The article argues it is most unfortunate that the US and Western powers and their statesmen dogmatically believe that it is only a military government, be it that of Musharraf or any other General, that could contain terrorists and fight terrorism. This is quite a mistaken view and outrageous for the people of Pakistan. Constitutionally, the Pakistan Army is an institution that is supposed to work under a civilian set-up. Why doesn’t it fight terrorism and terrorists under the aegis of a civilian government in Pakistan? That is 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 SC’s judgment a win-win situation.
by Dr. Khalil Ahmad
One of the lawyers from the government side, while commenting on the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) judgment restoring the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) and quashing of the presidential reference against him in a talk-show first said that one side had to lose and the other to win. Then, in the same breath he said that it was a win-win situation. He said that it was a victory for justice, for the rule of law, and a victory for General Musharraf also. He explained that it was during the regime of a dictator that such a historic ruling was made. Probably he meant that normally the judgment might have been influenced in favour of the government. Regardless of what would have been this lawyer’s stance had the government won the case, it is worth-pondering where the government stands now.
The reaction from the government after the verdict shows that its thinking is not very different from that of the lawyer’s. It says it accepts the judgment and it would not be going for a review petition or another reference against the CJP. But it is eager to take credit for letting the SC hear the case on merit and decide it independently. Also, it seems it is not in a mood to admit its mistakes, and beyond that to mend its ways. A strong reason for this belief is its past behaviour and of previous governments also.
Just like the general sentiment before the verdict that the court’s judgment would be providing for a face saving for those involved, especially for the government; the present public sentiment expects some balancing act from the government to neutralise its defeat in the SC. But if this happens it will be most uncalled for and make the government weaker. It is time for the present regime to take stock of its character and performance. It has to fight on many fronts. It is unconstitutional, it is military-led, it is dictatorial, it is a travesty of democracy, it is without a social base, and last but not least, it seems like all other military governments it will leave the people of Pakistan ever more insecure and deprived.
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 the CJP’s removal. The delaying of government action against the Lal Masjid brothers strengthened the stance of conspiracy theorists. As one of the important explanations, it was suggested that government itself or some intelligence agencies were behind its staging.
The crisis of Lal Masjid was one of the biggest lapses of the government and its agencies. As governments in Pakistan have been fond of patronising elements that could be used on various occasions for furthering their cause, the Lal Masjid brothers were no different. Regardless of the controversy that the whole episode of Lal Masjid was a concocted drama, what was happening in and around Lal Masjid made the government’s authority suffer a dangerous setback. It is appreciable though that in executing Operation Silence the government acted very cautiously and cared for the lives of a large number of innocent girls and boys. It is a victory for the rule of law. Had it bowed down to the demands of the Lal Masjid occupiers and let them escape from the law, the conspiracy theorists would have been proved right.
However, restraint and care for human life do not absolve the government of 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 firepower and managed to hide such militants in the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa? Why were the Lal Masjid brothers set free on the instance of a minister while they were caught in possession of unlawful arms? Had not 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 very nose of the government and its agencies were the Lal Masjid brothers given unbounded freedom to play with the freedom of local and foreign citizens? Why in the presence of many cases registered against them were the Lal Masjid brothers never taken to task?
The same is the case with the CJP’s removal from office. From the very start, the government behaved quite irresponsibly. It did not care a dime for the constitutional provisions on the issue. The more one looks into the events that unfolded during March 9-13, the more one is convinced of the fact that it was simply a case of outright removal of the head of the SC of Pakistan. It may have been thought very likely that the government would succeed in getting the CJP to resign quietly. Because of Mr. Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s courage, unprecedented in the history of Pakistan, and the lawyers’ rallying to his side, the government miserably failed in bringing the court under its sway.
No doubt, both the crises were a creation of the government’s own inaction and action. Now, it will have to cope with the unintended consequences unfolding in the form of suicide bombings, terrorist attacks on the security forces, and far weakened and demoralised government machinery. For this it is necessary for the government to accept the SC’s judgment wholeheartedly and not jeopardize its independent working in any manner. In the context of the euphoria and hopes of realizing a dreamland generated by the restoration of the CJP and rising level of expectations of the various strata of Pakistani society from the judiciary, it is of utmost importance that the government follow the sentiments of the people.
It is time for the government to realise 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 on the future horizon. It should not fabricate hurdles and put them in the way of this movement, in order to allow a smooth transition. Otherwise, it will beget more violence. Rather it should let the judiciary hold free and fair elections to let the people of Pakistan have a government of their choice. Like the SC’s judgment that has opened new venues for the aggrieved and deprived sections of society, smaller provinces, and political parties, 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 it that of Musharraf or any other General, that could contain terrorists and fight terrorism. This is quite a mistaken view and outrageous for the people of Pakistan. Constitutionally, the Pakistan Army is an institution that is supposed to work under a civilian set-up. Why doesn’t the US fight terrorism and terrorists under the aegis of a civilian government in Pakistan? The future government must be one that wins the elections fairly and freely, and cares for the aspirations of the people of Pakistan. That is 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 SC’s judgment a win-win situation.
Dr. Khalil Ahmad is the founder and Executive Director of the Alternate Solutions Institute, Pakistan’s first free market think-tank
This article appeared in The Post on August 10,2007.