PPP GOVERNMENT UNDER MR. ASIF ALI ZARDARI
On 16 March 2013, the National Assembly of Pakistan stood dissolved after completing its five-year term, which is a no small feat given the past experience.
Now that the nation is gearing up for general elections, it is the time to judge the performance of the Pakistan People’s Party-led coalition that remained in power at federal level and in the provinces of Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, for the last five years.
In the run-up to the general election that was initially scheduled for 8 January 2008, the Chairperson of PPP, Benazir Bhutto, had unveiled her party’s manifesto in a press conference. BB Shaheed on that Friday formally launched the party manifesto for then proposed January 8 elections, focusing on “5 Es” namely employment, education, energy, environment and equality. She said, “We believe that the key to development lies in focusing on employment, education, energy, environment and equality and in the January 8 elections we are presenting a better future for the people of Pakistan,” at a crowded news conference on that Friday.
The manifesto was quite comprehensive and stated the party’s policies and programmes on all important subjects and issues related to governance of the country.
Reaffirming the PPP’s commitment to providing food, clothing and shelter to the poor, Benazir Bhutto stated that the party would focus on “5 Es”, namely employment, education, energy, environment and equality.
The PPP Manifesto promised that a labour-intensive Public Works Programme would be launched to create jobs, particularly for poor families, and micro-finance facilities would be provided to as many as 5 million deserving people to combat unemployment.
To tackle the problem of water and power shortage, the manifesto proposed construction of several small dams. Increase in power generation was to bring an end to loads-shedding.
With regard to environment, the manifesto said that the party would support the Kyoto Protocol and implement it in the country.
The PPP Manifesto declared that all citizens had equal rights. There was to be no discrimination against minorities and their interests were to be duly safeguarded. Women were to be empowered and their social status uplifted through various legislative measures.
The manifesto contained the party’s views on foreign policy. It pledged to dismantle “the militant groups who seek to make hostage the foreign policy of the country and impose their writ through force on tribal areas of Pakistan and elsewhere.” It said, “the distinctions between and amongst terrorist groups will no longer be maintained.” PPP Manifesto
The manifesto incorporated all the 36 points of the Charter of Democracy, (COD) which Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had signed on 14 May 20, contained sublime principles and solemn pledges – identified a number of threats to Pakistan’s survival: “the erosion of the federation’s unity, the military’s subordination of all state institutions, the marginalization of civil society, the mockery of the Constitution and representative institutions, growing poverty, unemployment and inequality, brutalization of society, breakdown of rule of law and the unprecedented hardships facing our people under a military dictatorship, which has pushed our beloved country to the brink of a total disaster.”
The Charter of Democracy reaffirmed the signatories’ commitment to, among other things, internal party democracy, an independent judiciary, a neutral civil service and the rule of law and merit.
The Charter of Democracy, inter alia, promised to include FATA in the NWFP (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) in consultation with them, to give special status to Northern Areas (Gigit-Baltistan) Legislative Council, to establish Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for acknowledging victims of torture, imprisonment, state-sponsored persecution, targeted legislation and politically motivated accountability, to set up a commission to investigate incidences such as Kargil, to replace “politically motivated” NAB with an independent accountability commission, to make press and electronic media independent, to improve governance with a view to help the common citizen “by giving access to quality social services like education, health, job generation, curbing price hike . . .”, to hold local bodies elections within three months of the holding of general elections.
We don’t know how far the PPP under the charismatic, bold and dashing leadership of Benazir Bhutto would have succeeded in implementing its manifesto, but under Asif Ali Zardari the party’s bad governance and dismal performance in most areas have eclipsed some of its achievements.
On 29 March 2008 Yusuf Raza Gilani secured a unanimous vote of confidence from the National Assembly. On the floor of the House he declared that his government was not afraid of “innumerable challenges” that it would have to face and that “the restoration of law and order and total elimination of terrorism” would be its first priority. He identified unemployment, inflation and poverty as the second most pressing problem for his government. Referring to the crises with which the country was beset, the Prime Minister placed the problems of electricity, water, flour and high prices at the top and admitted that no immediate solution to these problems was possible.
However, when on 24 March 2008, the National Assembly elected the PPP candidate Makhdoom Yusuf Raza Gilani as the Prime Minister, the hall resounded with the slogans of ‘Jiay Bhutto’ and ‘Go Musharraf Go’ and when the Prime Minister ordered the release of the ‘deposed’ judges, the applause was deafening. The majority of the elected representatives had expressed the sentiments of their electorates, viz; ‘Restoration’ of the pre-PCO judiciary Exit of General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf.
In his address to the National Assembly on the occasion, he announced a number of steps that his government intended to take.
On the positive side, the PPP and other parties’ most outstanding achievement was the unanimous adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment (18) to the Constitution which deleted the controversial Article 58 (2) (b), restored the parliamentary character of the government and abolished the Concurrent List to grant far more autonomy to the provinces than they enjoyed.
Earlier the Seventeenth Amendment (17) had compromised the parliamentary character of the government and virtually made the Prime Minister subordinate to the President.
The PPP-led government was also able to secure unanimous passage of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Amendments to the Constitution which dealt with issues related to the judiciary and Election Commission of Pakistan respectively.
Another important achievement of the PPP-led coalition government was the announcement of the 7th National Finance Commission Award which enhanced the share of the provinces in the federal revenue to the satisfaction of the stakeholders.
The PPP-led coalition made a good initiative to resolve the Balochistan crisis by giving Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package to the disturbed province, but it remained that “an initiative”. Unfortunately the dynamics of the Balochistan crisis, in its security dimension, remained beyond the capacity of the Zardari Government, as it was inapt, devoid of reason and vision, hence depended on the Security Establishment. It is testified by absence of any initiative worth the name for addressing the Baluchistan Crisis.
The promise to constitute a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was not fulfilled. It could have been a good attempt at healing the wounds, in particular of Baloch people.
Under the PPP-led government, Gigit-Baltistan, the region previously referred to as northern areas, has acquired considerable autonomy and enhanced status with an enlarged assembly. Perhaps the military establishment was on board in the matter.
The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) was renamed as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which was a good decision but irked the Hazara community in the province.
In order to address the economic problems of the poor segments of the population, the PPP-led government announced Benazir Income Support Programme, Wasela-e-Haq Programme and Benazir Employees Stock Option Scheme. Under the Benazir Income Support Programme, an estimated sum of Rs.70 billion was to be distributed among 3.5 million women. Although these programmes were short of the people’s expectations, they have made considerable impact.
In order to provide relief against erosion in purchasing power due to inflation, the PPP-led government substantially increased the salaries of civil employees and armed forces personnel. However, it placed a heavy burden on the exchequer.
During the PPP tenure, support prices of cotton, wheat and rice were also increased in a big way. Although the main beneficiaries of this measure were the landlords, it also brought some improvement in the lot of the peasants.
The PPP-led government introduced different legislative measures for social protection and empowerment of women.
It also goes to the credit of the PPP leadership that barring few exceptions its policy was to take on board as many stakeholders as possible in decision-making process. Asif Ali Zardari could have done great favour to democracy if he had agreed on a consensus candidate for President after General Pervez Musharraf was forced to resign under threat of impeachment or at least had stepped down as the Co-Chairman of the PPP.
After an attempt to dislodge the Pakistan Muslim League (N) government in Punjab when the Dogar Supreme Court on 25 February 2009 disqualified the Sharif Brothers, President Asif Zardari adopted the policy of coexistence with the PML (N)-led Punjab government. Although political bickering remained a part of the game, the PPP and the PML (N) showed enough maturity to save the system. The PML (N) played the role of a friendly opposition and declined to seize the opportunity to topple the PPP Prime Minister. This understanding was an important deterrent against military takeover.
Under the PPP-led coalition government, the print and electronic media enjoyed complete independence. Perhaps it was difficult to rein in them. Still it goes to the credit of the political leadership that it tolerated exposure of corruption and favouritism within the PPP ranks, criticism on the party’s policies and performance and disinformation campaigns in the media. Freedom to criticize the government enabled the people to vent their pent-up emotions and have catharsis.
However, the PPP didn’t fulfil the promise to frame a proper freedom of information law.
The PPP-led government could proudly boast that under it there were no political prisoners or undue curbs on political activities.
Despite some wonderful achievements, the PPP’s image got thoroughly marred due to a number of reasons:
The most serious issue was that of corruption. The stories of corruption, favouritism and nepotism in the state-owned and state-managed corporations / bodies like Pakistan International Airlines, Pakistan Railways, Oil and Gas Development Corporation, Water and Power Development Authority, Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority etc were rife. Allegedly the political leadership at the highest level was involved in corruption. Reports of kickbacks, grafts, shabby deals and financial bungling were rife.
Appointments, promotions, postings and transfers in civil service on political basis compromised the efficiency and neutrality of the bureaucracy.
Law and order is a provincial subject. In three provinces were the PPP-led coalition was in power, it remained the most disturbed. The collapse of law and order in Karachi reached a point where independent pockets of power and authority began to appear. When state abdicates its responsibilities, mafias and groups carve out their territories.
In case of Karachi the situation became more serious because the parties in the ruling coalition – the PPP, the MQM and the ANP – had their militant wings directly involved in target-killing, kidnappings for ransom and extortion. As of now there is total absence of governance. The Coalition government miserably failed rather has been the cause of the situation today.
The PPP never wanted an independent and active judiciary. It backed out of the commitment made in the Murree Accord concluded between the PPP and the PML (N) on 9 March 2008 that the judges, including the Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who had been removed unconstitutionally by President General Pervez Musharraf on 3 November 2007, would be reinstated within thirty days after the formation of the federal government through a parliamentary resolution.
The PPP took the position that the deposed judges could not be reinstated except through a constitutional amendment.
The constitutional package proposed by the PPP provided for limitations on the Supreme Court’s power to take up suo moto notice of the matters of ‘general public importance’. The PPP also wanted to fix the tenure of the Chief Justice and retain PCO-judges, including appointees of General Pervez Musharraf. Perhaps President Zardari feared that Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry would have a tilt towards Nawaz Sharif, he would try to encroach upon the domain of the executive, strike down National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and initiate a process of accountability of government functionaries. The real beneficiaries of the NRO were Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari against whom many cases of corruption were pending.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani agreed to restore the pre-3 November 2007 in the early hours of 16 March 2009 only after a huge procession led Nawaz Sharif was on its way to Islamabad and reportedly Chief of Army Staff used his good offices to settle the issue.
After the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and brother judges, the executive mostly dilly-dallied in carrying out the orders and implementing the directives of the apex Court. Often it seemed that there was clash of institutions taking place. Glaring examples of executive’s defiance were the matters related to Swiss Bank Account and corruption charges against the OGRA Chief.
National Accountability Bureau was not placed under judicial control as promised. NAB officials often tried to dodge the Supreme Court while reporting on different corruption cases by concealing the facts or revealing only half truths.
The PPP government failed to end load shedding. It began the Mangla Dam raising project and construction of a few small dams which was not sufficient to meet power requirement. Nevertheless, it claims to have added 3,400 MW of electricity to the national grid.
Neither were the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (NWFP) incorporated in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, nor the Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR) replaced with normal laws.
The PPP-led coalition failed to provide immediate and satisfactory relief to the victims of the devastating floods in the monsoons of 2010. In fact, the civilian government was hardly visible. Without the prompt support of the army, the humanitarian tragedy could have been far worse.
On economic front, the PPP-led government completely failed in properly managing the finances. It relied heavily on borrowings and a couple of Governors of State Bank had to resign because they had serious reservations about the government’s policies that violated fiscal discipline.
Initially the PPP leadership made some efforts to rein in the military establishment and the military-controlled intelligence agencies. It attempted to place Inter-Services Intelligence under civilian control. Probably Ambassador Husain Haqqani, a confident of Zardari, was instrumental in incorporation of some of the provisions against the interest of Pakistan’s military establishment in the Kerry Luger Bill. Mr Asif Zardari intended to have some excuse to meddle in the affairs of the armed forces, including the matters of promotion and strategic planning.
The Kerry Lugar Bill was reflective of the US motive to strengthen the “civilian-democratic” set-up in Pakistan at the cost of the military establishment. For example, under the Kerry Lugar Bill before aid could be given, the US Secretary of State was required to certify that “the security forces of Pakistan are not materially and substantially subverting the political or judicial process of Pakistan.”
At times when Asif Zardari sensed, mostly falsely, that the military establishment wanted to wind up the “civilian-democratic” system, he showed defiance and even implicitly threatened to use “Sindh Card”. However, in due course Zardari demonstrated his guts and “streamlined” his personal and the PPP-led government’s relations with the military establishment at individual and institutional levels.
Despite tall promises social sectors like health and education starved of financial resources. Budgetary deficit reached new height.
No commission was set up to investigate the Kargil debacle. Report of Abbottabad Commission remained a secret. Defence budget was not debated in the National Assembly. The military establishment continued to have the final say in foreign policy matters, in particular the country’s Afghanistan and Kashmir policies.
Despite tall promises social sectors like health and education remained starved of financial resources.
The PPP-led coalition was lucky that a large section of intelligentsia and media was, apprehensively, obsessed with giving a chance to “civilian-democratic” dispensation in the hope that democracy had some in-built mechanism to reform and refine itself, that the armed forces were already over-stretched and that international environment was propitious, otherwise it might not have completed the term.
The outgoing PPPP Government has not much to go to people with except rhetoric of having completed the five years tenure in power. The cost to the people and Pakistan has been colossal, in terms of national cohesion, state of the Federation and weakened economy, erosion of economic growth, devaluation of Pak Rupee, sectarian and ethnic strife, unemployment, rising number of people below the poverty line, a exacerbated war within.
People have shown forbearance, steadfastness in suffering the so-called democratic dispensation under Mr Zardari, for an end to vicious cycle of derailed democracy and constitutional deviations.
What really pains the people is the abject failure of the Government to identify, try and punish the culprits BB Shaheed in long five years.
Before parting and to sum up, one would like to share what Award-winning actress and playwright Anna Khaja while premiering “Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto” at the New York City International Fringe Theatre Festival, says about BB “At the forefront of the people’s struggle has been the enigma Benazir Bhutto.
“On the morning of her assassination, Bhutto was finishing her book dedicated to the compelling argument that Islam and democracy are inextricably linked. Hours later, before a crowd of thousands, she was dead, killed from a blast by a suicide bomber. Much of Pakistan was thrown into turmoil, its fragile dream in tatters.
“A tremendous paradox, Benazir was a practicing Muslim, a Harvard and Oxford elite, a ‘political mother’ to millions, the heir to a political dynasty, a corrupt megalomaniac, a warrior against terrorism, a dutiful wife to a back room thug, and in the end, perhaps, a true martyr. I find Bhutto to be a woman who is strong beyond our wildest imaginings and yet weak, egotistical and easily manipulated.”