Opinion Maker

By Humayun Gauhar

Overdose of speculation lead to ‘Great Expectations’ the last maddening week. With uncertainty and speculation rife, theories became ever more bizarre. Then suddenly we got a glimpse of a funny looking cat that has been spoiling to come out of the bag – it’s wearing a judicial wig and an army uniform for God’s sake, not the usual army cap and judicial gown. That’s all that was left to make our mockery complete.

Newspapers tell us that a corps commanders meeting last Thursday decided that the army “would not intervene politically…[but]…if the apex court sought the army’s help for getting its decisions implemented, the request could be considered.” It means that we could be facing a judicial coup backed by the army and not the usual army coup backed by the judiciary. But it will be a coup nevertheless.

A military-judiciary nexus has always been there in Pakistan as it has in much of Muslim history. The Supreme Court has dutifully legitimized every military intervention. This ‘age of madness’ though calls for absurd measures. This time judicial intervention could come first and army intervention later. Legitimization will be pre-facto for a Supreme Court order will be considered legitimization, like “a revolution is its own justification”.

Why the desire to throw out the government so fast? It’s the ‘Ides of March’ syndrome. The month sees the retirement of the ISI chief, Senate elections, and, most importantly, the Swiss case against Zardari gets time-barred if the letter that the Supreme Court wants the executive to write to the Swiss authorities to reopen isn’t sent before March: thus the desire to send the executive packing fast and the executive’s desire for March to pass fast.

It is not the business of the army or judiciary to intervene under any pretext or throw out governments, form interim governments or force elections. All must go by the Constitution. So before we start chattering we should familiarize ourselves with Article 190 of the Constitution under which the Supreme Court could ask the army for ‘aid’. It says, without elaboration or explanation, “All executive and judicial authorities throughout Pakistan shall act in aid of the Supreme Court.” That’s it. It doesn’t say what kind of aid and for what. The army is part of the executive yet it could be required by the Supreme Court to act against the executive, which is like asking it to act against itself – illogicality in the extreme. How can the army enforce an order of the Supreme Court forcing the executive to do something without intervening if it doesn’t? Once the Supreme Court, fearing a physical attack on it by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s goons, asked for the army’s ‘aid’. The army didn’t comply. Sharif’s goons attacked and left a big smirch on our benighted history.

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I would be all for early elections or even intervention if I was convinced that those waiting in the wings – political, military, judicial or even brazen US stooges – had credible solutions to our problems and realistic implementation strategies. None do. Military governments make good starts but give up to politicians because they try to become democrats. Political governments don’t even make good starts but their desire to become dictators combined with non-delivery, non-governance, nepotism and corruption enables coups. Imagining that the judges have solutions has to be the biggest joke. The only solution is the obvious: let the process continue, let this parliament complete its term (unless the prime minister dissolves it), evolve, learn and hope that things will improve. Only the people can change a government, not an army or a Supreme Court.

Fools are those that engender feverish speculation with hysterical statements and those that don’t look at the bigger picture and the greater good. They forget that no matter what, nothing should be done that aborts the process and destabilizes an already unstable country. They should also realize that times have changed and the world has no stomach for departures from the constitution, no matter what the excuse. Fools are those that don’t realize that much of what is happening in Pakistan is part of a greater global game and they shouldn’t become unwitting pawns in it. Problem is the enemy within: so many witting pawns who don’t work for our good. 

The prime minister tells the Senate that if he goes they will all go too and we will not see another election in our lifetimes. Can you blame people for thinking that his government is on the brink? Then he tells the National Assembly that he will not tolerate a “state within a state”, an obvious reference to the army. The army is under him and it’s his fault if he can’t control it. He shouldn’t bleat publicly like one of Mary’s lost lambs, raising the already high temperature. Next he says in an interview to a Chinese newspaper that the army and ISI chiefs have violated the constitution. That’s a serious charge indeed, for it borders on treason.

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So fragile is the country that it goes into a spin over an article in a foreign newspaper by one Mansur Ijaz, an odious publicity-seeking Pakistani-American with dubious credibility. It then goes into reverse spin when a retired US general gives a somewhat contrary statement. It betrays a country at war with itself. The reason for this hysteria is the allegation by Ijaz that he delivered a memo written at the behest of our former ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani through a retired US general to the former US Chairman JCSC asking for help against a possible coup in return for bringing the army and the nuclear programme to heel. If true, could it be the president that is the mastermind? If true, it also borders on treason and puts the president at the mercy of Haqqani: will he say that the memo is only a figment of Ijaz’s imagination, or that it was his own brainchild, or that the president asked him to? One noose, two necks. Will he save his own neck or will he put it around “the boss’s” neck? The whole thing will stand or fall on the testimony of Ijaz and his Blackberry. Safest place to keep Haqqani is either the president’s or prime minister’s house. Any wonder that they are hysterical and are trying everything to prevent the Supreme Court from proceeding.

Is it political bipolarity or is there a method to the prime minister’s seeming madness? Conventional wisdom has it that he is convinced that since he or his government are nearing an untimely demise, best to go as political martyrs rather than failures to ensure life after political death. Thus he is goading the army into taking over. The clever generals are hiding behind the cloaks of the judges. And Don Quixote is tilting full speed ahead. What a country.

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What say you of the born-again democrat Nawaz Sharif who chose to move the Supreme Court knowing that a higher body, a parliamentary committee, would conduct an inquiry into the memo affair? How can you have two inquiries on the same issue? Whose findings would prevail? Obviously of the higher body, but not necessarily in Pakistan because Sharif will call the parliamentary committee’s report suspect since the opposition is a minority.

What say you of a Supreme Court that admits Sharif’s petition for hearing instead of waiting for the report of the higher body? How can there be parallel inquiries? And they go and form a commission to investigate it. What if their commission’s report is different from the parliamentary committee’s report? Would the Supreme Court ride roughshod over it? Best solution: no parliament, no parliamentary committee, no report. All are naked in these public baths.

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