The decision and democracy
07 September, 2007
By Muhammad Ahsan Yatu
Almost a decade ago the Supreme Court building came under attack. The honourable Chief Justice was the target. After venting their anger hundreds of Nawaz Sharif’s supporters celebrated the ‘success’ with great fervour. They ate rich meals that were brought from a four star hotel, and sang and danced on the Constitution Avenue to express their jubilation over the humiliation they had caused to the scared Judges.
They sang and danced again on August 23, 2007. This time they were expressing their jubilation over the liberation of their leaders from a self-selected punishment — the great silence and the long exile. There lies the difference. That is how the aggrieved politicians had disgraced the judiciary. That is how a grace-filled judiciary protected the genuine rights of even those who had shown no respect for the law and the courts. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had then sunk the Titanic of judiciary. Today an independent and fearless judiciary saved Nawaz Sharif from sinking into oblivion.
It took even the judiciary a long time of sixty years to assess its own worth and to adjudge its real responsibilities. In the past it has been endorsing army’s unconstitutional acts with nominal resistance, and deciding the political matters and the politicians’ cases either on ethnic or opportunistic bases. Time is changing fast. The Judiciary is changing even faster. In the history of Pakistan it has happened for the first time that a judge has resisted, so openly and boldly, the pressures from the army and the agencies. Though it took the Judges four months to restore their Chief Justice, their capacity to deliver speedy justice is increasing with the passing of every second. The time they took to decide the cases of many missing persons and of Sharif Brother’s petition is perhaps a record in the history of modern/western judicial system.
The way they are taking suo moto notices is remarkable becuase for the time being and till such time politics is revived, there is no other way to move a stagnant and callous governing system, solve the piled up mountain like problems, and to make the state feel that the ordinary Pakistanis too are human beings.
But for the past eight years, the Sharif brothers have been enjoying immense support throughout their political and business career. The army, the bureaucracy, the rich and a majority of people had backed them tremendously. On the political side the rightists were obviously the comrades of the capitalist Sharifs; even many leftists portrayed them as the symbol of national bourgeoisie. The judiciary too remained kind to them. Restoration of Nawaz Sharif’s dismissed government is the only example of its kind in Pakistan. Even the verdict against him in the plane hijacking case was soft. Had he contested the judgment of Sindh High Court in the Supreme Court, there was a great possibility that he could have been a free man seven years earlier.
As far as system’s support is concerned no other politician would come even closer to Nawaz Sharif and his brothers. They had an in-built/regional advantage. But they spent some of it to build their political and industrial empire, and most of it to destroy the institutions. In this great game of destruction they were not alone. Most of the rulers before and after them had been treading the same fascist path. What pains one is that in spite of their misdeeds the system gave the Sharif brothers enough time and unprecedented support, but they proved a failure.
Notwithstanding their friendships inside and outside Pakistan, it looked as if their exile would not end before the committed date. However, the Supreme Court accepted their half-hearted appeal and a unanimous decision went in their favour. They are lucky that the judges around are not like Malik Qayyum and Maulvi Mushtaq. The two times prime minister of Pakistan and his brothers must learn the lesson that, one should not attack the protectors of the Constitution; no matter how serious one’s grievances are. And if they are to stay in politics for long, they must learn more: the politics is art of managing the affairs of country; it is not a money making and institution destroying activity.
All said and done, will we continue to move in a positive direction? It is not impossible. However, not all can be left to the courts. The other organs of the state will have to do their assigned jobs. Most important thing is how early real politics takes root. The Judges have a limit. They have to look also into the problems that the lower courts have.. It is in itself a big task. Delayed decisions have adversely affected thousands of families. Lower courts are no doubt short of resources, human as well as material.
The Judges cannot do for an indefinite period what they are doing these days. Yes, it is our good luck or whatever one may call it that we now have a superior judiciary, which is different from the past ones. If politicians are inactive and the other organs of the state are free to do whatever they like, then who else other than the judges can have a check on them? Even otherwise in such complexities where constitution is silent or abstract or appears to be contradictory, its spirit speaks through the pen of the judges. All of us know what spirit of constitution means; though in the past law of necessity had prevailed. The present day scenario was summarised beautifully by MNA Qamar Zaman in a talk show. He said that, ‘The judges are performing their constitutional task. We call it judicial activism because we have no such past experiences.’
The politicians must act as real politicians; the sooner they do it, the better it would be for the entire nation. The situation has become worse than the one that we had during the last years of General Ayub’s rule. This time ordinary people have lost even their last pennies to inflation — to the alliance of the ruling rich. This time a martial law will undo whatever we have as a nation. The corporate army knows this. It has also come to know through the concepts of globalisation and its own commercialism that the economy forms the basics of everything including security. It will avoid confrontation.
Army cannot break its own sponsored ‘security first’ myth. It is peoples’ pressure that will work. If the politicians are real politicians — honest to people — they must contest the elections highlighting the need assessment of security and welfare. They must tell the people that conversion of the present security state into a social democratic state is the only way to survival. They must tell the people that we need to reduce the budget of the administration and army drastically. To respect a mandate won on the basis of this election manifesto would be a binding on all.
The decision on the petitions of the missing people and Sharif Brothers is a triumph for all those who believe in human rights. Notwithstanding that the people do ask why has the most important constitutional issue, the provincial autonomy, not been resolved so far? Why does the political change in Pakistan always mean change of ruling faces only; and that too from within the moneyed groups? When would the masses become part of state structure? They ask a hundred plus similar and disturbing questions regarding the events of the past sixty years when all the institutions including the superior courts had failed us. All of us are responsible for our disturbed past. Yet, neither army nor bureaucracy nor judiciary nor politicians can tell about the reasons behind our persistent failures. It is the job of the social scientists.
The social scientists must, with the benefit of hindsight, find the answer to the mother of all questions: why have been our rulers, ‘democrats’ or dictators, practicing fascism? Is it the outcome of the joint rule of moneyed groups in a country, which has been having an unshaped economy throughout? Did ethnicity play the major role? Or are our elite genetically resistant to change? There could be many reasons. The sponsors of the ‘security first’ theme and the proponents of the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ can also prove helpful. Whatever they would tell the analysts, opposite of that would make a part of the answer. A complete answer to this one question will naturally be the solution to all of our problems.