A lawyer representing the Pakistan government recently tied himself in knots, when commenting on the Supreme Court’s order to restore the chief justice to his post. The court also quashed a presidential reference against the judge. This lawyer said: “One side has to lose and the other has to win.” In the same breath, he added, “It’s a victory for justice, the rule of law, and General Musharraf.” Regardless of what this lawyer would have said had the government won the case, it’s worth pondering where the Pakistan government stands now.
by Khalil Ahmad
Alawyer representing the Pakistan government recently tied himself in knots, when commenting on the Supreme Court’s order to restore the chief justice to his post. The court also quashed a presidential reference against the judge. This lawyer said: “One side has to lose and the other has to win.” In the same breath, he added, “It’s a victory for justice, the rule of law, and General Musharraf.” Regardless of what this lawyer would have said had the government won the case, it’s worth pondering where the Pakistan government stands now.
The post-verdict reactions from it show that its thinking is not much different from that of the lawyer’s. It accepts the judgement, 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. It seems it’s not in a mood to admit its mistakes, and mend its ways. Like the general sentiment before the verdict that the court’s judgement would provide 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. If that happens, it will be uncalled for. It’s time for the government to take stock of its character and performance. It has a long list of negatives to its credit: It’s unconstitutional and dictatorial. Like all other military governments, it will leave the people of Pakistan ever more insecure and deprived. In addition, it derives its power from a deformed Constitution. It has been bent upon seeking more and more power that landed it in a self-created crisis, the most recent examples being the issues of Lal Masjid and the chief justice’s removal. The delay in taking action against the two brothers behind the Lal Masjid episode gave currency to conspiracy theorists who suggested that the government itself was behind its staging.
Be that as it may, the episode was one of the biggest lapses of the government. Apart from conspiracy theories, what happened in and around the masjid made government’s authority suffer a setback. In its operation, the government acted very cautiously, showed restraint and care. It’s a victory for the rule of law.
However, this does not absolve the government from its negligence or complicity. Why did it let this happen in the heart of Islamabad? How did the perpetrators get hold of such weapons and militants hide in the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa? Why under the nose of the government were they allowed to play with the freedom of local and foreign citizens? Why in spite of the many cases registered against them were they never taken to task?
The same is the case with the chief justice’s removal. From the start, the government behaved irresponsibly. The more one looks at the events that unfolded between 9 March and 13 March, the more one is convinced that it was a case of outright removal. It was very likely that the government would have succeeded in getting the chief justice resign quietly. But for justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s courage and lawyers’ rallying to his side, the government might have succeeded.
These crises were a creation of government action. Now, it will have to cope with the unintended consequences: suicide bombings, terrorist attacks on security forces and a weakened and demoralized government machinery. Above all, the government must accept the Supreme Court’s judgement, both in letter and spirit. In the context of the euphoria generated by the restoration of the chief justice and the rising level of people’s expectations from the judiciary, the government must follow the sentiments of the people.
The government should take advantage of this moment and resolve the issues of political instability, terrorism, ethnic and religious strife amicably. It should see through this moment optimistically to a new Pakistan emerging out of the future horizon. It should not create hurdles, but let a smooth transition take place. It should let the judiciary hold free and fair elections to let the people of Pakistan get a government of their choice.
The apex court’s judgement has given new hope to the deprived sections of society and provinces and they are most likely to knock at its door for justice. Free and fair elections will provide the impetus for this smooth transition. They will ensure that instead of a government imposed from above, true representatives are there to solve problems faced by citizens.
Lastly, another significant issue needs to be addressed here. It is most unfortunate that the US and western powers dogmatically believe that it is only a military government in Pakistan that can contain terrorists and lead the fight against terrorism. This is a mistaken view.
Constitutionally, the Pakistan army is an institution that is supposed to work in a civilian set-up. Why doesn’t it fight terrorism under the aegis of a civilian government? Mind it, this civilian government need not be one that is of the US’ or the West’s choice. This must be the one that wins elections fairly and freely, and cares for the aspirations of the people of Pakistan. That’s the way to a long-term resolution of the problem of terrorism. That is the reason why the government must heed the Supreme Court judgement and make it a win-winsituation.
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 Mint on August 6,2007.