Mir Jamilur Rahman
There are definite signs that the PPP does not feel pushed to have the deposed judges restored unconditionally. It wants to link the restoration to a judiciary-specific constitutional package that would drastically cut the powers of the Supreme Court. The PPP co-chairman wants something in return for the judges’ reinstatement. He wants the judiciary subordinated to the executive. For instance, the remodelled Supreme Court would not be authorised to entertain petitions against the privatisation programme. It is also being suggested that its suo motu powers be ended, with thus putting an end to the search of the missing persons. Its administrative powers will also be curtailed.
The military dictator did not amend the Constitution to strip the Supreme Court of its power, which he could easily have done. But the elected government is prepared to do so. This can only happen in Pakistan: a military dictator not disturbing judicial powers and a democratic government ready to clip them. Incredible Pakistan!
The PPP leaders owe a lot to President Musharraf. His National Reconciliation Ordinance washed off all the crimes Zardari and Bhutto had allegedly committed. It facilitated their return from self-imposed exile. Musharraf and his NAB had pursued the couple in foreign countries, relentlessly harassing them. But on the eve of the last elections it dawned on him that the PPP couple had been hounded on made-up charges, and he had a change of heart. With one stroke of the pen he absolved the PPP leaders of all the crimes they were charged with. The crimes included murder, corruption, misuse of power, dealing in narcotics.
Now it is payback time. The PPP must return the favour by protecting the president from the legal fraternity, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his 60- odd colleagues, and Mian Nawaz Sharif. The PPP believes that a parliamentary resolution demanding the restoration of the judges would be tantamount to signing the abdication order of President Musharraf. It does not want President Musharraf removed from the scene because he is the party’s benefactor and the best bet to keep the PPP in power. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto had said at the home of a detained Justice Chaudhry that “my chief justice is Iftikhar Chaudhry.” By the president’s own admission his actions of Nov 3 were an unconstitutional and unlawful act.
This can only happen in Pakistan: The popularly elected government showing hesitancy to undo a wrong done by a dictator.
No doubt, Mr Zardari has complaints against the judiciary. First, he says the judiciary had murdered his father-in-law, a fact that has been admitted by one of the judges trying Mr Bhutto. Second, Zardari says that he spent two years in jail on the BMW reference case. He told BBC that he appeared five times before Iftikhar Chaudhry but he did not hear the case saying that he has not seen the file. It is true that he has been dealt with very unjustly by the judiciary. He spent nearly nine years in jail without a single conviction. However, Zardari has reconciled with his worst enemies. It would raise his political statue if he were to reconcile with the judges as well.
Governments generally prefer a submissive judiciary, and the PPP government is no exception. Every government, especially an unrepresentative one, wants that its actions should not be subject to a judicial review. In Pakistan the judiciary has generally acted as an extension of the executive, for the simple reason that most of the time we have been under military rule. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry brought a sea change in the conduct of the judiciary. It started to take notice of the government’s autocratic and overbearing role. It nullified the Pakistan Steel Mills sale because the deal lacked transparency. It made strenuous efforts to recover missing persons abducted by the intelligence agencies. The Musharraf government could not stomach these insults and decided to get rid of him, but the attempt failed. The country then witnessed a yearlong protest by the lawyers, which still continues. It is unbelievable that the lawyers’ movement could unhinge a uniformed strongman. It can only happen in Pakistan. Incredible Pakistan!
The lawyers have sent the message that they would accept nothing short of reinstatement of all the deposed judges. They are keeping their options open until the government comes out with the proposed resolution. The government should realise that lawyers’ long march has the potential of attracting people who are suffering from the high priced atta and electricity shortage. Multan’s electricity riots have shown that people are getting desperate. The growing atta prices could also turn people desperate which would lead to a breakdown in law and order. The government should tread softly and intelligently and avoid creating new and graver problems.
The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: email@example.com