Takeovers, not Caretakers
The Caretaker Government must be authentically impartial, not an extension of the post-April 2022 arrangement: ECP should take a lead role in ensuring this neutrality.
Political conditions in Pakistan in August 2023 evoke a direct, alarming replay of the conditions created exactly 33 years ago in August 1990. As a Member of the first Cabinet of the world’s first Muslim woman Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto which took office on 4th December 1988, this writer was a participant in that phase and a first-hand witness to how the concept and conduct of a poll-related Caretaker Government can be shaped by a longer-term, covertly engineered Takeover Government --- well before, and after the scheduled polls.
Using Article 58.2 (B) of the Constitution, a provision introduced through the Eighth Amendment imposed during martial law by General Zia-ul-Haq --- and most reluctantly endorsed by the non-party legislatures elected in February-March 1985 in return for a cessation of martial law by 30th December 1985 --- President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed the Government on 5th August 1990. He dissolved the National and the Provincial Assemblies, accused the ousted Government of corruption, mismanagement, incompetence et al., and announced elections for October 1990.
So far, so good --- or bad, as the case may be, and as per one’s views about the PPP-led coalition of that time. It was how the Caretaker Government of 1990 proceeded to misuse its mandate that prompts association with what has been happening in Pakistan since the ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s PTI-led coalition in April 2022. But memory jogs more precisely during July 2023 when the prospects for the next Caretaker Government are being bandied about. In a sense, the Government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif that succeeded the PTI coalition “ Took Over “ the principal instruments of the State --- except for the Armed Forces and sections of the superior Judiciary --- soon after April 2022 with its inimical nature accentuated after the dissolution of the Provincial Assemblies of Punjab and KP in early 2023.
There is one major, yet relatively inconsequential difference between conditions in 1990 and 2022/23. Where in the previous year, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan was clearly hostile to the Government that he dismissed, in the present years, President Arif Alvi is a co-founder of the PTI. However, his personal political affiliation is not accompanied by any vital executive powers. These were first abolished in 1997 with the deletion of Article 58.2 (B), and subsequently, the Eighteenth Amendment of 2010 further denuded the executive powers that President Pervez Musharraf had wielded up to 2008.
2022-23: a replay of 1990:
Yet, even without a powerful President, the PML-N, PPP, JUI - F, and the other PDM member parties’ Federal Government in office since April 2022, and the explicitly partisan Caretaker Governments of Punjab and KP since February -March 2023 are virtually imitating the regimes of August-October 1990 through their blatantly biased actions and words targeting the PTI . Ironically, in 1990, it was the PPP that was the target of the one-sided assault on fair play and justice. And to thicken the irony, the Caretaker Prime Minister was Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, a veteran and close confidant of Z. A. Bhutto, the founder of the PPP, but alienated from his late leader’s daughter, especially after her return to Pakistan in April 1986.
Immediately after the ouster of the Government on 5th August 1990, multiple charges and cases were registered against PPP leaders, including arrests, harassments, coercive pressures, etc. With PTV and PBC as the only electronic media --- the multiple TV and FM radio channels under the PEMRA law originally drafted by this writer, which were permitted by President Musharraf onwards of March 2002 were still 12 years away --- a vicious campaign to defame the ousted Government was conducted every day on the country’s airwaves. An equitable right of reply was denied or evaded. Officials even remotely suspected of being “loyal” to the ousted regime of 1988-90 were arbitrarily transferred or made OSDs. The bureaucracy, especially at the levels at which officials are deployed for election duty, were packed with hand-picked individuals beholden to the interim Governments.
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