Yousuf Raza Gilani’s imprisonment on a contempt of court charge lasted a little over 30 seconds, the conviction was enough to set off a legal and political firestorm. Gilani’s defiance is pure political bluster, he will be history soon. With his legal status as prime minister in a limbo, Pakistan also remains in a state of suspended animation.
Clearly not comfortable and his usual confident self, Aitzaz Ahsan is going through the motions expected of him as Gilani’s defence counsel. Grappling with one’s conscience as opposed to the responsibility towards one’s client is always a lawyer’s dilemma. Once a client’s brief is accepted, notwithstanding any reservations about duty towards a client being in conflict with moral convictions, the counsel must staunchly plead the case of the client, or at least make a credible pretence of doing so.
Those who have held Aitzaz in great esteem should be more forgiving and understanding. While his moral authority and standing may be considerably diminished, he is only doing what his profession requires him to do for his client, to the best of his ability. While critics feel his soul has gone to a higher bidder, my friend’s body language suggests that his mind as a lawyer and heart as a human being in conflict with his conscience.
If the Supreme Court finds most of its landmark verdicts frustrated, it only has itself to blame. The judges’ latitude in trying to strictly adhere to the letter instead of the spirit of the law emboldened the government and made it defiant towards the judiciary. What started as a muted challenge has now become a shrill and blatant display of contempt for the rule of law. The modus operandi is clear: challenge the verdict legally in the courtroom with any frivolous argument, than deride the honourable judges in the media and defy the court on the streets.
Soon after Gilani was convicted, armed motorcycle gangs mobilised by the PPP fanned out throughout Sindh, symbolically also in the affluent areas of Karachi, to enforce a shuttering down of businesses. This was no “Sindh” card, it was pure and simple political blackmail meant to intimidate the Supreme Court. With the police standing by and not intervening, there was everything “official” about it. Consider our predicament as citizens: those “constitutionally” mandated to uphold the rule of law and ensure the protection of the life and liberty of the citizens actually employing criminal elements to enforce their dissent to the rule of law.
When Benazir Bhutto was assassinated the anguish came from the heart, it was genuine. Criminals took full advantage of the tragedy, genuine political activism morphing into looting of banks, commercial entities and stranded containers, burning of private cars and other vehicles. Once mob rule takes over, anarchy cannot be far behind. One hopes democracy is not being used as a tool for “revenge.”
Selective adherence to the rule of law by those in power is becoming endemic. What we are witnessing is a systematic breakdown of the rules governing civilised society which forms the basis of the Constitution. The Supreme Court’s inability or inaction (whatever better describes it) has allowed creeping anarchy to take over governance through the barrel of the gun. Unfortunately the constitutional alternative to total breakdown of governance is enforcing the rule of law through the barrel of the gun. Given such circumstances, only a martial law can protect the life and liberty of the citizens.
The manufacture of drugs like “Ecstasy” from ephedrine will destroy the lives of hundreds and thousands of our youths. It is a heinous crime. The misuse of the ephedrine quota by supposed cronies of Musa Khan Gilani making billions of rupees must be impartially investigated. The attempted high-level cover-up emanating from the Prime Minister’s House stinks to high heaven.
Talking the good talk about all institutions functioning according to the Constitution, Kayani’s defining moment came in the ephedrine case. Maj Gen Shakil Hussain was originally to retire in the third week of April 2012, but he was sent back by the government to the army from the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) two weeks earlier to frustrate the enquiry implicating Gilani’s son. While restoring all the investigating officers transferred out of the ANF to continue the enquiry, the Supreme Court left it to the COAS to decide whether Shakil should go back to the ANF to continue as its DG.
Kayani chose discretion over the facts being boldly uncovered by his own men in uniform and his retirement of Shakil Hussain reinforced the perception that the army will remain “deaf, dumb and blind” to those hell-bent upon defiling the Constitution at will, and defaming one of its pillars, the Supreme Court.
Clearly with politically motivation, Rahman Malik’s reigniting of the long-forgotten money-laundering cases against Mian Nawaz Sharif and family is serious, corroborated by a 43-page handwritten “confessional statement” by Sen Ishaq Dar recorded before a magistrate on April 25, 2000, under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Since this was done under coercion during Musharraf’s martial law, thorough forensic enquiry without political bias must clear the matter once and for all. If we cannot tolerate a convicted prime minister, a person who could possibly be indicted on further counts, holding the prime ministerial office, we certainly cannot afford such controversy in the future.
By vacillating in pre-empting the present situation from sinking to such depths, the COAS now finds himself between a rock and a hard place. Yaum-e-Shuhada is a fitting tribute to our brave men in uniform who have sacrificed their lives for the country. Eloquent during the ceremony about defending the Constitution, and in doing so to uphold democracy, what is the reason Kayani blithely ignores the rampant loot and plunder under the camouflage of democracy? While one must honour every Shaheed’s father, mother, wife and children, reciprocally there also arises the question of morality.
How can those defiling democracy hypocritically ask (and expect) others not to run afoul of the Constitution? With what conscience: can we keep on burying our Shaheeds while the tenets of the Constitution are being buried by those who care two hoots about their ultimate sacrifice in their obsession to add to their own welfare and contentment by all illegal means possible? What did these brave men die for? Mere words, and those too ambiguous words, won’t do. For the sake of the Shaheeds that we honour and mourn, someone has to stand up and be counted.
The government is not unaware about the simmering discontent in the uniformed rank and file, they are encouraged by the stony, stoic silence of the COAS. The military hierarchy cannot very well bury their heads in the sand and wish that all the problems will simply go away. Economic inequities will force-multiply our political problems till the “doctrine of necessity” will become a necessity, preferably with discipline of the uniform, but if circumstances continue to spin out of control, quite possibly without it. While nobody wants a military takeover, because that would be suicidal, should intervention be ruled out if the country’s very existence is in danger?
Gen Kayani talked about “national security,” the underlying principle of national security is good governance and strict adherence to the rule of law.
The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org