FLASHBACK, Lahore, 1977:
The early days of the 1977-88 martial law regime, as Pakistan’s first democratically elected prime minister and chairman of the Islamic Summit Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is in the dock on a “murder” charge as the (then) Chief Martial Law Administrator Gen Ziaul Haq goes about pronouncing ZAB guilty on the only TV channel and the state-controlled press day in and day out even before the judgment is delivered.
Simultaneously, as if on cue, the hand-picked Chief Justice Lahore High Court Maulvi Mushtaq is doing exactly the same, if not trying to outdo the CMLA, while hearing the case in a highly politically charged and hostile atmosphere against the PPP and its chairman. Now, over three decades on, not only all independent historians but even Bhutto’s rabid opponents term the infamous judgment what we all know as judicial murder – the blackest scar on the face of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
FAST FORWARD: Islamabad, Dec 2011.
In a very similar atmosphere today with 24/7 channels blaring out in your bedroom, office, market, streets, et al, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has with the similar indecent haste accepted a petition that portends to replicate the same kangaroo justice – hope, I am wrong – in the name of sovereignty and security of the state.
The only difference between 1977 and 2011 is that another, albeit judicial, ‘Zia’ is sitting in the SC and his spiritual son is the petitioner against the PPP’s democratically elected President on a plea that has the two heavyweights from the armed forces as respondents – only tactically – but in the context of the Memo hoax, they are and may be impliedly exonerated.
A lot can be said on the merits and demerits of what the Memo allegedly discusses. But for the moment, one really doesn’t feel the compulsion to go into its contents, its legality as a document per se, the credibility of the people involved with their plethora of allegations, counter allegations, denials and counter denials. However, one thing that is beyond any doubt is that it involves sensitive matters that impinge on foreign relations and diplomatic affairs with a super power we inexplicably love to hate in our proverbially self-serving and self-righteous manner.
In the case of petitioner Nawaz Sharif and his PML (N), it can be said for the sake of argument that they may only be concerned to restore their sagging political image, in general, after PTI’s ‘surprising’ Iqbal Park rally, and to settle political scores with President Zardari, in particular.
One wonders, however, what could be the thoughts and motive of a Supreme Court chief justice? Especially, given the history of coups in Pakistan, the civil-military imbalance, increasingly weakened political culture, rhetoric of corruption against politicians only, resort to blatant militancy to re-supplant the security narrative, and perhaps most tellingly the inability of our judicial system to bring the known military and judicial culprits to justice with or without the invocation of the Article Six?
Why does one say this? You don’t have to be a legal eagle to notice that ever since his reincarnation in the Supreme Court, the incumbent chief justice has been openly displaying his love to wield the sword of suo motu. Selectively, of course! That only betrays his penchant to hog the limelight. While (R) Air Marshal Asghar Khan is still alive, his decades-old petition gathers dust in the portals of latter-day, recently-discovered speedy justice.
On top of that, the CJP has resorted to meddling in day to day executive affairs, one too many, that may better be left for the government to address. To make matters worse, the way he holds Court looks like he is holding a tribal jirga. His conduct is too haughty, observations too political and attitude too partial for a Chief Justice who was restored to his present position after an unprecedented Lawyer’s Movement that promised to usher in justice for all irrespective of their past, present, imaginary or real labels. Notwithstanding the many reservations against him that have been openly expressed by leaders of that movement since then.
This is the perspective, the backdrop against which the 1st-December petition is being heard. At the altar of justice is not just the Memo. But parliamentary sovereignty and the integrity of the federation of Pakistan may also be at stake!
The writer is a former Amnesty International “Prisoner of Conscience 1984” and Lahore-based independent communication consultant.