A threat to democracy

Daily: The Statesman
Date: 19.02.10

What was being dreaded for a long time has finally come to pass: the executive has
decided to prevail over the judiciary. In a knee-jerk fashion, the judiciary has responded –
to guard its independence by warding off any external interference.

Apparently, the point is who should be elevated to the Supreme Court of Pakistan from the
Lahore High Court, Justice Khawaja Mohammad Sharif (who is the Chief Justice of Lahore
High Court) or Justice Saqib Nisar (who is just a Lahore High Court Judge)? The underlying
points are, firstly, what modus operandi should prevail to do so: either recommendation of
the Chief Justice of Pakistan or approval of President of Pakistan; secondly, what should be
the criteria: either selection by the Chief Justice of Pakistan or automatic elevation on the
basis of seniority of a judge (Justice Saqib Nisar is junior to Justice Khawaja Mohammad
Sharif); and thirdly, what should be the solutions if a judge refuses to become a chief justice
of a province and if a chief justice of a province refuses to be elevated to become the judge
of the Supreme Court (both Justice Khawaja Mohammad Sharif and Justice Saqib Nisar
have refused to follow the presidential approval)?

One point is evident so far, the judges are united against any external meddling into their
institution. Prima facie, the display of gesture of accord by the judges is a good omen but
then it should also be decided what the limit of the executive or the judiciary is when the
new judges are to be appointed against the existing vacant posts?

As evident, the issue is pure constitutional and falls squarely in the ambit of interpretation
of certain articles of Constitution of Pakistan. Nevertheless, the issue has spurred the
political parties to queue up for or against. With that the political atmosphere simmers. The
parties which opted to stay out of the electoral process are considering it a chance for
invoking mid-term election. Those parties are zealous to have the issue bear negative
consequences for the ruling party. Such is the fragile and volatile state of politics in
Pakistan making Pakistan a land unsuitable for democracy to flourish and yield fruits.

It was amazing to find that a mature politician like Nawaz Sharif holding a Press Conference
on the issue called Zardari a ‘threat to democracy’ when the matter had been taken up by
the Supreme Court for hearing on February 18. It is not yet clear what the haste was on
Nawaz’s part to say so? It is decipherable no doubt that political grievances like the pending
dissolution of the 17th Constitutional Amendment and excruciating presence of Governor of
Punjab Salman Taseer around must have prompted Nawaz to deride Zardari publicly. That
also proved counterproductive.

Nevertheless, the way Nawaz surfaced was suggestive of the fact that he had run out of
patience. At the press conference Nawaz read out a full charge sheet against Zardari.
Interestingly, Nawaz seemed overlooking the fact that a constitutional crisis did not
automatically mean any ‘threat to democracy’. Further, it was his brother Shahbaz Sharif,
the Chief Minister of Punjab, who met the Chief of Army General Ashfaq Kiyani a couple of
days ago to discuss some important matters. Shahbaz (along with Chaudhry Nisar Ali) had
also met Kiyani a few months ago after the dusk even for the right reasons but that meeting
was kept secret for unknown reasons. That was the first blatant violation of the CoD done
by the leaders of the PML-N. The latest meeting took place in the daylight but at the time
when the presidency and the judiciary were locked in an effort to stare the other down. The
timing of the latest meeting radiated the message of defiance by the PML-N to the
presidency if any chance to snap at props up. The question is why the chief ministers of
other three provinces do not meet the chief of army?

It is not understood why Shahbaz is oblivious of the fact that from where the ‘threat to
democracy’ originated in the past? Does Shahbaz require another October 12 and his
departure to Saudi Arabia again to appreciate that simple point? Democracy is already at a
premium in Pakistan. If the politicians of one party keep on fostering relationships with the
army to use that as a bargaining chip to startle their opponents, the politicians belonging to
the other parties will start doing the same spoiling the efforts of the lawyers and the civil
society in rooting General Musharraf out of the system and thereby dumping the rule of the
army in politics. If the restoration of representative democracy had done by politicians, the
leaders of the PML-N would not have denied entry to Pakistan and the leaders of the PPP
would not have entered into the NRO like reprehensible deals to enter the sphere of
Pakistan.

Tyranny is that the promises done by Zardari and his party, the PPP, with the politicians of
the PML-N have not been honoured thereby providing reason to the PML-N to look
elsewhere for support and do something spectacular outside Parliament. In a way, the PPP
is compelling the PML-N to resort to such steps as to jeopardize the smooth flow of
democracy in the country. That is why more responsibility lies on the shoulders of the PPP
than of the PML-N – to let democracy take roots and let the habit of staying out of politics
be preferred by the army.

There is another school of thought which believes that through the press conference Nawaz
doffed his uniform of ‘friendly opposition’. According to that school, henceforth, the PML-N
will be criticizing the PPP and fetching votes for the forthcoming by-elections. Sheikh Rashid
may be the foremost victim of the would-be unfriendly opposition. It means that the
constituency of NA 55 Rawalpindi is bound to become a hotspot of PML-N uprising – even if
for the time being.

Notwithstanding the real intentions of the politicians, relevant to the result of the February
18 hearing, it should also be decided what should be the criterion to fill in the post of the
Chief Justice of Pakistan by any higher authority or a body: selection or seniority? Last but
not least, the looted money protected under the NRO should be brought back to the
country.

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