With so much going wrong in this benighted country, luckily there is one institution that is working hard to put things right.
The higher judiciary and in particular the Chief Justice of Pakistan have taken upon themselves the arduous and critical task of taking notice of the wayward behaviour and egregious acts of omission and commission of those who wield power. Not only has it taken notice of their reprehensible misdeeds, but also has been issuing directives to rectify them. In this onerous task, they have to face a lot of criticism. Often the court is accused of exceeding its institutional jurisdiction. It is said that the judiciary is intruding into the executive’s domain and issuing orders in matters, which only the administration is entitled to address.
There is weight in such observations. It is also said that taking up of too many suo motu cases and readily responding to writs relating to political and sensational matters, other pending cases are ignored and justice is delayed inordinately. No doubt, there is substance in such criticism. It has, however, to be recognised that there is little available by way of an alternative to come to grips with the aberrations and malpractices freely indulged in, by the politicians in power and the organisations working under their charge.
If the government fails to deliver and does not do its job, the opposition is found remiss in performing its right to protest and resort to remedial action, and people go on suffering, who will act to stem the rot. In the past, it was the army which would march into the civilian domain and take over the helm of authority. It is another matter that the military would mess things up and would willy nilly leave after some time, giving the country back to the politicians.
Fortunately today, the higher judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, is independent and determined to use its weight to remedy the state of affairs.
Take the case of Balochistan where there is breakdown of law and order. Where people just disappear and remain untraced. Where even government officers are frequently killed with impunity. Where the so-called settlers and members of the minority community are shot dead, and where the government writ just does not exist. All that the federal government has done over the years is make hollow statements, distribute loaves and fishes, and let the situation go from bad to worse. The Supreme Court has held lengthy sittings in Quetta and finally announced its judgment declaring that the provincial government had totally failed to do its primary task of providing protection to the people, clearly signalling that it had no right to continue exercising authority.
The government’s failure to put a stop to the daily target killings and local mafia’s rapacious bhatta extortions, in Karachi, also attracted the court’s attention. It is, indeed, ironic that the governments in Sindh and at the federal level are in the hands of the three political parties led by PPP. The Karachi mayhem is, indeed, a slap in the face of these elected representations of the people. The court has issued directions for controlling and addressing the situation. This is all it can do! The administration has paid little heed to these orders and the killings go on.
Mind boggling cases of corruption and misgovernance remain unattended. The Supreme Court has to go out of the way to initiate proceedings to examine the misdoings of departments and public sector corporations and haul up the culprits.
The recent slashing of CNG charges is another instance of exposing legalised extortion and fleecing of the consumers. Yes, it is not the job of a court to fix the prices of commodities. But if the court had not done the job, the unjustified raised rates would have continued.
Just imagine how much more corruption and malpractices would have remained unexposed and unaddressed, if the court had not been independent and deeply committed to help put things right.
The landmark judgment of the Supreme Court on Asghar Khan’s writ petition is bound to have far-reaching consequences. On the one hand, it has questioned and highlighted the unconstitutional conduct of the army’s top brass and, on the other, dwelt on the role of senior politicians, who accepted money from the generals to boost their electoral prospects. The ruling coalition at the centre is determined to exploit the situation and weaken their political rivals. The Prime Minister lost no time in declaring that the government would take all possible measures to bring the so-called culprits to book.
Some crucial questions are: will the defaulting generals be tried by the civilian government or will the army deal with them? Again, how long will the FIA enquiry against the listed politicians take and how will the investigation and the subsequent action affect the electoral prospects of PPP, PML-N and other parties?
Another interesting aspect of the military officer’s unconstitutional conduct is the defence they put forward for the role played by them to forge a new political alliance to counter a popular political party. General (retd) Hamid Gul’s statement in the TV talk shows hinges on the point that the military officers’ involvement in the exercise in question was motivated by their resolve to protect and save the country, even though it meant violating the Constitution of Pakistan. Yet, another point that cropped up was the obligation of an officer to obey an order of his superior, even if it was illegal and violative of the constitution. The concerned generals say that they were bound to obey and carry out the orders. The court has, however, rejected this plea, altogether.
The Supreme Court has also taken serious notice of the role of the President in the light of the country’s constitution. In para 3 of its judgement, it has recorded the following observations: a President of Pakistan in parliamentary system of government, being the head of state, represents the unity of the republic under Article 41 of the constitution and as per the oath of his office in all circumstances, he will do right to all manners of people according to law without fear or favour, affection or ill will. Thus, the holder of presidential office violates the constitution if he fails to treat all people equally and without favouring any party, according to law and as such creates/provides an occasion, which may lead to an action against him under the constitution and the law.
These observations call for a well considered move on the part of the political opposition. How can the forthcoming elections be held fairly, if the head of state, violating the supreme law of the land, openly throws the weight of the presidency in favour of a political party? The Lahore High Court is already seized of the matter.
The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.