive defaulted loans,
the majority of which was politically motivated, has dejected many who silently welcomed
the military takeover as a cure-all to right the political misdeeds of the past. With the
passage of time the sound and look tough stance of the government has been mellowed down
on the one hand and the political cacophony is on the increase. For many the demands for
the restoration of the democracy will mean the return of power to the same politicians who
have been instrumental for the economic, financial and political mess the country is in
The silent majority is also wary of many recent developments which
reeks of lack of strong resolve expected by the government, a military government. The
interior minister, Moinuddin Haider, announced a war on smuggling last month. He not only
asked to abolish smuggling but also to bring the Bara, markets selling smuggled
goods across the country deriving their name from the similar biggest market in the North
West Frontier Province (NWFP), but also announced to conduct raids to force the traders to
register their business, pay the taxes and to refrain from illegal business in the future.
He gave the traders of the Bara market April 30 deadline to register or face the crackdown
from May 1. As negotiations remained unfruitful, the traders of the Bara market staged a
strike during which many of them moved the smuggled stock out of their shops to safe
houses in the face of the eminent crackdown. A couple of days before the deadline it was
reported that a settlement had been reached between the government and traders who were
reportedly ready to pay Rs 15,000 per trader or Rs 10,000 per shutter annual tax. The
traders however backed out of the reported agreement a day before the expiry of the
deadline. An action is still awaited as the traders associations called for a three-day
strike from May 19-21. Markets across the country remained closed on the first day of the
strike. The successful strike, made possible primarily due to the brutal assassination of
renowned Islamic scholar Maulana Yusuf Ludhianvi in Karachi a day earlier which resulted
in sporadic violence, and the absence of deserving response is seen by many as sign of
weakness on the part of the government.
Similarly, Chief Executive had to retract his earlier decision to make
a change in the procedure of the registration of a case under the Blasphemy Law. The Chief
Executive who had announced that a case under the Blasphemy Law would be registered
through the District Commissioner took the amendment back a few days later when he
announced a case under the Blasphemy Law can be registered directly with the SHO of a
police precinct as previously.
The move by the Chief Executive, aimed at pacifying the pressure
exerted by the religious parties in particular and people in general, resulted in further
demands such as the restoration of the weekly holiday on Friday instead of Sunday. The
religious parties which called the strike on May 19 as a protest against the change in the
Blasphemy Law were divided whether or not to call off the strike. Many of the religious
leaders dis-associated themselves from the strike saying since the demand was accepted by
the government there was no reason for strike anymore. Others stick to the strike plans as
some of the other demands were not met by the government. The Friday May 19 thus resulted
in a total mayhem and confusion about the strike call given by the traders and many
religious parties and leaders with the end result that markets across the country remained
closed and only a small number of public transport vehicles were visible on the streets,
particularly in Karachi.
The confrontation with traders, smugglers and religious parties on one
hand and the slow pace of accountability, failure to check price increases, increase in
petroleum prices including one a few days prior to the OPEC meeting which resulted in
reduction in oil prices on the other pose many problems for the government to maintain the
credibility in the pre-October 12, 1999 days.
So where do the government go from here? The seven months of the
three-year time given to the government by the Supreme Court has already gone and in the
remaining less than 29 months, or 870 days, it has to achieve the agenda of establishing a
real democratic order in Pakistan, finish its accountability; recover the loot from the
bank defaulters and corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and officials in all departments at
all levels; complete its agenda of devolution of power at the grass roots level; revamp a
badly damaged national economy and institutions; rebuild the lost credibility; and most of
install a corruption-free civil and police mechanisms. These are Herculean tasks indeed.
While the meeting of the federal cabinet chaired by the Chief Executive
Pervez Musharraf is confident to achieve the objectives within the time-limit set by the
Supreme Court, the chairman of NAB General Syed Muhammad Amjad has said that the process
of accountability can not be completed within the prescribed period. He has said that the
massive white-collar corruption in all departments and at all levels requires thorough
investigation which consume large time in order to make the charges stick. He, however,
has also said that the process of accountability will keep on continuing in the times to
At present, the energies of the government is diverted on the Budget
2000-2001 which will be presented early next month. Observers attribute the increase in
petroleum prices and documentation of the economy measures such as registration of
retailers and imposition of sales tax at the retail level were all aimed at meeting the
IMF conditionalities for the release of much needed loans. The print media is filled with
imposition of massive taxation in the upcoming budget including increase in the prices of
such basic amenities as electricity, gas and telephone. The Chairman of state-owned Water
and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) has said that the company would have no option but
to increase the price of electricity unless the government departments clear their power
bills amounting to billions of rupees. Critics have called the WAPDA's logic most
inappropriate for 'punishing Peter for the sin of Patrick,' or something similar to that
The legal stamping of the military government, the permission granted
to amend the Constitution barring a few restrictions, and the time-frame allocated to it
by the Supreme Court is seen by many to result in speedy accountability to ensure a clean
political, bureaucratic and economic set-up in the future. Replacing the farce and sham
democracy of the previous years with the 'real democracy' as envisioned by the Chief
Executive will not be possible without an across the board accountability.
In the next 29 months, of which ten days have already passed, the
government has to fine tune its vision to meet another one of the objectives laid down by
the Chief Executive in October last year the relief to the people. Thus far the
people who welcomed the military takeover has been deprived of any relief instead they are
made to cushion increase in petroleum prices, hike in fares of public transportation,
incessant increase in prices of essential and non-essential items. At present, they are
bracing themselves for the massive taxation in the Budget 200-2001. It is time the
government should provide relief to the people the majority of whom had welcomed the
change last October in the hope that the military government would be more caring to their
plight. Losing the goodwill of the lower and middle-income groups which form the majority
of the country's population would not augur well for the government.
The following are the salient features of the unanimous judgement given
by the twelve judges of the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice Irshad Hasan Khan announced
the verdict on several petitions filed by the ousted ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim
*** The PML's misrule had created conditions for a radical
transformation on October 12 last year validating the military takeover on the grounds on
the doctrine of necessity. The ruling validated the military takeover as the Constitution
had provided no solution for the situation on that day and the intervention of the armed
forces had become inevitable.
*** General Pervez Musharraf is the holder of Constitutional post and
his purported arbitrary retirement (by the deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif) was void
and of no legal effect.
*** Listing along list of charges against the legislators, the Court
validated the takeover saying that "Where the representatives of people, who are
responsible for running the affairs of the state, are themselves accused of massive
corruption and corrupt practices in the public as well as in the private sectors, are
benefiting therefrom and resist establishing good governance ; where a large number of
references have been filed against the former prime minister, parliamentarians and members
of the provincial assemblies for their disqualification on account of corruption and
corrupt practices; where there is a general perception that corruption is practiced by
diversified strata, including politicians, parliamentarians, public officials and ordinary
citizens and that a number of parliamentarians and members of the provincial assemblies
mis-declared their assets before the Election Commission and tax authorities; where there
was no political and economic stability and bank loan defaults were rampant and that as
per the report of State Bank governor, Rs 356 billion are payable by the defaulters upto
October 12, 1999 . . . the extra-constitution step is validated as the Constitution
offered no solution to the present crisis."
*** The Court held that General Pervez Musharraf, the chairman of Joint
Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of the Army Staff, had validly assumed power by means
of an extra-constitutional step, in the interest of the state for the welfare of the
people. It also held that it had been validating the act under the doctrine of necessity
and principle of salus populi supreme lex in the supreme interest of the public.
The doctrine of necessity had not been recognised only in Islam but is also accepted by
such eminent jurists as Hugo, Grotius, Chitty and De Smith.
*** *** The Chief Executive shall appoint a date, not later than 90
days prior to the expiry of the three-year period ending on October 11, 2002 to hold
general elections for the National Assembly, provincial assemblies and Senate within 90
days after the expiry of the deadline to restore the civil rule.
*** The apex court gave powers to the Chief Executive to legislate and
amend the Constitution barring any amendment which can change the basic features such as
independence of judiciary, federalism and parliamentary form of government, and Islamic