Are the demons revisiting?

The sordid saga of spending 22 years behind bars by a former ad hoc judge of the Lahore High Court simply for showing the impudence to summon dictator Ziaul Haq's wife to appear before him in a case regarding drug trafficking should open the eyes of those fighting for some rule of law in the country. As a punishment for doing the unthinkable against the spouse of a sitting military despot, Dr Mustafa Ismail Qazi was incarcerated for a sequence of cases registered against him by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). In spite of the fact that he had been granted bail for the last two cases pending against him as far back as 1998, the same was not executed and he was kept "in unlawful custody" ever since. Even now, he has to await a hearing on June 28 to finally decide his fate whether he would, after all, be able to walk out of the Adiala jail an enfeebled and old man, or he still has some more years left in him to spend suffering at the hands of the erstwhile protectors of dictatorship and its numerous disabling manifestations. While this case provides another living testament to how deep the tentacles of military-civil-agencies dictatorship have dug in, it is also a painful reminder of the ineptitude and inefficacy of the legal system in the country. It is such a travesty of justice that, for almost a quarter of a century, no sitting judge in the country showed the courage and the professional integrity to stand up for one of their colleagues who had been interned against false cases just to teach him, and others like him, a lesson for showing dissent and falling out of line. It would be a sad spectacle to see some of the same former or current judges agitating for the ascendancy of the constitution and the promulgation of the rule of law. No amount of moral sermonising, even joining the battle ranks for the independence of judiciary, can erase the nauseating scars of a total absence of human or professional sensitivity to the wrong so blatantly and so callously inflicted on a fellow judge for a crime that never was. Like I wrote in one of my previous columns, the judicial legacy in the country has been bereft of any elevating yardsticks that one could live by. Instead, it has been laden with the unbearable weight of corruption and a servile conformance to the commands of a battalion of dictators that came in riding the barrel of a gun to push this country irrevocably across the precipice. It is time to introspect candidly and objectively to ascertain what has ailed us through a good part of the sixty years since Pakistan came into existence and what is there now that we think would make us behave any differently. Judiciary's repeated and abject surrender before the demons of dictatorship is too recent to be consigned to history that may not be revisited And where, if I may ask, were the erstwhile fighters against dictatorship through their "democratic" interregnums in power? Weren't they aware of the ordeal of Dr Qazi, and countless others like him, who continued to pay the price for daring to enforce law? What is the guarantee that, in order to save their sojourn in the comfortable alleys of power in the future, they would not compromise again with the forces of the status quo? It is all so surreal hearing this endless chatter about the supremacy of this and the ascendancy of that when the leadership of the largest political party of the country is itself a captive of the tentacles of that much-reviled National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) which binds it to protecting the interests of a military ruler who lives in unlawful occupation of the Camp Office. Heavy doses of meaningless semantics cannot enervate an electorate that already stands disenfranchised merely four months after delivering a historic verdict against dictatorship. The judiciary has not been restored. General Musharraf and his apologists continue to administer telling blows on the burgeoning aspirations for the advent of a democratic polity. There are no live signs by way of governance. The principal partners of the ruling coalition differ on practically every policy matter, but continue to proclaim support for each other under the guise of saving the nascent democracy. Yet, it is a democratic mindset that is so pitifully absent from this meaningless harangue that is driving us no closer to any rule of law, but deeper into a dungeon that is ruled by brokering humiliating compromises at the altar of the avowed democratic polity. The people of this country have suffered in the past. They would continue to suffer in the future. To ensure their perpetual enslavement, distasteful steps have already been taken on the road to accepting the corrupt domination of the NRO-PCO- Musharraf combine and there seems no easy way out of the webs of deceit that have been so cleverly woven for every one to get caught in. The leadership of one of the principal partners of the coalition is already looking bruised in the wake of accusations that some of its stalwarts were instrumental in formulating the clause relating to the enhancement of the Supreme Court judges to 29. There is also this strangely self-deceptive coterie of advisors and hangers-on who believe that the NRO has become inconsequential as, once in power, the political party that has benefited exclusively from this black piece of legislation can exercise "influence" to have the cases decided the way it would desire. Besides being injudiciously presumptuous and outlandishly erroneous, this assumption is also reflective of the "status" the NROed party accords to the judiciary. In their belief, it is just another institution that can be "used" like it has been in the past. That is why they are going by the circuitous route of the "independence of judiciary" in preference to the "restoration of judiciary." The difference between the two positions is aptly reflected in the designs the NROed party has for the judiciary: it aims at making it a "subservient" institution that would perpetuate the myopic and self-elevating agenda of its leadership. Unfortunately, in the execution of this protocol, it seems to enjoy the blessings of its coalition partners for reasons relating to their own survival in the echelons of power. Even the "compromise" struck on the issue of the number of judges of the Supreme Court has the marks of self-preservation written all over it. The apparently conflicting positions taken by some of the leaders of the party are reflective of the division within and the interplay of interests that are at stake. It makes for a depressing scenario. The lead party in the coalition is out to inflict its immoral and untenable position and seems determined to use all instruments that it can lay its hands on, be they fair or foul, while its co-partners have resigned to safeguarding their own petty interests of power. With the growing onslaught of the Taliban at our frontiers, it makes for an ideal recipe for a calamitous disaster. The writer is a media and political consultant based in Islamabad E-mail:

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