In Pakistan the Court is the new King Maker
After the ouster of Gilani, the judiciary should exercise restraint if it wants democracy to succeed
By Kamran Shafi
Senior Political Commentator
DEMOCRACY IN Pakistan is like a scary roller-coaster ride that soars several feet into the air and then drops down suddenly. For the past 65 years, this ride has been repeated over and over again, the latest edition is being played out for the world to see. It would be instructive to see what led to this, where our democracy went wrong, and what the future possibly holds for Pakistan.
Pakistan’s experiments with democracy have often been derailed by army generals who thought they had all the answers to the country’s problems. This was propelled by a misplaced belief that together with its intelligence agencies aka ‘the Deep State’, the army was the only institution capable of running the country. Add to this, the haloed belief that only the army knows how to second-guess the wily Indians who would imminently attack Pakistan. That’s not all. A hyperactive, jingoistic media that has always parroted the Deep State in every little detail, brought every Indo-Pak problem down to a Hindu-Muslim one.
Recent events inform us that there is now a third player in the summary execution of elected governments — the judiciary. Ironically, this has happened just when we thought we had licked the original monsters. A section of the civil society had come out in support of the lawyers protesting the dismissal of the nowresurrected Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and other judges who had been turfed out by General Pervez Musharraf.
Little did we know at the time that this would turn the justices’ heads so much, that after being restored to their office, they would begin to think that they too represented the people. Remarks by various judges in the case against Yousaf Raza Gilani show this to be true. We soon saw the Supreme Court stepping into domains that were not its to oversee. Justice Markandey Katju’s critique of the judgment has been widely appreciated by legal practitioners and lay people alike in Pakistan.
Even more than the judges, it is a section of the lawyers that are now the cause of worry. While all leading lawyers have distanced themselves from recent Supreme Court interventions, these lawyers — the ‘non-intellectuals’ as someone put it — are setting an unhealthy precedent. It was these lawyers that came out of the court shouting the slogan, ‘Chief tere jan-nisar beshumar’ (Chief, your soldiers are many), when the SC had ruled that Gilani was no more prime minister. The right thing for the court to do would have been to put a stop to it then and there, for it was not a personal matter that was being debated, but a question of law. This was also not the first time that this sloganeering had debased the Supreme Court. When a seven-member bench of the court convicted the former prime minister on charges of contempt, these same lawyers were shouting slogans in the Chief Justice’s defence.
The future seems shaky for Pakistan. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that not many will want to take over. The Deep State will always want a civilian shoulder to fire its gun from. Our relationship with the US is already fraught with risks, and even worse with our most important neighbour India, particularly now with the deportation from Saudi Arabia (no less) of the terrorist Sayed Zabiuddin alias Abu Jundal.
An army coup in Pakistan is as unlikely to happen as the sun rising in the west. Only the ‘omnipotent’ judiciary can determine which way it wants to go. One can only advise — if their Lordships are amenable to advice — to let things be. Elections are mere months away, and the judiciary should wait so that Pakistan can step into the ranks of democracies where the right to throw governments out belongs only to the people.
Perhaps more than anything else, the judiciary should allow the government to settle the question of terrorism to the satisfaction of both countries. Tinkering with the system to try and bring in a Bangladesh model (whatever that was!) will bring another disaster upon Pakistan.