NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 10

The judicial salvo

The short order of a special court trying Musharraf had left many questions unanswered. The detailed order that followed had no ambiguity as to the intent and purpose of the court and the mindset of the chief judge. Legal shortcomings apart, the language of the decision has attracted scathing criticism at home and abroad.

It was a typical example of foul and street language. With a selected sprinkling of a few four-letter words, the expression would have done the downtown riffraff immensely proud. It also reflected a great deal on the system that had brought the chief judge this far.

The social media has given the judge tit-for-tat. But somber minds seemed seriously concerned about the mindset. They recommend his suspension. The last few days had seenthe commencement of a sudden judicial offensive for no apparent reason except a frustrated PM complaining about a subordinate court permitting Nawaz Sharif to make his escape without worthwhile guarantees. Immediately after that in his first public appearance, the Chief Justice (CJ) seemed visibly irritated in a “how dare you” stance. He proudly recounted the accomplishments of the judiciary, like sacking and disqualifying previous prime ministers. Then he had raised his arms in taunting mimicry of Musharraf and said that an ex-Army general’s case was also about to be decided. This provocative gesture of the CJ was thought to have spurred the junior judge into an abrasive action.

Earlier, an advocate, a known habitual spoiler, had challenged the extension granted to the Army Chief. Perhaps overawed by the enormity of his challenge, he had immediately withdrawn his application. It was not to be. It looked as if the Supreme Court was waiting for such an opportunity. It refused to let go the application and turned it into a suo moto notice. Moving with a super-sonic speed, the court had reached its decision, humbling both the Chief Executive and the Army Chief in one swift blow.

Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan said that the act of the Supreme Court was absolutely unnecessary and superfluous or words to that effect. Mr. Aitzaz had missed the inevitable “I”, the ego. Once it possesses a mind, it robs it off all the good sense and smothers the sense of proportion, the hallmark of wisdom. The venerable Chief Justice, days before his honorable exit, had chosen to badly compromise his stature.

The special court in its consequential decision on Musharraf was perhaps carried away by the unusual audacity displayed by the Chief Justice. It readily took the plunge after him. The special court, according to the attorney general, had unfortunately acted rashly and in indecent haste.

A mortified military stood deeply hurt, with wounded pride, and tarnished image. For the first time in history an ex-President and Army Chief had been sentenced to death for high treason. The narrative built by the “special court” is clumsy and unconvincing.

The Musharraf saga is well documented. In 1999, he was compelled to take over the country from a half-witted and whimsical Nawaz Sharif busy playing yet another childish trick on the Army. In 2007, he temporarily suspended the Constitution again and clamped emergency to deal with what in his perception was a rebelling chief justice. On both occasions, the Constitution had been temporarily suspended, not abrogated and restored the soonest possible.

When Nawaz Sharif came back to take his turn in power as arranged with the PPP in the “Charter of Democracy”, he ordered Musharraf’s trial for treason in a clear act of personal vendetta. Sharif had not even cared to get his cabinet’s approval. The obliging Supreme Court had immediately constituted a special court to try Musharraf without bothering to scrutinize in detail the validity of Sharif’s request. Nowhere in the world an apex court is expected to act as impetuously in cases of national importance.

The terms of reference were intriguingly tailormade to suit Sharif’s viciousness. Instead of taking cognizance of Musharraf’s 1999 affront, the court undertook to charge him for declaration of emergency in 2007, that had empowered Musharraf to sack the then Chief Justice. It looks that the honorable court was not so much interested in the violation of the Constitution in 1999, as to the clamping of emergency in 2007 that had clipped the wings of a troublesome justice. Though the Chief Justice was later restored, much to the regret of the following government, the “I” would not rest in peace unless Musharraf’s head was brought on a platter to serve as a warning to all future rulers of Pakistan to stay clear of the judiciary.

The salvo had been fired. The military became apprehensive for many reasons. The Chief had to call an urgent conference to help ease taut nerves. The commandoes live by a unique esprit de corps which an outsider can hardly ever imagine. The Army Chief alive to this sensitivity had to rush to the Commandoes Headquarters to sooth the agitated minds and calm the indignant souls.

The spontaneous nationwide support must have come as a surprise to even the staunchest of Musharraf apologists. The court in its utter naivety had indeed opened a Pandora’s box of unlimited proportions. The military has maintained its professional focus and composure and has refused to be dragged into silly assertions of self-importance.

For a dwindling democracy to find steady legs to stand upon, all the institutions must strictly operate in their respective territories. As far Pakistan, let us not forget that “my enemy is my enemy, my friend’s enemy and my enemy’s friend”. Those whose actions please the enemies of Pakistan must decide for themselves where they stand.