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Pakistan Supreme Court acts boldly to save democracy

19 January 2012 07:30 pm - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Some years ago, graffiti on a Karachi wall read: "We apologise for this temporary democratic interruption. Normal martial law will be resumed shortly."

Pakistan's experiment with democracy has not seen a government elected by the people completing its full term without being ousted either in a military coup or a political crisis. The present government led by Yousuf Raza Gilani seems to be breathing its last as it is mired in crisis after crisis replete with ironies.

However, instead of the usual military tanks, this time the judiciary's hammer has become the bete noir for the government leaders although the military is also aiming its guns at the beleaguered government.

Yesterday, at the time this article was being typed, Prime Minister Gilani appeared in the Supreme Court, to answer contempt of court charges. This followed his failure to obey a court order that corruption cases against government figures, including President Asif Ali Zardari, be reopened.

Blaming the military for not allowing democracy to take root is the usual excuse Pakistan's politicians offer to hide their part in the murder of democracy. However, the irony is that the present crisis has brought out democracy in its full regalia, with the judiciary asserting its powers under the constitution to check the excesses of the executive and the legislative branches of the government.

Democracy dictates a separation of power between the three arms of the government — the executive, the legislature and the judiciary — although it allows some overlapping subject to strict checks and balances. However, traditionally, in a hybrid presidential and parliamentary democracy, power is concentrated in the executive or the legislature or in both, while the judiciary is required to uphold justice even if it is against its appointing authority. This is because, the judiciary is not only a branch of the government exercising the people's sovereignty; it is also the last bastion of the people's hope when the executive and the legislature abuse and misuse the power vested in them as a trust.




In Pakistan, the judiciary appears to be responding once again to the clarion call coming from the people. In 2007, Chief Justice Ifthikar Choudhry led the country in toppling the military president Pervez Musharraf and bringing in democracy.

The same judiciary and the same chief justice are once again the forefront at saving democracy, this time, from corrupt politicians.

However, the irony is that the military which the Chief Justice helped confine to the barracks in 2007 is backing the judiciary.
The present crisis is two-pronged. The first crisis erupted after the government earned the wrath of the military, which thinks it is an independent arm of government like the judiciary, following the exposure of a diplomatic memo. According to this memo, the government had sought the intervention of the United States if the military staged a coup. The government denied it initiated the memo but sacked its Washington ambassador Hussein Haqqani. Analysts say Haqqani was made the scapegoat but Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani was not convinced. He had browbeaten the government into getting the memo investigated by a Supreme Court commission so that the real traitor would be known to the country.

Known as 'memogate', the scandal took an x-rated twist when a video clip emerged this week, showing a key witness, an American businessman of Pakistani origin, appearing in a music video featuring semi-naked female wrestlers in a voluptuous performance.
Haqqani will faces treason charges if it is proved that he initiated the memo. If evidence emerges that President Zardari initiated the memo, the President may go to jail — not an unfamiliar place for a playboy politician who was once dubbed Mr. Ten Percent for the commissions he allegedly made when his late wife, Bezazir Bhutto, was Prime Minister.

The crisis saw the government publicly criticizing the military for acting without consulting it in sending the military's response to the Supreme Court commission while the military expressed its displeasure over the government's sacking of the defence secretary. The standoff continues.
The other facet of the political crisis stems from a Supreme Court order to the Gilani government to reopen the corruption cases against government leaders, including President Zardari. A Swiss court in 2003 found Zardari and his wife Bhutto guilty in absentia of laundering millions of dollars in kickbacks from Swiss firms while they were in government.

Under a political deal worked out with President Musharraf, an amnesty was granted to Bhutto and Zardari for them to return to the country to resume their political activities and contest the 2008 elections. Bhutto was assassinated during a campaign rally in 2007 and her Pakistan People's Party won the elections in 2008. At the behest of the PPP government, the Swiss court dropped the corruption cases, which Pakistan's Supreme Court now wants reopened.

The government cited the amnesty granted to President Zardari as an excuse for not reopening the case, prompting the Supreme Court to rule that the amnesty was unconstitutional. The court later issued a deadline to the government. The deadline lapsed on Monday. Gilani faces a six-month jail term and could be disqualified from holding office if he is found guilty of contempt of court.

With the noose tightening around the President and the Prime Minister, the government is walking a tightrope. It believes that the people will take to the streets in their millions if the Army takes over the government. To an extent, the government is correct. The Pakistani people do not want to be ruled by the military. But, at the same time, they are sick of politicians who put corruption before the country.

With the economy in the doldrums, Islamic insurgencies in Waziristan and Afghan border areas, a separatist war in Baluchistan, sectarian violence in Sindh, pressure from the United States to do more in the war on terror, not to mention the military threat from India on its eastern borders and the Afghani crisis on its Western borders, perhaps no country in the world is as beset by so many problems as Pakistan, a nuclear armed country, is.

In this context, Pakistan's world-cup-winning cricket captain Imran Khan is suddenly enjoying a tsunami of people's support. Khan has launched a campaign against US drone attacks on Pakistan — a campaign that has seen many Pakistanis gathering around him though it has set off alarms in the Western capitals. However, the military seems to like him.
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  • Kaslana Saturday, 21 January 2012 10:29 AM

    Well written article by Ameen, Democracy world over is a sham. Why would Pakistan want democracy under the moronic terms of the West. Times have changed and the East has proven that we can handle are own affairs better if the West will leave its filthy and bloody hands off. The East has risen through economic might and intellectual superiority unlike the West that unleashed slavery, colonialism, imperialist plunder, financial blunders, unilateral abuse of power, militaristic bullying and bigotry.


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