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What do Amitabh, Nisar, Nawaz, Gilani have in common?

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By Mohammad Malick

ISLAMABAD: In the late ‘70s, Indian superstar Amitabh Bachan was known as the ‘angry young man’ of Bollywood. His motto: If it moves, kick it; if it sneers, kill it; if it smiles, kiss it. In the ‘90s, Mian Nawaz Sharif took over as the angry-lost-young man of Pakistani politics. His motto: if it’s red-black-green, bash it; if it’s khaki and moves towards you, smash it; if it makes sense, trash it. Then came the present times and the baton apparently passed on to the new angry young man of politics, our dear leader of the opposition Ch Nisar Ahmed. His motto: if it’s not tailor made to desire, reject it; if it opposes you, eject it; if it is good to hear but impossible to implement, suggest it. But his reign may be cut prematurely short due to the emergence of another soon-to-be-angry-young man. And of all the people, our cool as a cucumber Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. His motto: if it comes your way, fend it; if it’s too tough to break, bend it; if endless appeasement fails, then end it. And listening to the House speeches today, it appeared that the prime minister has decided to wag the tail of his motto and quite vigorously too.

And that is hardly good news in a political environ already littered with shortsighted hawks of every ilk and feather. For the first time ever, we saw the otherwise irritatingly calm prime minister lose his cool, albeit momentarily, but that sudden flash in the pan may just have hinted at the angrier times to come.

While Nisar, in his earlier outburst, may have been shooting at the government’s knees, including taking a hitherto unprecedented swipe at the prime minister’s person, the prime minister responded with a stunning blow to the gut.

“You want to hear controversial things” Gilani snapped, “then you must know that even the chief justice has been restored by an executive order which has still to be validated by Parliament”. Woh! Hold it right here. Did we just hear an angry retort by an irritated chief executive or was it a calibrated response of a prime minister who had chosen to stand by his president and to move away, if not altogether abandon, the previous policy of building consensus with opposition? Was it one angry man responding to another, or is there a covert method to this overt madness? The real issue here is not the legal merits of the new controversy unleashed by the prime minister, but the fact that he chose to do so in the manner he did, on the forum he did it on, and the day he picked to do so. Is it a sheer coincidence that the premier appeared so hawkish on the very day that saw the legal community split on party lines over the strike call against the presidential notifications? Is the prime minister privy to something we ordinary mortals aren’t or is our political elite slowly being corralled towards a holding pen with no exit?

The ball was set rolling by a fiery speech (we don’t expect anything less anyway) by leader of the opposition Ch Nisar. He spoke, fumed, thundered for a good 75 minutes or so, but, in a nutshell, he wanted the Presidency to withdraw its notifications regarding the elevation and appointment of two judges of the Lahore High court, prior to the approaching February 18th court date. He also got under the prime minister’s skin when he complained about hearing something else in off the record conversations with the premier but seeing the exact opposite on-the-record actions of his government. A day earlier his boss Nawaz Sharif too had held a court of a press conference and blasted away at the Presidency, the government etc, all in the name of judicial independence of course. But why really? What did Nawaz sharif and co exactly gain by retching up political tension? Why was the PML-N supremo not his usual thundering self while talking about possible mis-adventurism of khakis were the mess to get messier? These whys do merit clarifications because did the CJ not move immediately by forming a three-member bench, which in turn, cut the government to size? Who is politicising the judiciary more is the question being asked by many. The government which keeps getting a judicial boot in its face ‘inside the court room’ every time it tries getting ambitious and cheeky, or is it the opposition that keeps dragging the judiciary into the arena of public debate and speculation? Why do our politicians insist on talking on behalf of our Supreme Court which, Alhamdulillah, is more than capable of holding its own under the incumbent chief justice.

We were always told that judicial matters should be decided inside a court of law, then why drag them outside. Why make our honourable judges controversial by painting them in any one party colour. The prime minister too could not be more wrong when in a flow of emotions, he claimed that “he” had liberated the judiciary. It were the people, the media, and the principle of being on the right that achieved this miracle Mr prime minister and you would forget it only to your own peril.

There is no arguing the fact that the government has been shooting itself, needlessly, in the foot and probably has already run out of toes to target. There is no question that the government has been crippled by a lack of competence and abundance of corruption. And who could deny that only an idiotic government in power would create circumstances that would shift politics from power corridors to the volatile streets. You could even argue the government’s right to hang on to power if you must but there is little doubt that none of all this will do more damage to the system than making our superior judiciary controversial. Nisar and Co are doing it may be out of goodness of heart (to give them margin of doubt), the government might be doing it out of defensive frustration, but does it really matter whether you kill something you love with a sword, or a word to paraphrase Oscar Wilde? The time has come for all politicians to let the judiciary hold its own court. Otherwise, we could end up losing the case for sustainable democracy. Remember, there are many more young angry men stationed not too far away from Islamabad.

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