Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Next Target, The CJ

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based think tank “National Issues”

Next Target The Chief Justice

On ninth of March the Chief of Army Staff summoned the Chief Justice of Pakistan in the army house. According to the Pakistani traditions he complied and was made to wait for a few hours while the acting Chief Justice took oath in an elaborate pre planned function. The footage of this oath taking was repeatedly flashed in the media. Ultimately the detained Chief Justice was called and ordered to resign which he refused. We can well imagine the pressures and threats he must have faced but he stuck to his position and decided to contest the decision. After over six hours he was allowed to go but this time in unofficial police custody with a reference sent to the supreme judicial council. He wanted to go to his office but the C J was stopped by a police officer and was taken directly to his home where he was put along with his family in police detention. His outside contacts with the world were severed. Official flags were removed, cars were towed, phones were disconnected and TV was disconnected. No one could meet him without permission of higher-ups and even the children could not go to school. All this sounds too suspiciously like a Soviet style coup that the Russians discarded long time back. This created a spontaneous unexpected fury in the civil society, which is being nervously handled by the government constantly changing stances and the official version of events further complicating the situation.

The Pakistan civil society surprised everyone with its response as it is not known for its assertiveness or pro-activity and this reaction was absolutely unexpected. The people didn’t resist the ouster of an elected Govt nor the dismissal of many judges of SC so their response was not expected. Because of the outcry led by the lawyers the Govt rattled and as it was not experienced of dealing with resistance against its absolute authority, it started making mistakes. These mistakes are growing in stature and severity eroding the Govt’s moral and legal authority.

The Govt claims that everything was done according to law and constitution. They feel that attempting to affect the supreme judicial council is against the constitution and law and the lawyers should wait for the outcome. All this sounds fine but law and constitution was repeatedly broken and made fun of in this episode by the Govt itself. These inappropriate and illegal steps should be corrected and the people held responsible before such demands can be made of others. Let me enumerate a few of the illegal steps by the government,
Summoning of the CJ by a COAS is absolutely illegal and against the constitution. For the sake of rule of law The COAS must explain his actions. Not only this he must explain that had the CJ not complied by the summons what would have been his likely action, arrest or simply abduction?
The CJ was forcibly detained in the Army house for over 6 hours. Illegal detention of ordinary Pakistanis is a major issue let alone that of the CJ. We would like to know the people responsible for this illegal act.
On his way back the CJ wanted to go to his office but was stopped by a police officer. Does the constitution require the CJ to get permission of the local police official before entering his office? If not all those responsible must be held accountable.
The CJ was effectively arrested along with his family. His movements were restricted and he was denied access to the world media. His phones were severed and sources of information like TV and newspapers were denied. He could not meet people and only people presumably bringing government messages were allowed in. Illegally arresting a CJ is a very serious offence and must be addressed.
His cars were removed, introduction on the net was removed and the flags were removed on one pretext or other.
The CJ was physically manhandled by the police on the 13th, on his way to the court for hearing and his clothes were torn.
And then the information minister openly criticized the CJ for his “misbehavior”, suggesting the CJ should seek approval of the information minister for his behavior?

The Musharraf government was not very happy with the CJ. He had 2 great weaknesses from the Govt’s view, he did not have any allegation of financial irregularity and lacked compliance. The case of serving COAS again becoming President was about to be presented before him. Wearing of uniform is important to Musharraf as it guarantees a visible loaded gun in his hand. The blatant power of the loaded gun certainly helps getting amendments passed and might be an effective substitute of political legitimacy. The seriousness of the case and stakes required an extremely pliable judge and not the current CJ. The extent of compliance this Govt needs and expects is absolute. Then the CJ was young with 6 more years to go making him more secure and self assured, something uniformed governments can never afford. So he had to be removed.

This made the Govt devise a strategy in which everything would have been easy and smooth. It had realized that the CJ was not a very popular one so negative response was not expected let alone of this magnitude. A scheme was devised in which the non-compliant CJ would be removed and an even tougher message would be effectively given to the other judges as to who was in command, absolute command and the punishment for disobedience. Letters of some lawyers prepared the ground. All the possible members of the supreme judicial council were assembled in Islamabad who were present during the oath taking of the acting CJ and then huddled together to show rather prove their absolute strength. The General had conducted a nearly identical operation against Nawaz Sharif and Jamali, both prime ministers who could not resist the pressure. If the PMs could not resist how could a CJ show any resistance. The helplessness and vulnerability of PMs was taken as a show of strength not realizing that the politics and political institutions have been effectively bulldozed by the military, as it could not afford any challenges to its hegemony. The latest stand of the CJ with regards to the missing persons could give a good excuse to the Govt, which could score some points with the US that it fired the CJ for them. All this was done by the government that repeatedly criticized its predecessor political government for attacking the Supreme Court.

The commando plan was ready to be implemented effectively. A hapless CJ was summoned, detained while the acting CJP took oath, which was repeatedly televised. Everything was going according to the plan but a difficult situation arose when the CJ refused to resign, so pressure tactics were unleashed. During these unprepared moments the government started making mistakes. It went overboard in showing its brute power to the CJ by bullying him in different ways. It wanted to show the normalcy but found it increasingly difficult. Once this failed the media was put under pressure followed by the lawyers and this sequence of mistakes went on and on adding fuel to the already unmanageable situation.

The major problem of the general rulers is their inability to deal with dissent and challenge to power or putting it simply, rule of law. The major potential challenge in the form of political parties were effectively dealt with by destroying them and handing out punishments to their leaders directly proportional to their respective popularities so that they would not be able to challenge the general’s hold on power. Probably that is the reason for Musharraf’s insistence on his uniform. During this endeavor a major point was missed.

It was not realized that the mother of all institutions and the nation is its constitution, which was repeatedly desecrated with impunity, and the guardian of the constitution is the CJ, which can effectively be called the father. A father unable to protect himself or his dignity cannot protect anyone else. The nation had not responded to the challenges to the constitution or its sovereignty but at some point the civil society was bound to respond and this attack on the CJ became the ignition, which sparked a near unanimous response of the civil society. Handling this response with ministers like Wasi Zafar and Durrani further damaged the situation as the Govt lost its already reduced credibility further fueling the fire. No wonder now the situation seems uncontrollable with every step by the Govt appearing too little and that also too late.

Now the government is stuck in a blind alley somewhat like the occupational Israeli Govt was stuck after effectively destroying the Palestinian political opposition of Yasir Arafat and having to face leaderless opposition of intifada. The challenge to the government is from a faceless resistance including cross segments of the society. The only remedy appears to be to follow the course of law and stop trying to influence it with brute force or discreet unlawful activities. Must realize that it is their nation they are dealing with and not a conquered or occupied people. Force and coercion have limitations and relying too much on these might not be possible. Musharraf has already had a honeymoon of over 7 years, something elected governments could only dream off. The ruling generals have already made too many mistakes at the expense to the country, which cannot afford any more. There is still time for Gen Musharraf to give up his lust for power and retire gracefully. The speed of events is very fast and if he does not utilize this opportunity even this opportunity might be wasted leaving his future and that of his nation in serious jeopardy.

The civil society can certainly wish and pray for the ruling general to relinquish his absolute hold on power for the sake of the nation but it would be a bit naiveté to hope for it. After all Gen Musharraf owes all his power and prestige to breaking of his oath and constitution itself. He would not bow out of power voluntarily nor would his beneficiaries allow him. It is up to the civil society to assert itself and make it clear to Musharraf that the military has to be subservient to the civil society and cannot rule it. It must secure its rights for rights are never doled out as alms. It has been abused for too long allowing other nations to use us for their motives while leaving us with problems alone which even our future generations will face. We as a nation cant afford it any more and must win back our sovereignty. A simple episode of civil society asserting itself for the CJ visibly exposed the weaknesses of the apparently strong but non-representative governments. It might be a defining moment for Pakistan and the absolute hegemony of the establishment or simply the military must end immediately. This domination of the military has caused many problems in Pakistan and interestingly on the international scene also. Pakistan deserves better, lets give Pakistan back to its people.

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