One of the lawyers from government side while commenting on the Supreme Court’s judgment restoring the Chief Justice of Pakistan and quashing of the presidential reference against him in a talk-show first said: one side has to lose and the other to win. Then, in the same breath he said: it’s a win-win situation. He said: it’s a victory for justice, a victory for the rule of law, and a victory for General Musharraf also. He explained that it’s during the regime of a dictator that such a historic ruling was made. Probably, he meant that the judgment might have been influenced in favor of the government. Regardless of what would have been this lawyer’s stance had government won the case, it’s worth-pondering where the government stands now.
The reactions from the government after the verdict show that its thinking is not much different from that of the lawyer’s. It says it accepts the judgment and it won’t be going for a review petition or another reference against the Chief Justice. But it’s eager to take credit for letting the court hear the case on merit and decide it independently. Also, it seems it’s not in a mood to admit its mistakes, and beyond that to mend its ways. A strong reason for this belief is its past behavior and of previous governments’ also. Just like the general sentiment before the verdict that the court’s judgment would be providing a saving for the faces involved, especially for the government; the present public sentiment expects some “balancing act” from the government to neutralize its defeat in the apex court. But if so happens it will be most uncalled for and making the government weaker.
It’s time for the present regime to take stock of its character and performance. As is clear, it has a long list of negative points to its credit. It’s unconstitutional, it’s military-led, it’s immoral, it’s manipulated, it’s dictatorial, it’s imposing, it’s a travesty of democracy, it’s without a social base, and last but not least, whether it is at its climax or not, it seems like all other military governments it will leave the people of Pakistan ever more insecure and deprived, and their problems enhanced and aggravated incomparably.
Additionally, as such governments derive their power from a deformed constitution; this one has also been bent upon seeking more and more power. This lust for power has landed it in self-created crises, the most recent examples of which are the issues of Lal Masjid and Chief Justice’s removal. As to the Lal Masjid issue, the delaying of government action against the Lal Masjid brothers and their accomplices strengthened the stances of the conspiracy theorists. As one of the important explanations, it was suggested that government itself or some intelligence agencies were behind its staging. Another such explanation placed the Lal Masjid issue against the backdrop of judicial crisis and fight against terrorism.
Be that as it may, the crisis of Lal Masjid was, directly or indirectly, one of the biggest lapses of the government and its agencies. As governments in Pakistan have been fond of patronizing elements which could be used at various occasions for furthering their cause, Lal Masjid brothers were no different. With time, when they thought they were powerful enough they started “challenging the state or government’s authority.” Regardless of the controversy that the whole episode of Lal Masjid was a concocted drama, what was happening in and around the Lal Masjid made government’s authority suffer a dangerous setback.
It is appreciable in clear terms that in executing the ‘operation silence’ the government acted very cautiously, showed restraint and cared for the lives of a large number of innocent girls and boys. It’s a victory for the rule of law. Had it bowed down to the demands of the Lal Masjid occupiers whether due to outside political pressure or for its own expediencies and let the occupiers escape from the law, the conspiracy theorists would have been proved right.
However, the restraint and care for human life do not absolve the government from its negligence or complicity. Why and how did it let this happen in the heart of the capital? How come the Lal Masjid brothers got such fire power store and such militants hide in the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa? Why the Lal Masjid brothers were set free on the instance of a minister while they were caught in possession of unlawful arms? Hadn’t one minister who is now a member of the federal cabinet passed a number of years in jail for the same offence? Why under the nose of government and its agencies the Lal MasJid brothers were given unbounded freedom to play with the freedom of local and foreign citizens? Why in the presence of many cases registered against them the Lal Masjid brothers were never taken to task?
Same is the case with the Chief Justice’s removal from his office. From the very start, the government behaved quite irresponsibly. It didn’t care a dime for the constitutional provisions on the issue. The more one looks into the events unfolded during March 9 to March 13, the more one is convinced of the fact that it was simply a case of outright removal of the head of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Isn’t it enough to show where stood the highest court in the eyes of the present government? It was very likely that the government had succeeded in getting the Chief Justice resigned quietly. But for Mr. Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s courage, unprecedented in the history of Pakistan, and for the lawyers’ rallying together on Mr. Chaudhry’s side that the government miserably failed in bringing the court under its sway.
No doubt, both the crises were a creation of government’s own inaction and action. Now, it will have to cope with the unintended consequences unraveling in the form of suicide bombings, terrorist attacks on the security forces, and far weakened and demoralized government machinery. For this it is necessary for the government to accept the Supreme Court’s judgment whole-heartedly in letter and spirit, and not to jeopardize its independent working in any manner. In the context of euphoria and hopes of realizing a dreamland generated by the restoration of Chief Justice and rising level of expectations of the various strata of Pakistani society from the Judiciary, it is of utmost importance that government must follow the sentiments of the people.
It is high time for the government to realize that taking advantage of this moment the crucial issues such as political instability, terrorism, ethnic and religious strife marring the integrity of Pakistani society may be resolved amicably. It should see through this moment optimistically to a new Pakistan emerging out of the future horizon. It should not fabricate hurdles and put them in the way of this movement to let there be a smooth transition. Surely, it will beget more violence. Rather, it should let the judiciary hold free and fair elections to have the people of Pakistan a government of their choice. Like the Supreme Court’s judgment that has opened new venues for the aggrieved and deprived sections of society, smaller provinces and political parties, and as they are most likely to make use of this as a door where they could knock at for justice, free and fair elections will prove to be an impetus to this process of resolution. They will ensure that instead of a government that comes to power as a result of some deal with the military regime, their true representatives are there to solve their problems.
Lastly, another significant issue needs to be addressed here. It is most unfortunate that the US and Western powers and their statesmen dogmatically believe that it is only a military government be that of Musharraf or any other General that could contain terrorists and fight terrorism. Or, as they fear lest the terrorists take hold of Pakistan’s nuclear installations. This is quite a mistaken view and outrageous to the people of Pakistan. Constitutionally, Pakistan Army is an institution that is supposed to work under the civilian set-up. Why doesn’t it fight terrorism and terrorists under the aegis of a civilian government? Mind it this civilian government need not be one that is of US or West’s choice. This must be one that wins the elections fairly and freely, and cares for the aspirations of the people of Pakistan. That’s the way to the long-term resolution of the problem of terrorism also, and that is what the present Pakistani government must heed to make the Supreme Court’s judgment a win-win situation.
[This article was completed on July 22, 2007. A shortened version of it appeared in the Mint (India) on August 6, 2007.]