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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Courting confrontation

On the curious rumour about Pakistan’s government and the judiciary

Written by Ejaz Haider |
October 20, 2010 4:30:49 am

Analysing events in Islamabad with any degree of objectivity can throw anyone awry. The place may not lack nouns like the fictitious Tlön in Borges’ famous short story did,but deductive reasoning can have its own pitfalls with the bizarre interplay of fiction and reality,until it becomes difficult to tell one from the other. Here’s a recent example.

On the eve of last Thursday,first one,then another,channel broke the story about the impending move by the Pakistan Peoples Party government to rescind its March 2009 notification which restored the judges sacked by former General-President Pervez Musharraf through his November 3,2007 emergency order. One would have thought this non-story,based as it was on a rumour,would be scoffed at as poor journalism. Instead,the judges went nuclear.

All 17 of them went into a late-night meeting and emerged from that huddle waving a long press release telling the government that it had been caught in flagrante delicto and if it were to do as it was rumoured to,the Supreme Court would invoke Article 6 of the constitution — high treason,mind you — to deal with its perfidy. The Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) also formed a full bench to inquire into the matter,observing that he knew the story was correct.

When the rumour went viral,Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani assured everyone that there was no truth in what was being put out as breaking news. The government also said it didn’t have the foggiest idea that it was planning to do any such thing and if it didn’t know of any such plan by itself,logic dictated that no one else should either. Corollary: no such plan existed.

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This didn’t wash with the court. It kept Monday as the day for the hearing and summoned the attorney-general and directors of three cable news channels to appear before the full bench. No one dared ask the CJP to place the evidence before the nation if he indeed knew,as reported,that the rumour was a fact. Why go through the procedural rigmarole?

However,seeing and sensing that this was headed towards a crisis for all the absurd reasons,Gilani decided to put his foot down. On Sunday,he spoke to the nation,flanked by the chief ministers of three provinces and a senior minister from the Punjab,in addition to the chief executives of Azad Kashmir (Pakistan Administered Kashmir) and Gilgit-Baltistan. While stressing that his government believed in institutional harmony and the independence of the judiciary,he also made clear that his word must be believed. “When the prime minister says something it must be respected and his word is as good as giving something in writing.”

The content of the speech,as well as the presence of representatives from all federating units,was an astute signal to the court and the shadowy elements that want a confrontation,that the government has picked up the gauntlet thrown by the judiciary. Gilani also signalled to the court that the government will not give to the court any written assurance,as demanded by the latter,because his word was enough.

Gilani’s take-it-or-lump-it signalling was immediately seized on by one media group that does not even pretend impartiality now,getting one talking head after another to lament the disrespect being shown to the court. There was hope yet in some quarters that the court could be suitably riled up for the Monday hearing when it would fire the nuclear salvo.

That didn’t happen,mercifully. The court realised,as it should have from the word go,that the whole thing was a hoax. But consider some questions.

This government may not be descended from the Ten Commandments,but even with warts and all,no government can work if it has to face a crisis every once a week. Those who want it ousted have nothing to offer that is viable or has not been tested and found wanting. Democratic procedures,even leaving aside substance,at least offer the possibility of internal cleansing over time.

The second aspect is presented by the judiciary itself. The judges have to realise,as one hopes they do,that they can work independently only in a democracy. Their institutional turf cannot be safeguarded under any other system. They will rise and fall with the

system. Their functioning must keep that in mind and take a teleological approach.

Finally,the media: when should the media cross the line from reporting to becoming a political actor — or should it? Have we arrived at that point in Pakistan where media houses can have open ideological leanings or political preferences and agendas? These questions are value-neutral. Perhaps there is no such animal as a neutral media. Fine. But then no one should talk about an independent media. Agenda-driven would be a better description and honest.

The writer is contributing editor,‘The Friday Times’,Lahore

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