Sunday, March 9, 2008

Op-ed: March 9 revisited

Authored by: Dr Qaisar Rashid

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 fa├žade 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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