Dare I say who’s to blame?
As he walked into the room accompanying the president and his successor, former Prime Minister Gilani, walked off the dais, with dignity, to his seat among the audience. President Zardari’s speech at the conclusion of the swearing-in ceremony thanked the former PM and eulogised his services to the nation and the party. His speech was interrupted by applause, which continued to increase in tempo until every person in the filled hall rose and the applause rose to a deafening crescendo lasting several minutes.
I was a proud witness to this probably unheard of event in the annals of Pakistan’s chequered political history. Prime ministers have been murdered, incarcerated, or have just run away like Musharraf’s last genius. It’s these events that inspire optimism, despite the dreadful political wrangling currently underway. One must believe this will become a tradition as democracy evolves. If, and I repeat, if it is allowed to. This is where I begin to question my own optimism which has taken quite a beating recently.
The nation stands at a crossroads. This is a country in transit and evolution. Democracy is, or certainly was, taking hold. This process is long, lengthy and arduous but when it is rudely interrupted by wilful and malafide trespass, leaving development and the people far behind, it gets worse. We have suffered this through multiple military interventions, both direct and indirect, to the point that even today people, and the world for that matter, believe that the last word rests with the uniformed.
Our constitution and laws have played host to MLRs and DPRs and what have you. Today the wig and the robe rules and these extra-constitutional laws have been replaced by JLRs. The country is a prisoner to the dictates of the apex court. All other courts and legal institutions have taken a backseat. All cases, political or otherwise, except those against the current government are now in a holding pattern. The right of various stages of appeals in multiple legal avenues stand disrupted. Judge, jury and executioner are embodied in a single institution. Are these the judicial reforms and justice that democracy commands?
The constitution is unambiguous in the immunity provided to the president in Section 248(2). No functionary of government, political or otherwise, can violate this sanctity without falling foul of the law. This immunity extends internationally by convention. No letter or reference will be taken up during the president’s incumbency by any international court. The ego factor demanding writing of the “Swiss letter” and subsequent actions taken are personified in the JLR referred to.
Forget for a moment, the omission or the commission. Just take a dispassionate view of the legal status. There is a section that insists why the letter is not being written if there is international immunity. The answer is simple: read the constitution. The government is not empowered to write it. Neither is any other institution. Nor is anybody for that matter. The only way is amending the constitution and the clause providing relief. Not about to happen and why should it?
There is a method to this immunity madness as retired Justice Katju blogs, “The British were one of the most far sighted administrators the world has known. They realised if the King is made to stand on the witness box or sent to jail the system could not function. A stage is reached at the highest level of the system where total immunity to the person at the top has to be granted. This is the only practical view.”
Pakistan has to get on with business if it is to make any headway in resolving the multiple crises it is faced with. Daily life cannot be subject to the events being unrolled at the apex court, as is, unfortunately, the case. Even as I write, a judgement on the NRO case is awaited. Sitting close by is a gentleman whose life has been disrupted by a ridiculous decision of the HEC that has cost him a lucrative job and millions in earning. He has filed a writ last year in June and it still has not come up for hearing. Such is the state of our justice system.
The energy crisis, relations with the US and economic challenges need total attention. The Gilani government was hamstrung by the legal challenges it was facing. Despite whatever its legacy or antecedents, it had been elected as the largest party by the people in an election deemed fair. The election result of Raja Pervez Ashraf, the new PM, 211 to 89 with abstentions that would favour the government is ample proof of the majority the current coalition commands. If, with this majority, the government cannot address the needs of the nation, then there is something drastically wrong.
This conflict needs to be rapidly brought to an end. It is not and must not be a priority for Pakistan to continue fuelling it. A showdown that will not draw a standing ovation and will cause irreparable damage to the cause of Pakistan is where we are headed. The blame for this will be as in Justice Katju’s closing sentence. I know those who matter have read it.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.