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Biggest Battle for the Rule of Law

This article argues that after a suffering of sixty years there is a silver lining that Pakistanis want an inviolable Constitution, rule of law and an independent judiciary to survive with and Pakistan to be run with. They want their rights and freedoms to be protected by the judiciary. That’s a good omen.

by Dr. Khalil Ahmad

The law is for the honest; for the dishonest, there is no law. It is said when someone is caught in a life and death struggle, when his existence or his vital interests which ensure his survival are at stake, he comes to exhibit his original self. He stands exposed for what he really is. That is what is happening at the moment with certain elements in Pakistan. They have come to show their original features. They are coming to unveil how their faces really look. How and why is this ‘unveiling’ happening? Actually, it was the first ever ‘No’ by the judiciary before a dictator that triggered this process.

One remembers an episode from Mughal history. As the tradition goes, Jehangir the Just wanted Hazrat Mujaddad Alf Thani to bow down before him as others in the court used to do. But Alf Thani refused. Jehangir then contrived the act of Alf Thani’s submission by erecting a wall with a small-sized door in it to enter the court. (Is it not exactly what the present ruling elite did on May 12, 2007 in Islamabad by contriving a rally?) But Alf Thani defied the authority of the emperor, and first put his feet through the door, then his head, and transgressed his lord the emperor.

After the act of ‘defiance’ by the Chief Justice of Pakistan, everything that is happening is a contrivance by opposing forces. More than that, as lawyers and the media and then those who saw a ray of hope in the defiance of the Chief Justice are getting together and stronger, and are focusing on vital issues of supremacy of the Constitution, rule of law, independent judiciary and rights/freedoms of the people, opposing forces which are intent upon playing with the Constitution, law, judiciary and rights/freedoms of the people are also rallying and using their last-ditch tactics and cards.

From the start of this judicial crisis, a wise and seasoned law expert termed the situation a ‘defining moment’, and exhorted opinion-makers not to miss this opportunity; till May 12, it was still a defining moment, though on the one side, the ruling elite, a re-deployment of forces was in progress. But conspicuously, what happened in Karachi and Islamabad on May 12 has demonstrated that the forces from one side, which until then had their real identity hidden under various garbs and guises, have unveiled their original and real faces. These are faces of fascism asserting itself in Pakistan. So May 12 has brought a new clarity to the situation: it is no more a defining moment, but a ‘decisive moment’.

The individuals, groups, parties, elites, etc, have started making choices which side they need and want to belong to. In the coming days, this division will be clearer. In Karachi, it was clear to the most dangerous extent. The show of arms and killings and attack on Aaj TV offices by a party under the aegis of the Sindh government is sufficient to show how grave is the situation in the eyes of the ruling elite. Probably, they feel threatened. And, of course, it shows well how they are reacting to it. Another addition to the list of their frustrated reactions is the recent dacoity-cum-murder of Additional Registrar Supreme Court of Pakistan. And, it is worth mentioning how often, and it has become a usual practice, information, news, entertainment, etc, is policed by the executive and its organ, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority. Now this TV channel is blacked out, and now people cannot access that channel.

A government that claimed to be moderately enlightened but which was in fact a dictatorship in disguise has come to be seen for what it is. A party that came to represent one of the most downtrodden communities has finally come to act like a mafia and has taken hostage the community it represents. The community needs to be liberated. A political party that boasts of its lineage from Quaid-e-Azam has come to behave very un-Quaid-e-Azamly. All this shows that a decisive battle is going to be fought, and the powerful ruling elites are taking it as a struggle of life and death. Their survival is at stake. Also, recent events tell without a grain of doubt that they can go to any extent.

The situation is clear and divisions are visible. On the one side are those who are for the supremacy of the Constitution, rule of law, independent judiciary and rights and freedom of individual citizens. They include judges, lawyers, lawmen, mediamen, political activists, political leaders, traders, intellectuals, literary people, laymen and many more others. They represent and comprise an aware and responsible community who think that without these things a society can never be civilised. Without which, it can never be a just society. These include religious-political parties too which have been an accomplice of military dictatorship but are repenting now and are seeking apologies from the people of Pakistan.

On the other side are those who think that the judiciary is an integral part of the government, it must not be independent. It must take dictates from its masters, be they military or civil. This nullifies the notion of a Constitution and rule of law and rights and freedoms of individual citizens. The elites on this side want to perpetuate their kingly rule forever in Pakistan. They include militarily, economically, politically, socially, powerful elites. They also include those who are directly or indirectly connected with these elites. They believe in the reflex category of G. W. F. Hegel, a German idealist philosopher. Under reflex category, a king thinks that there are subjects because he is king, whereas other men stand in the relation of subjects to him that is why he is king. These elites think that without them Pakistan and Pakistanis cannot survive, whereas it is they who cannot exist without Pakistan and Pakistanis.

So, at last, after a suffering of sixty years there is a silver lining that Pakistan and Pakistanis want an inviolable Constitution, rule of law and an independent judiciary to survive with and Pakistan to be run with. They want their rights and freedoms to be protected by the judiciary. This is a good omen. Under the circumstances, in this decisive battle for the rule of law and an independent judiciary, the onus is on the shoulders of the honourable judges. The fate of this battle and the fate of Pakistan also will be determined by their integrity. Whether they stick to the Constitution and its spirit or not is what is important to decide this battle. But, if it does not happen, there will be widespread discontent. That is why this battle is decisive. It is decisive also because the most learned section of our society cannot stop short of what they have stood for now, i.e. the rule of law, not the rule of anything else. The next battle for the rule of law in Pakistan will never be fought. There will be only skirmishes!


Dr. Khalil Ahmad is associated with Alternate Solutions Institute, Pakistan’s first free market think-tank

This article appeared in The Post on June 22,2007.