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Never before did they walk this path

By Imtiaz Gul

 The News , June 28, 2012

The rise of Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to the prime minister’s office underscores a stark reality; we have lost fundamentals of ethics to politics of expedience. Most Pakistanis seem to have lost distinctionbetween the quest for rule of law and the self-serving rhetoric of the
ruling elite to circumvent law in the name of “elected democracy.”Some of us also tend to judge the conduct of key stakeholders such as the judiciary in isolation from the rest of society, forgetting that judges too are products of the same society – human beings with likes or dislikes. They live in a sea of corruption and misgovernance. They exist in a culture that thrives on nepotism and favoritism, with merelip service paid to rule of law.

What we all live in is the direct consequence of the way the military emasculated public and private institutions and the readiness of civilian kleptocrats to partner the army in post-coup setups.Many accuse the judges of “possessing an exalted sense of
righteousness” but fail to admit that most of others – politicians,businessmen, anchors, and media czars – too suffer from the same sense of exalted sense of self-righteousness when pontificating. Although they crib and groan under crushing inflation, crippling
loadshedding, and debilitating misgovernance, yet they fail to consider the real reasons for their miseries.

Those critical of the judiciary’s assertive conduct refuse to acknowledge the importance of one very simple question that every law-abiding man must ask: why did the then attorney general withdraw Pakistan’s claim on a Swiss Bank account holding 60 million dollars when the PPP came to power?

To whom did the account belong? And if the government has nothing to hide, what is the harm in writing a letter to the Swiss authorities for reopening the investigation? Why can’t the Supreme Court not instruct the attorney general to only make enquiries in this regard, without insisting on a trial (because the president enjoys immunity under article 248)?

Immunities and discretions simply lead to arbitrary dispensation of authority, usually done to benefit oneself or a few around. Immunities often become tools to buy influence or bury opposition under the pretext of discriminatory constitutional provisions.

Much of the pro-and-con debate on the conduct of the judiciary inadvertently obfuscates certain socio-political realities of Pakistan. Pick up literature from any period of history since 1947, we have all bemoaned the absence or lack of respect for law; the military
and civilian kleptocracy has repeatedly used law and the constitution as their hand-maiden.

And we have all been crying hoarse for accountability. Those finding fault with the chief justice and the 16 other judges – all adults with little chance of coercion by the chief justice – must judge them in the light of what they did to undo a haughty dictator, General (r) Pervez Musharraf.

Never before had a judge walked this path. This unmatched courage before the generals must not be made light of. One major message that rings out of virtually all the consensus rulings is that nobody is above the law.

We should point out shortcomings in the conduct of our judges and expect them to also take on the military establishment with equal ferocity, yet we should not allow the quest for rule law or the principle itself become victims of how one political party or the
other looks at them.

This zeal in detracting judiciary must not gloss over the ruling coalition’s repeated attempts to counter judicial orders with administrative counter-measures. We must also not forget that unfortunately all rulers have used and abused public trust i.e,government resources, with impunity – living off the money that the common Pakistanis pay through their noses.

Why not keep pressing for above-board accountability and respect for law. It also includes an opposition to immunities and exceptions that the ruling elite has inserted into the constitution for unquestioned abuse of authority.

The entire governance machinery – and the country as such – is practically hostage to certain issues and the people are getting hurt. The struggle for self-survival has kept the government from developing long-term strategies to mitigate the sufferings of the common man. We should be careful when drawing analogies between Pakistani, Indian,
American and British judiciaries; Pakistan has its own socio-political context – shaped by military interventions, civilian connivance, rivalry with India and Afghanistan, an overemphasis on religion, and the nexus among generals, politicians, bureaucracy, media czars, media-men and parts of civil society.

In this context, deeply entrenched interests of the civilian and military kleptocracy remain unchallenged. Let us not use ‘the party’ or any other ideological prism to judge the judiciary or the media. Judge them using the simple yardstick – all citizens are equal before law and must be treated so. Hence the need to strive for this.

The writer is executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies


Email: imtiaz@crss.pk