Dec 22

Of trials and tribulations

Posted on Friday, December 22, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Of trials and tribulations

There were two extraordinary interventions last week. The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Saquib Nisar, publicly spoke up in defense of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions that have devalued notions of justice and raised questions about the integrity of the judges. Then the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, landed up at the Senate to reassure parliamentarians that the military was pro-democracy and not conspiring against civil society or certain politicians and parties. Clearly, both honourable gentlemen realize that the credibility of their institutions has suffered on one count or another and that some form of reassurance or redress is in order.

This wasn’t the first time that Justice Nisar protested in public. Shortly after he became CJP, Imran Khan accused him of being pro-Sharif. Justice Nisar responded by publicly swearing that he would be his own man and no one else’s, a gesture that was perceived as a sign of frailty, not strength. In the same vein, his latest lecture about the sanctity of the Supreme Court has provoked a loud whisper: “the good judge doth protest too much”. Across the board, the common refrain is that judges should only speak through their judgments and their judgments must not only be just but also be seen to be just, a far cry from current reality. Forget about the scathing remarks of Nawaz Sharif who has been at the receiving end of the SC’s stick. Taking issue with the CJP, the PPP’s Aitzaz Ahsan, who is as neutral as anyone can be in the current politically charged environment, said that “trust is established through verdicts, not clarifications”. The PTI’s Chaudhry Fawad, whose leader Imran Khan miraculously got away scot free, was more charitable but no less realistic: “By knocking out Jehangir Tareen, the judges have ‘balanced’ their decision to knock out Nawaz Sharif”, a euphemism for rigging the scales of justice. The bigger truth is that – from the law of necessity that paved the way for swearing oaths of loyalty to military dictators to the cavalier sackings of elected prime ministers and governments – the history of the judiciary is littered with bad politics rather than good justice in the service of the Miltablishment. No number of “clarifications” or indignant protestations will rub out this truth. Indeed, a magnum can be written on the Messianic nature of remarks and capricious judgments during the recent trials of Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan.

Gen Bajwa’s intervention is no less significant. It comes in the wake of a widespread belief that from Day-One (the trial of ex-army chief General Pervez Musharraf during the time of #ThankYouRaheelShareef) ) the Miltablishment has been gunning for Nawaz Sharif for daring to challenge its political hegemony and egging on Imran Khan to do its bidding. Notwithstanding the evidentiary truth of this perception, as in the case of the judiciary, General Bajwa’s briefing to the Senate has elicited a positive response, unlike in the case of the CJP. Indeed, General Bajwa’s advice to politicians not to tempt the army to intervene in party political causes is welcome because it is truthful and seems well-intentioned. Similarly, his ‘explanations’ rather than ‘justifications’ of certain recent actions on the part of the military are quite believable. Above all, his attempt to distance himself from the controversial actions or policies of some of his predecessor army chiefs suggests his inclination to chart a stable, non-interventionist, non-conflictual course with the civilian order of the day despite the pressures of his institution. In fact, a day after his frank interaction with Senators, he played a positive role in mediating conflict between the PMLN and JUI on the issue of the FATA Reform Bill.

At the end of the day, however, the proof of the pudding is in the eating of it. Nawaz Sharif is in no mood to spare the judiciary for its inconsistent standards of justice. Nor is he likely to keep his mouth shut if there are further provocations by the Miltablishment. Indeed, the fact is that he is able to stay politically relevant and be heard sympathetically only because both institutions have suffered a drop in their credibility and neutrality in recent times. Both need to step back and take stock.

The next challenge will come soon enough if Maulana Tahir ul Qadri, an evergreen Miltablishment proxy, mounts his dharna against the government in Lahore and Islamabad, or if Imran Khan is prodded to launch a militant anti-Nawaz campaign on the streets. Both fires can be doused by the government if the judiciary and military uphold its lawful writ to maintain law and order. But if they don’t for whatever reason, both institutions will suffer another dent to their credibility in the popular imagination and the crisis of state and society will deepen.

The trial of Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan is over. The trial of generals and judges has begun.

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