When was sending a prime minister home a problem in Pakistan? Ask Mian Nawaz Sharif, a veteran of two ousters. A few trucks rolling in, the PM house surrounded, a guard mounted on the Intelligence Bureau’s K Block headquarters, Pakistan Television taken over, the deed done...and the takeover artist coming on air to explain the necessity of the entire exercise.
Referring to the ease of prime ministerial removals, the late Maulana Kausar Niazi, who knew his political theology, said that there should be a graveyard in Islamabad reserved exclusively for ex-prime ministers. The time may have come to re-examine the proposal.
Gilani’s contempt case is taking forever to come to a conclusion, a thriller losing all its sex appeal. 111 Brigade, until recently the nation’s highest constitutional court, would have finished the matter in no time. But if it is taking forever it is because the Supreme Court, bereft of 111 Bde’s decisive interventionist powers, must act according to a document called the Constitution.
And the Constitution says that much as some of us would like Gilani to fall on his sword immediately, a Roman custom not much favoured by the Pakistani political class, there is a procedure to follow, via the speaker National Assembly and the chief election commissioner, before the sword effect comes into play.
What’s wrong with this? Why can’t we hold our horses for a bit? The tears being shed, and they are copious, for the rule of law are less about the holy elephant called the rule of law and more about political grandstanding and gamesmanship. Which is fine but we should see things for what they are and not be taken in so completely by our own charlatanism and duplicity.
There is more honour among thieves. There is certainly more honour among streetwalkers. They don’t pretend to be what they are not. Putting up with troubles is one thing. But having to put up with too much self-righteousness is a heavier cross to carry.
The prime minister has been held guilty of contempt. Isn’t that enough? The law will take its course, if we only allow it. If Gilani wants to be a martyr, a Multani Sir Thomas More (forgive the far-fetched analogy), that’s his choice. Pakistan has survived bigger earthquakes. It will survive this too. Our genius for muddling through, honed over the last 65 years, will remain in all its glory. Meanwhile, if we could only cut some of the democratic sermons.
Whatever adjective we use to describe Gilani’s defiance of the Supreme Court, is it likely to attract the anger of the gods more than, to take but one example, the poisoning of the Pakistani landscape by that invention of the devil called the plastic shopper? Nature despoiled and although the evidence of that is before our eyes we choose to do nothing about it.
Yes, Gilani deserves punishment, the law’s mills grinding slowly in that direction. But what about the plastic shopper...what about the cement industry destroying the Kahoon valley, one of the most beautiful spots in the whole of Pakistan? If we are helpless before such evils which will outlast our political troubles, why are we losing all restraint in Gilani’s contempt case? And don’t tell me that upholding the rule of law in this instance will lead to the application of law and justice in the Kahoon valley. This is not how things work in Pakistan.
My Lord the Chief Justice is criticised for many things...selective justice and so on. But tell me of a chief justice as concerned and energetic as him over a whole range of issues, including the disappearance of missing persons. But there are things beyond his reach and the power of the cement industry may just be one of these.
Or take the Asghar Khan case pertaining to the ISI distribution of money in the 1990 elections which is also taking forever. Instead of coming to grips with the central question, the distribution of money, the court has been meandering off into other directions.
Isn’t this an argument then for tempering judicial zeal? Where the weight of the law comes down heavily in some instances and is not to be felt in others, then the least we can do is avoid the temptation of excessive moralising. In the not too distant past we’ve had lordships giving us lectures on Islam. We are now being treated to discourses in literature. Interpreting the law and the Constitution, and ensuring that cases are timely decided, are not small tasks. Might it not be better to stick to these?
Was Stalin wrong when he asked, “How many divisions does the Pope have?” In his cynical way he was referring to an abiding truth: that power flows from strength...or, in Mao’s more vivid phrase, from the barrel of a gun. The triumph of the popular will in Russia is a misrepresentation of history. The communist party virtually abdicated authority and Russia’s divisions shifted their allegiance from the communist party to new centres of authority.
As an aside may I say that the people of Russia, as a whole, have had a rougher ride under democracy than under communist authoritarianism, Russian womanhood adorning the brothels of the world, from western Europe to the Gulf, one outcome of the triumph of the popular will in that once mighty country.
If their lordships would care to consider the matter of their own restoration: it was brought about less by any long march than by the army, and its divisions, exploiting the threat of a so-called long march to put pressure on a weak political government to acquiesce in their return. The people were pawns, as they usually are. It was the generals who decided, and Zardari the canny politician who swallowed his pride and went along with what he couldn’t resist.
Gen Musharraf’s biggest grouse is not with My Lord the Chief Justice but Gen Kayani. Whatever he may think of Justice Chaudhry he feels betrayed by Gen Kayani. Ultimately, it was his successor who distanced himself from him, forcing Musharraf to rethink his future.
There is a startling passage in the literary note appended to the main judgment in Gilani’s case: “...if in a given situation the Executive is bent upon defying a final judicial verdict and is ready to go to any limit in such defiance...then in the final analysis it would be the responsibility of the people themselves to stand up for defending the Constitution and...and for dealing with the delinquent appropriately.” More than a defence of the Constitution this sounds like an invitation to the barricades.
How are the people to come to such a determination? The Supreme Court’s claim to represent the people is about as valid as the divine right of kings. Love or hate it, it is the National Assembly which is the forum representing the popular will. And what if, as in the present instance, the National Assembly doesn’t see eye to eye with the Supreme Court? Should it then propose popular action against the higher judiciary?
These are misleading and dangerous theories and we should have nothing to do with them. The Supreme Court draws its legitimacy not from the people but the Constitution. Just as an army does best when it sticks to cleaning its weapons and having them ready for use, the higher judiciary does best when keeping the embers of its moral indignation a bit low and sticking to interpreting the law, and allowing the law to take its course...even if this course is not as brutal or summary as some of us would like it to be.