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All Over a Letter

From Jinnah the incorruptible to Zardari who defies description, from Cornelius to Iftikhar Chaudhry, from Liaquat to Raja Rental, Prince of Darkness, King of Liars, what a journey we have had, what a fall my dear countrymen, what a fall. We have hit rock bottom. If you have tears, prepare to shed them now. God has shown us the mirror. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Raja Rental is our latest punishment. We need a ‘Taubah Commission’.


Let not I, but a former Indian Supreme Court judge say it: “I regret to say that the Pakistani Supreme Court, particularly its chief justice, has been showing utter lack of restraint. This is not expected of superior courts. In fact the court and its chief justice have been playing to the galleries for long. It has clearly gone overboard and flouted all canons of jurisprudence.” Don’t trash it just because he is Indian.


It’s all very well to uphold a principle and protect an institution, but sometimes you have to protect an institution from its protectors if they fail to show moderation, balance and restraint, just as an errant journalist can stain the entire media, an ambitious general can harm the army, corrupt politicians give politics a bad name.  


Is it punch and counterpunch? In one fell swoop the odious Sehbai’s YouTube interview put the chief justice, the media and the army chief on the spot. Now in one fell swoop the Supreme Court has put the parliament-legislature and the executive on the spot and brought the system to flashpoint. If the native Sindhi is feeling raw, I can’t blame him. Does his party have no place in Pakistan’s echelons of power despite winning elections? What if Zardari changes his mind and declares, “Pakistan na khappay – Pakistan doesn’t work?” What will they do then?


I only ask. I want to be educated.


1.          Can a country progress without an independent but balanced judiciary?


2.          Are judges the judiciary? Or are they its employees, paid by the people through their government, just as the foreign secretary is not the foreign ministry, nor the foreign minister the foreign policy? All are employees of the government, all paid by your money and mine, aren’t they?


3.          Can’t judges be criticized and questioned rationally, decently and respectfully?


4.          Isn’t it our right to criticize, question and analyze a judgment once it is delivered? Cannot we rightfully wonder about the motives behind it? I said ‘wonder’, for we don’t know what is in men’s hearts and minds.


5.          Can’t we also wonder about judges and their actions and ask questions on the basis that when there is smoke there must be fire? Isn’t that our democratic, Islamic and civilized right?


6.          Shouldn’t justice not only be done but also be seen to be done? Therefore, should not judges, above all, and that too of the highest court, not only be honest, impartial and aloof but also be seen to be so for that is the only way justice can not only be done but also seen to be done?


7.          Are judges above the law?


8.          Shouldn’t people be able to exercise their right to question and criticize a judgment without fear of attracting contempt? Are they infallible? Do we place judges at the right hand of God who makes no mistakes?


9.          Is it not axiomatic that every institution and branch of government, including and especially the judiciary, must remain in its domain and not transgress onto the domains of others?


10.       Isn’t the National Assembly the people?


11.       Doesn’t God say that the people are His vicegerents? Hasn’t He devolved some of his Sovereignty on them, which is why the parliament-legislature is supreme amongst all three branches of government?


12.       Thus, doesn’t the Speaker more than any other represent the people? She judged that the conviction of the prime minister for contemning the court did not merit disqualification. The Supreme Court overruled her. Can it? Can it overrule the judgment of the elected head of the supreme branch of government and thereby overrule the people, the vicegerents of God Almighty? Common sense says it can’t.


13.       Isn’t it a cornerstone of democracy that only the people can elect and throw out their prime minister?


14.       If the Supreme Court can ride roughshod over the executive and the parliament-legislature in one go, shouldn’t we then hand over the whole jing bang tamasha to the judiciary and be done with it?



15.       If the Supreme Court cannot overrule the Speaker and sack the prime minister, can the Speaker charge the Supreme Court with contempt of parliament and the people?


As I said, I only ask to be educated. I write on the assumption that the reader is familiar with the history and contours of the case under which the appointed Supreme Court judges threw the elected prime minister out of office retroactively from April 26, 2012, when it first convicted him of contempt of court. All over a stupid letter that the government didn’t write to the Swiss authorities to reopen graft and money laundering cases against the elected president. We the trampled spectators are now seeing the system in jeopardy and the country hurtling towards failure.


The hope that we would have a prime minister who completes his term was forlorn. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani didn’t write the letter because the president has immunity under the constitution and he would be violating his oath to preserve and protect it by ignoring the immunity clause. There is much merit in this reasoning. He chose to remain loyal to the constitution and lose office. Suddenly, we had no prime minister, no government and no budget. All decisions taken by the executive since April 26 became illegal, even the appointment of judges. I assume they didn’t attend court till the new government was installed and the mess cleared. Else, can the Speaker not haul those judges them up for contempt too?


It’s too late to bleat that the allegedly corrupt Gillani was protecting a corrupt president. You should have thought about it when you elected them. It’s too late to bleat that the Supreme Court is throwing the system into jeopardy. They’re back thanks to you. Now lump it.


Speculation is rife. Did the Supreme Court proceed on the assumption that Zardari would dig in his heels, a standoff would ensue, the court would ask the army to come to its aid and get its order enforced, the army would send the entire lot packing, appoint a caretaker-undertaker government with perchance some judge to head it which would ask the Supreme Court for more time than the mandated three months to clean the mess before holding elections? Was it a trap set for Zardari? One only asks because many people are asking. I don’t think the army chief is so naive. But whether he likes it or not, the emerging situation could likely make it impossible for the army not to intervene. I’ve always said that it is the civilian branches of government going loco over power and money tussles that throw the country into the lap of the army. You’ve never liked it but it’s happening again. If the system works well the army wouldn’t dare intervene.  


If the trap theory is correct, Zardari didn’t fall into it. He decided to respect the Supreme Courts judgment with reservations and nominate another to be elected prime minister. It was a brilliant move. He took the wind out of the trapper’s sails. Now what? The rigmarole starts all over again? Will the Supreme Court ask the new sacrificial lamb – sorry, prime minister – to write the wretched letter to the Swiss, he refuses, it throws him out too, Zardari gets another elected and so the musical chairs continue till elections? If the People’s Party wins the most seats and heads the new coalition government again, its prime minister will also refuse to write the letter. Zardari gets elected to another term and the music goes on for another five years. Impossible. Something will have to give. Something will. The chairs will break and the music stop.


Much before that the Supreme Court could ask the army for help. Or, indeed, the army might intervene even before the Supreme Court asks it to, once it is sure that people are agreed that the system has utterly failed them. Of course, there’s always the possibility that they would write the letter, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The People’s Party is great at playing victim, not without just cause. Having achieved victimhood again, they might just decide to call elections and catch their opponents with their pants down. What a horrible sight to put before the king.

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