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On the current political crisis in Pakistan

Raza Rumi on the current political crisis by razarumi1

July 20th, 2014|Pakistan, Politics, video|0 Comments

Farewell President Zardari

Here is something I wrote for TFT, analyzing President Zardari’s tenure

President Zardari has set a new record of being the only democratically elected President to have completed his term and left the office without handcuffs, disgrace or an exile order. The ongoing transition to democratic rule after three decades (1977-2007) of direct and indirect military rule is not going to be a smooth ride. Pakistan’s civilian institutions remain weak and vulnerable to systemic crises. That Zardari bolstered the cause for civilian rule in an incremental manner will be remembered in history despite the reservations of critics in the political arena as well as the media.

In 2008, the decision of the PPP to field Zardari as a candidate was met with public uproar largely constructed by Pakistan’s media industry, which primarily caters to an ‘urban’ and ‘middle class’ demographic. It was said rather authoritatively that Zardari was unfit for office; and not just due to his alleged corruption during his wife’s tenure as the Prime Minister. Pundits opined that he lacked ‘capacity’ and an understanding of Pakistan’s complex issues. In fact, a major newspaper group’s editor and some of its TV hosts predicted on a regular basis that Zardari would be out of power within months.

None of these uncharitable predictions proved true. If anything, Zardari was able to muster support from his old, bitter rivals and made alliances across the political spectrum. For the first time in PPP’s history, it ruled all four provinces as well as the centre, and even bagged a majority in the Senate for after 1977. These extraordinary political skills stunned even Zardari’s sworn enemies. The multi-party coalition enabled the PPP government to undertake unprecedented structural reforms in the shape of the 18th, 19th and 20th Amendments to the Constitution of Pakistan. Gilgit-Baltistan was declared a de facto province with an improved rights’ framework and work was started to address Balochistan’s marginalization. After the new National Finance Commission Award, the development budget of the province increased threefold. Most importantly, the state’s obligation to protect the poor from price shocks was articulated through a successful income support programme, which by now serves millions of poor households and empowers women. Reform process in FATA was also commenced, though it remains stymied due to the conflict in the region.


September 19th, 2013|Politics, Published in The Friday Times|4 Comments

Jinnah’s Pakistan cannot be abandoned


jinnah3This August has been cruel. Haunting images of Sindhi Hindus, essential to the cultural reality and demography of the province, leaving the country [i] shook those who believe that Pakistan belongs to all Pakistanis. This year’s minorities’ day – August 11 – inspired by the famous speech [ii] of […]

August 23rd, 2012|governance, Pakistan, Published by Jinnah Institute, SouthAsia|3 Comments

Is Pakistan heading for early elections?

Published in India’s leading weekly Tehelka

Deep political instability immediately before the elections makes it difficult for a smooth transfer of power, writes Raza Rumi

Just when most Pakistani analysts had ruled out a military coup given the tenuous power-sharing arrangements between the state actors, the recent decision by the Supreme Court to disqualify and oust an elected prime minister has thrown the country into an unstable phase. The timing of the decision is significant. Popular Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was recently scandalized by a businessman’s allegations of corruption against his son and the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government is close to completing its five-year term.The Supreme Court’s credibility was seriously challenged in recent days and many observers construed it to be an attack by the security establishment for the court’s activism on the missing persons’ case that it has been aggressively pursuing. Further, the Supreme Court’s strong stance on the issue of human rights in Balochistan was also termed as a major factor. Historically, the judiciary has been a subordinate partner of the military. It was also believed that the civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari was not orchestrating the attack on the family of the chief justice but it was surely playing along. The judges with their new-found independence showed a semblance of unity and retorted by taking the media to task and sending a strong signal that they will not let the civilian or military executive attack their adjudication of populist causes.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s ouster is, therefore, being linked to the re-assertion of the court’s power. But the fact that it comes nine months prior to the elections is stirring many conspiracy theories. Cynics say that the court has thrown the country into another uncertain phase at a time when Pakistan is facing an economic meltdown, an acute energy crisis and deteriorating relations with its long-term ally, the United States. The planned exit of the US and the NATO troops from Afghanistan is critical for Pakistan, especially for the military, which wants to see a Pakistan-friendly government in its neighbour, and also fears, the growing Indian influence in Afghanistan. […]

June 25th, 2012|Pakistan, Politics, Published in Tehelka magazine|1 Comment

Final round of survival? It’s do or die

Tehelka story last week: Government in final round of survival game: It’s do or die

Either the government will withstand the pressure from the unelected arms of the state or will cave in, says Raza Rumi

Pakistan’s beleaguered civilian government has entered into the final round of its survival game. This is not a new ‘game’ as the transition to democracy has been jeopardised from the very start. In 2007, the military junta started the process of negotiating with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the then Army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, and his trusted associate General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani shaped a power-sharing arrangement with late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The ‘arrangement’ was formalised in the shape of a law—National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO)—which inter alia intended to drop dozens of cases against PPP’s leadership and politicians. It should be noted that many of these cases were pending in courts for over a decade and due to lack of evidence or faulty prosecution, there were no convictions.

Politicians in Pakistan have faced ‘corruption’ charges since 1950s largely as an instrument to keep them in line and expand the space for the unelected executive i.e. the civil-military bureaucracy, which has ruled Pakistan for the longest period of time in its chequered history. The judiciary historically acted as a subordinate ally of the executive legitimising coups, convicting and debarring politicians and enabling a praetorian state to run the country.

Since 2007, the judiciary has evolved as a powerful institution due to the popular middle-class movement which contributed to the restoration of the deposed Judges and paved the way for Musharraf’s ouster in 2009. The period between 2007 and 2009 was when the urban middle class’ (led by the lawyers) aspirations […]

January 31st, 2012|governance, Pakistan|1 Comment

Saving the Capital

My piece for The News:
The recent decision of the Supreme Court to order closure of a multinational food chain restaurant in Islamabad is path-breaking
It has become a cliché to praise the Supreme Court of Pakistan these days. Clichéd, because many partisan agendas find resonance within the all-embracing spectrum of judicial activism. Those who have been critical of judges turning into activists must rethink their misgivings. While the dangers of such blanket approval of the workings of a state institution are apparent, it is still a welcome change in a country known for its culture of impunity. This is why the recent decision of the mighty Supreme Court to have ordered the closure of a multinational food chain restaurant in Islamabad’s ill-designed public park is path-breaking.
First of all, the fact that a municipal matter reached an overburdened superior court speaks much about the dysfunctional executive that manages our lives. That the court had the wisdom to uphold the rights of ordinary Islamabadites marks a new beginning which, if taken to its logical end, would mean that all public spaces in Pakistan should come under intense judicial scrutiny. Lastly, the court’s effort to enforce accountability could very well turn out to be a new beginning in our murky public affairs.
Effective municipal management requires that we revisit the urban governance frameworks that are now outdated to handle the population growth, changed needs of the population and dwindling state capacity to enforce regulations. Notwithstanding that Islamabad is fifteen kilometres away from the real Pakistan, the management practices are no different from the rest of the country. Essentially, the Islamabad saga reveals a case of serious governance failure. […]
July 5th, 2010|Culture, development, Pakistan, Politics, Published in the NEWS|1 Comment

State accountability

My piece published in The Friday Times (June 18 issue)
Leaving aside the political debate on the results of the recent Transparency International (TI) survey, the results are pretty damning for the masters of our destiny. The issue is not about which province is least or most corrupt. The fact that the majority of respondents hold the Police as the most corrupt department since the last eight years is a matter of grave concern. It is even more troubling, given the current security scenario where Pakistanis are facing a crisis of public safety. Markets, shops, and highways are not safe. If there is a respite from the terrorists, then the criminals are there to make hay while collapsing administrative and policing structures struggle to manage their operations. Let us not forget that security of the person and their property is a fundamental right of the Pakistanis.
The party-based and ethnicity-oriented feuds on TI survey are meaningless as the Police is a provincial subject and TI’s surveys have consistently shown that there is something deeply rotten in how the security apparatus works at the subnational level. The causes for such a crisis of governance need to be highlighted, regardless of which party we vote for or where we live. What could be more telling than the events of the recent past?