BY KULDIP NAYAR
THE judiciary has played havocs with Pakistan. Often it has justified the military coup in the country through the dictum of necessity and at few times it has supported the democratic ethos.
Every time the people have paid the price.
This time it has not been different. Prime minister, Mr Yusuf Raza Gilani was disqualified and he had no option except to resign to make place for a new prime minister. Yet the people have to bear the brunt. With no electricity, no water and no reprieve from increasing prices, the people would have expected the government to attend to their problems — they even came to the streets to protest — but the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, or its boss, President Mr Asif Zardari, have a different priority. Their all attention had been focused on how to secure their loyal successor to Mr Gilani.
Coming to Mr Gilani, he sacrificed himself to protect Mr Zardari who had been held guilty for having stacked billions of dollars in Swiss banks. The Supreme Court asked Mr Gilani to write to the Swiss authorities to get information about Mr Zardari’s bank account. Mr Gilani refused and joined issue with the Supreme Court which held him guilty for contempt of the Court. This was as far back as April 26 this year. Mr Gilani neither went in for appeal nor did he bother about the punishment for contempt.
Parliament Versus Judiciary
Instead, Gilani went to Pakistan’s National assembly to get endorsement for his stand and, surprisingly, the House gave him full support. Even the Speaker, Ms Fehmida Mirza, who had no business to comment on the judiciary, and an independent arm of the parliamentary system, said that the Prime Minister did not have to comply with the Supreme Court’s order, laying down a new dictum that Parliament was superior to the judiciary.
It was a civilian coup of sorts. The arrangement would have come to stay if the Army, the real power in Pakistan, had sided with the government. But the Army was angry with the Gilani government which had vainly tried to bring the ISI under the civilian authority. Even other wise, Pakistan chief of Army staff, General Parvez Kayani does not have an appetite for a direct military rule. He has found back driving useful because in this way he rules without having any
Had he sided with Mr Gilani he would have taken on the Supreme Court, more so Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry who has caught the imagination of people after forcing through a popular agitation former chief of staff General Pervez Musharraf for the restoration of the supremacy of the judiciary. Since then the Supreme Court has been the custodian of the Constitution.
The outgoing Prime Minister Mr Gilani, a believer in the rule of law, could have saved himself by telling the Supreme Court that he would write to the Swiss authorities about Mr Zardari’s hidden wealth. But he preferred to be a sati, a custom among the Hindus in Rajasthan where the wife burns herself along with her dead husband.
I can understand a person staking everything on principles. Mr Gilani did so not to bring Mr Zardari to the book. In Mr Gilani’s case, the more apt word is hari-kari (suicide). Maybe, he had political compulsions. Probably Mr Zardari chose him because he found in him the best stalking horse available. The next Prime Minister would also have to keep quiet on Mr Zardari’s money abroad. This is the requirement which the Pakistan President must have laid down before selecting the Prime Minister. That means that Mr Zardari’s confrontation with the Supreme Court will have no respite.
The fallout of Mr Gilani’s ousting is positive and it means that the independence of judiciary has come to stay in Pakistan. This rectifies the earlier practice when the Chief Justices would succumb before the military’s pressure. Chief Justice Chaudhry has rightly said in his judgment: “Where will be the independence of judiciary go if the executive examines of ruling of a seven-judge bench”.
I recall the time when the eminent lawyer, Mr Aitzaz Ahsan was offered the prime ministership. But he correctly said ‘no’ because he told Mr Zardari that there could not be two parallel authorities in a country. Mr Ahsan has been proved correct. Mr Zardari cannot play a second fiddle, although the office of President he occupies makes him a figure head.
I think that Mr Ahsan was not justified in defending Mr Gilani because the latter was in the wrong and had refused to write to Swiss authorities about Mr Zardari’s money which runs into billions of dollars and which rightly belongs to Pakistan. Mr Ahsan may have won on some technical point but the question was not legal but moral. Yet all marks to Mr Gilani who knowingly took his stand which he knew would not stand the scrutiny of law.
Elections after Ramzan
The best course now is to have elections after Ramzan and in the meanwhile the administration should be entrusted to an interim government, an arrangement that the Pakistan Constitution provides.
The PPP has been caught on a wrong foot and the Gilani episode is going to hurt the party at the next polls. Its performance too has been below par and the electorate will not forget this, more so Mr Zardari’s money at Swiss bank, on the polling day.
The petitions by Mr Nawaz Sharif and Mr Imran Khan to the Supreme Court brought the government down crashing. Otherwise, Mr Gilani would have continued as he did after April 26, when he was found guilty for disobeying the Court in committed to contempt. Although the sentence was for one day but as the petitioner had pleaded, a Prime Minister who had been sentenced even for day could not continue in office. The Supreme Court upheld
Yet I sympathise with Mr Gilani and I think that the statues should be built in Pakistan to remember that there are still some people who sacrifice all theirs for loyalty. These are very rare things and they should not go unnoticed, unapplauded. Whether he should have declined to be a sati is a matter for him to decide. But there is no doubting about his sacrifice and his loyalty.