Jun 122008

Is it really in the interests of our elected representatives to stand by principle, even so compromised a principle as the restoration of a chief justice who originally rode on the back of a martial law?

I’ll admit frankly that I don’t know what to think of the lawyer’s long march. It was only last July that the Chief Justice was last reinstated. In the June that preceded that July, there seemed to be little doubt that the chief justice’s cause had justice on its side. Is there any now? Not really — but the long war of attrition fought on the chief justice’s behalf, and more recently by the gentleman himself, has imposed a new perspective.

Last June it was a story of one man’s defiance of a dictator. Seeking the connections of this narrative with what went before or what would come after was untimely. History was being made, as people noted, and true to type, history in the making seems to stand outside history. Now, once again, we are told that history is going to be made. But it doesn’t feel like that. There is now too much connection, too much context.

What is missing? Well, for one thing, a clear villain. There is a tacit understanding that President Musharraf is now not the main stumbling block in the movement’s way. Or let us put it another way: President Musharraf is now not the name of a man, but of an alignment of interests that would like to use him both as a punching bag and as the guarantor of an agreement. He is the name of a marriage of convenience, but he’s also black to everyone’s white. However, he is fast losing even his real, unconstitutional function as decoy. The lawyers’ want, this time, to take on Parliament.

Is Parliament their true opponent? I among others seek illumination on this point. One major chunk of Parliament, the PMLN, is squarely with them, marching against itself. Other elements in it are ambivalent. None is openly against them, not even the PPP, which has gone furthest in identifying itself with Musharraf.

However, barring PMLN, would its major players really want to see lawyers bring about an unequivocal restoration of CJ et al? This question, which peeped through even last year in complaints that political parties kept their distance from the lawyers and vice versa, robs the lawyer-democracy alliance of its romance.

Is it really in the interests of our elected representatives to stand by principle, even so compromised a principle as the restoration of a chief justice who originally rode on the back of a martial law? That is the question of the day.

Would they want to strengthen the hands of future justices against usurpation of power and constitutional infringement by the precedent of restoring the CJ? We look at the people who sit in Parliament, at their histories — distressingly mixed — and wonder.

It is the PMLN’s politics that seem puzzling in this context. It seems to have no vision of status quo in sight, though in the past the party has not flinched from physically assaulting the Supreme Court to maintain status quo. Are we witnessing recklessness for power here, or a change of heart?

Or should we marvel instead at the PPP’s politics? Is it missing the redundancy of its pragmatic, at best semi-legal compromises at a time when the voters have turned resolutely to issues? Will we finally have a PPP divested from romance?

If that happens, many will lament the symbol the PPP was in Pakistan politics — thwarted by the establishment, always a promise, never quite delivering the goods but with its heart in the right place. But perhaps others will be happier with a straighter look at the PPP. This may not mean that the PPP will lose voters, but that it may lose a type of voter.

It is difficult to have an opinion on all this, and I admire those who manage to do so. The lawyers’ cause seems the justest, most attractive of causes. But it has become synonymous with the reversal of the painstaking compromises reached since last year between a number of actors. Do we really need these compromises? Are they in the collective good or designed to serve narrow interests? Is the need for stability greater than the need for setting right a wrong? Will we build governance on sounder foundations if the chief justice is restored, or give the judiciary a tool to undermine governance?

The eye of the camera is too close to the action to enlighten much, and the eye of history too distant to be of help. I at least shall reserve judgement till events teach me better.

The writer is former Assistant Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times and loves to find affinities in objects where no brotherhood exists to common minds

Source: Daily Times, 12/6/2008

 Posted by at 9:47 am

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