March 9 revisited

Daily: The Statesman
Date: 09.03.08

March 9, 2007 has left a deep, lasting impact on the politico-social history of Pakistan. In
past, where the institution of politics was found coming head on with the institution of
military, this time the institution of judiciary has defied the verdict of the institution of military
and hence invited its wrath. The basic premise of defiance was the rule of law. The
fundamental effort now is independence of the judiciary and personification of that is being
demanded in restoration of the deposed and detained judges.

Some still argue that the judicial activism was less a threat to the bureaucracy and more to
the military. In the post-1999 era, the way the military pounced on other institutions, the
judiciary posed first big and real challenge to the hegemony of the military in 2007. It was
March 9 incident that provoked the judiciary to catapult the situation; the judiciary came out
of its past subservient role to the military rulers. Subsequently, the judiciary showed its true
colour till the emergency, in the name of martial law, was proclaimed on November 3, 2007.

In a country like Pakistan where the Cold War mentality is still lurking at the higher echelons
of power, the ruling class yearns for every thing programmed according to its whims and
wishes. For them, an independent judiciary is a hateful object for having potential for
disrupting the program. It is sheer an autocratic approach of the ruling elite under the
façade of democracy.

Major tussle between the then sitting government of the Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz, and
the judiciary appeared when the latter criticized and halted the process of privatization of
Karachi Steel Mill. That sent shivers down the spines of those who had thought of the
judiciary a subsidiary to the prime ministerial office. The judiciary had also started taking
notice of the missing person cases, besides resorting to suo moto actions before March 9
visited it.

Retrospectively, March 9 happened because of two main reasons. First, avenging the insult
on the Steel Mill issue, which brought the then government to disrepute, and secondly, re-
evaluating the supreme judicial mind in case the uniform issue was referred to it. It is still a
mystery how a lawyer, Naeem Bukhari, could be able to gather quantitative information
about the Chief Judge and had an access to the billing section of the Supreme Court?
Secondly, the same letter which had been submitted to the Supreme Court was circulated
around through the internet. How could Naeem collect email addresses of all those who
contribute columns to various Pakistani dailies and why to inform them about the contents
of the letter? The lawyers who cast curse on the role of Naeem claim that he played in the
hands of the intelligence agencies to defame the Chief Judge to ease his ouster. It could be
called the counter defamation policy of the then sitting government. On March 9, refusal of
the Chief Judge from resigning was considered an offence to a higher authority worthy to
be penalized.

The judicial reference could have been sent directly to the Supreme Judicial Council as a
routine matter instead of inviting or detaining the Chief Judge, Iftikhar Hussain Chaudhry, in
the Camp Office, Rawalpindi, and later in his own house. Further, by detaining the Chief
Justice in the Camp Office and forcing the other judges to take charge and oath not only
created bad blood but also harmed the intra-judiciary harmony. If memory serves, while
justifying his ‘counter-coup’ on 12 October 1999, Musharraf had made remarks that the
then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was guilty of disrupting intra-military accord by starring
another General as Chief of Army before his ceremonious departure. On March 9,
Musharraf did to the Chief Judge the same what Nawaz Sharif did to him. The difference
was that on October 12 Musharraf had the force of gun to correct the imbalance in his
favour but the Chief Judge lacked that force on both March 9 and November 3.

Retrospectively, March 9 was a needless event. Nonetheless, it necessitated the society to
challenge the involvement and supremacy of the military on the societal plane. The sordid
event also pushed the army to stand aloof of the society. It seems that this aspect has
benefited the suicide bombers who are now selectively targeting the army men and
material, besides their accomplices in the civil society. The gory act of a suicide bomber at
a mosque in Charsaddha on the Eid day in a failed attempt to target the former Interior
Minister, Aftab Sherpao, can be seen in that context. The intelligence failure in this regard
may be due to the climate of indifference prevailing in the society for the government.
Having broken this individual-state relationship is the single major alarming factor that
forewarns what is in store for the future unless addressed to the people’s satisfaction. The
new Chief of Army, General Keyani, seems cognizant of the state of affairs and is an
advocate of confining the role of the military to its professional duties which are on the
borders.

Later on, the insult inflicted on the Chief Judge in the streets of Islamabad on his way to the
Court was tantamount to transgression of all boundaries of decency, norms and law. It
seems that both the society and the bar and the bench have not pardoned the agencies
involved. It was an overreaching act of the agencies – supposedly backed by Musharraf –
which jolted the collective conscience of the society. The case of meting out punishment to
those who were responsible for the law and order in Islamabad was also under hearing at
the Supreme Court. Every body knew that the Islamabad police had acted at the behest of
the military high-ups, besides being physically backed by them. In case of any final verdict
from the Court, the police would not listen to the military command any more. Now, under
the new Supreme Court, the Islamabad police have been protected and the culprits were
freed. Perhaps, that was what Musharraf meant in his December 15 speech that he had
introduced a harmony between the judiciary, the police and the intelligence agencies – by
ousting the preceding judiciary and absolving those of any offence who had been booked
in the manhandling issue.

Since March 9, 2007, the events have been speaking for themselves: there are lessons to
be learnt for those who have conscience.

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