By Mohammad Malick
ISLAMABAD: We are not going to discuss any features of the federal budget 2008/9 in this column because by the time you read these lines, the details would already have been splashed all over the newspapers and discussed threadbare on the myriad television channels. So let’s just focus on one single line delivered by Finance Minister Naveed Qamar that just may end up delivering the much-needed stability and putting an end to this lingering judicial crisis that has rocked the country from one end to the other.
The last time we checked there were two key differences between the PML-N and the PPP over the matter of restoration of the apex judiciary sacked by President Musharraf on November 3rd: the PML-N did not agree to its restoration through a new act of parliament and instead insisted that the reinstatement only required an executive order. The PPP for its part argued otherwise, claiming that two wrongs would not make one right.
The other issue remained that of the reinstatement of Ch. Iftikhar as Chief Justice of Pakistan. The PPP, without ever actually saying it, ideally wants to continue with incumbent CJ Mr. Justice Dogar or at worst reinstate Ch Iftikhar for a relatively shorter term.
The PML-N wants the reinstatement to make a point about the unacceptability of the principle of judges being sacked arbitrarily by any individual, but is not really stuck on the issue of the reinstated Justice Chaudhry serving out his entire remaining original office term. Basically, the difference between the coalition partners boils down to these two elements: How to bring back the judges, and who becomes the chief justice of the Supreme Court when that happens.
What happened today in the budget speech was nothing short of a masterful political stroke, which seemed to have been designed with a chartered accountant’s expertise of turning something on its head till the achievement of the desired outcome, but without anyone being able to call it a new development. That is exactly what transpired this evening.
More than halfway through his speech, when almost half the press corps had almost gone numb by the endless deluge of statistics and comparative statements and almost the entire house could be seen getting bored by such serious and meaningful talk, Naveed Qamar clearly trying to sound casual (in fact he was trying a bit too hard to give the impression of it being as budget business as usual) threw in the line “ض.and the number of Supreme Court judges will be increased from 16 to 29”. That was about it, nothing more. And then rather swiftly he moved on to the next agenda item.
One could see a few members sitting up and taking notice but then mention the word judge nowadays and everyone gets attentive even if for a few fleeting seconds. Surprisingly, however, no members could even be seen exchanging notes or meaningful glances on this most unlikely announcement being included in the budget speech. Clearly, the move had gone unnoticed as desired by the top leadership.
So what happened here? Ask the minister’s office and the definite response would be to portray it as a routine financial provisioning being made in view of the expected expansion of the Supreme Court. But what really happened here was ٌ and here comes the chartered accountant twist mechanism ٌ that the PPP government has very cleverly latched the issue of expanding the Supreme Court’s strength onto the financial bill and thus avoided the necessity of having to pass a separate Act for the same. The room to accommodate both the sitting Supreme Court judges and their sacked colleagues has been created in the quietest possible manner. Get it?
Now PML-N can be happy for having its cake and eating it too because the judges are not being reinstated by passing a new Act (as per the PML-N’s persistent stance) as it would now instead be a part of the Finance Bill and the sacked judges can be brought back easily after the passage of the Finance Bill as per the act of parliament (as per the PPP’s stance which always wanted to bring them back through an Act and not an executive order). So isn’t it amazing that both sides are now happy and can claim that neither had to abandon its ‘principled’ stance. Now that’s what you call clever with everyone coming out a winner. This only leaves us with the other remaining person-specific issue of the CJ’s office. And going by the latest move, surely a solution would be found to that as well. So let’s rejoice because at least 50% of the problem has been taken care of and we are now halfway closer to resolving this moving issue that ironically has paralysed the entire nation.
But judges are where the rejoicing ends. Once again, Alliance forces in Afghanistan (read: US troops) have been responsible for the death of Pakistanis inside our side of the Pak-Afghan border.
And in the latest cross border intrusion, reportedly eight Army personnel including a major, have also been killed, while the so far unconfirmed overall toll was touted at 60 Pakistanis. The issue was raised by Raza Hayat Hiraj of the PML-Q right before the budget speech. And while the speaker was adamant about not letting him speak on a point of order in the budget speech session (as is the tradition), it took the prime minister’s nod to make her relent grudgingly.
Responding to the issue, the prime minister started off very authoritatively by vowing to defend the sovereignty of the country (and desk thumping started from both sides of the aisle as if on a cue) and thundered that, “I was informed of the incident while we were having a cabinet meeting earlier today so I immediately called the foreign secretary as the foreign minister is out of the country and told him to immediatelyض”, at this point the firmness of his voice suggested that he was about to share some extremely harsh action that he had already recommended to the foreign secretary but then the other shoe fell as the prime minister continued,”ضto lodge a strong protest and I am going to lodge a strong protest myself”. And desks were thumped yet again. What were they appreciating one wonders, our shameless helplessness?
This had to be bad joke. Didn’t we just lodge a strong protest only last week? Isn’t it for the umpteenth time that the US troops have killed Pakistanis inside Pakistan? Only a few days back, I had asked the foreign minister to stop protesting and simply tell us if there was anything concrete that the government could do to protect its citizens from the so called alliance troops. Now you can add Army troops to our endangered personnel list as well. I pose the same question to the prime minister now; can you do something honourable to protect our lives? And if you can’t, then please stop lodging these meaningless degrading protests as well. They only add insult to our grief.
Oh lest I forget, the prime minister did take the extremely brave step of joining the other members in offering Fateha for the dead and asking God to give them a place inside heaven. Hopefully, it happens up there because they surely got one hell of a deal down here in their own country.
PS: For some inexplicable reason yesterday’s column inadvertently named George Orwell, the celebrated British author of Animal Farm and 1984, as a film director who made Citizen Kane. The director of that flim, of course, was Orson Welles. Sorry big brother!
Source: The News, 12/6/2008