The looming confrontation

The signing of an ordinance by Mr Zardari imposing development levy on the petroleum products is indicative of a mindset that is geared to thwarting the relief that the interim Supreme Court injunction had carved out for the people by suspending the carbon surcharge. The late-night signing of the document is also reflective of the urgency with which the president responded to the Supreme Court judgement which contains the germs of heralding the advent of an open confrontation between two pivotal pillars of the state - a confrontation that was being forecast ever since the restoration of the judiciary. Principally, the ordinance comes as a rude shock to the people who see it as a blatant attempt by the office of the president to deny the provision of relief to them. They also question the need of the ordinance as it was only an interim relief announced by the Supreme Court and a final judgement was to come after the government's point of view had been fully entertained by the august bench. In fact, the prime minister is reported to have said that, once the government presents its version before the Supreme Court, "positive thinking would come forth." Therefore, instead of waiting and letting law take its course, the office of the president intervened with an apparent intention to sabotaging the legal process by which relief can be accrued for the people. The contours of the dreaded confrontation had been visible ever since the judiciary was restored in the wake of the historic long march. Many had opined that the march should have gone on to its logical conclusion by eliminating the nagging discrepancies that plague the working of a legitimate government. Instead of aborting it mid-course after the announcement of the restoration of the judiciary had been made by the prime minister, the march should have proceeded to address the one critical factor which had provisioned the hoisting of a leadership as a result of the unprecedented relief provided to it through the promulgation of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) by a sitting military dictator. It is the same NRO that is now before the Supreme Court and proceedings with regard to its legality and constitutionality are expected to commence soon. Should one, therefore, read the Musharraf mindset in the late-night ordinance who, on the basis of hearsay that the then Supreme Court injunction would be against his eligibility to stand for being the president of the country, had intervened by imposing emergency on November 3, 2007 to abort the crisis? Is it that Mr Zardari, also living in fear of a prospective negative injunction, is using his authority to send a message that an adverse judgement would be undesirable and resisted? The similarity, though laden with grave dangers, is only too visible to escape an intelligent mind sensitive to our recent history and the attending political transgressions. The confrontation is unavoidable in many respects. The only question is when would it unravel and how would its repercussions be addressed by the incumbent aberration that rules today? Is the system that is currently in vogue equipped with adequate shock absorbers to sustain its impact, or would it again require extra-constitutional measures to restore order in the country? These may be disturbing questions in their individual right, but these are questions that need to be addressed urgently in the wake of the looming confrontation that hangs over the fate of the country - a unique confrontation that would be mammoth in magnitude and truly far-reaching in impact. It has the potential to determine, for once, that legitimacy is the principal ingredient for governance and that it would not be superseded or compromised for benefit to a select individual or group. It has the potential to adjudicate the ultimate supremacy of the due process of law and every individual's subservience before its command, irrespective of title, position or stature that he or she may hold in the national hierarchical command. Instead of living in fear of the confrontation, one must begin to look at its inevitability and need as the resultant system, whenever it emerges as a natural consequence of a fair judicial injunction, is bound to be better than the present one that is virulently plagued with gross illegitimacy. It could, therefore, follow that one should even expedite the onset of this historic confrontation that would put the current debilitating fears to permanent rest. Let's face the fact that a morbid system that emerges from a self-seeking and self-promoting liaison with a dictator and is modelled on a virtual annihilation of all pretensions to legality, constitutionality and the rule of law cannot be an enduring phenomenon and, thereafter, should be replaced urgently by a formulation that has its roots in legitimacy and that springs strictly from the provisions of the constitution. That's where judiciary has such an important role to play - a role that would be at a tangent to a history of undesirable injunctions based on the much-reviled "doctrine of necessity" syndrome. The incumbent judiciary, reinstated as a result of the historic struggle spearheaded by the legal fraternity, owes it to itself and the toiling people of Pakistan to break clear of the burden of the past and pave the way for the enshrining of a transparent culture that is rooted in the eminent traditions of justice and the rule of law for all irrespective of distinctions based on caste, colour of creed. By intervening in haste to deny the much-needed relief to the common people, Mr Zardari may have unknowingly provided the rationale for the judiciary to take charge and proclaim the advent of legitimacy in the country. This was the foremost dream of the creation of Pakistan which has been trampled by leaders of all hues and colours, be they military dictators or democratic charlatans, in a variety of ignominious ways. This must come to an end. The time was never more propitious than now, the conditions never more encouraging than they are today and the circumstances never more ripe than they currently exist. The daunting question is: does the judiciary have it at all to take up the momentous challenge to put the country back on rails? On this may hinge the fate of Pakistan and the prospect of coming to grips with multi-faceted challenges that it confronts. There is no escaping the inevitability of adjudicating on the critical issue of the NRO without delay and, in the absence of a Parliament that has been sold at the altar of survival of a select few, there is no forum that has the constitutional powers to do so other than the judiciary. Will it rise to see the advent of hope in the country, or will it sink to the traditional pit that its former CJs carved for it? Pakistan waits eagerly The writer is an independent political analyst based in Islamabad E-mail: raoofhasan@hotmail.com