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Archive for November, 1997

The Ugly Face of Fascism

On Friday Nov 28, 1997 the Supreme Court of Pakistan Building was attacked by an unruly mob that broke through the restraining police cordon. According to reports the mob was chanting slogans and epithets against the Chief Justice (CJ) and almost reached the door of the Courtroom where he was presiding over a Contempt of Case hearing against the PM, Mian Nawaz Sharif. Inside the Courtroom the protest by the PM’s lawyers was civilized and couched in legal language, lawyers cited the decisions of the Quetta and Peshawar Benches of the Supreme Court (SC) in holding the CJ’s appointment as illegal and requested the CJ to step down till the matter was decided by a Bench comprising all Judges of the SC less the CJ.

Nobody of sane mind will condone such an incident as happened in the SC on Friday. Any courtroom in any civilized society must be treated with dignity, honour and respect, it is neutral ground whose decorum must be maintained. We can never allow street power to coerce the norms of justice, allowing street power into the vicinity of the courtroom spells doom for any civilized society. Judges are human beings and as such will react as all human beings to intimidation, whether it comes in sophisticated form or in crude fashion. However, the issue is not whether they are scared or not, the issue revolves around the sanctity of the courtroom. While protest is an acceptable part of the political process, entering Court premises in violent fashion in an uncontrolled manner is almost unheard of and violates the sanctity of the Court. What we are talking about is not a normal courtroom but of the SC itself which is the paramount place of justice in the country. The incident on Friday smacks of Fascism, closely resembling the outrages through which courts of law and judges were subjugated by Hitler in the early 30s. The storming of the SC is an unacceptable incident, one is aghast as to the display of crude street power. Is this the future for our children, that we should influence the course of justice by forcible means of mob force? If we cannot differentiate between the rough justice delivered by a mob or vigilantes and that flowing from logic and norms of society descended from a constitution, then we are doomed. We decry martial law because it envisages swift, abridged justice that does not give enough right and time for defence to the accused as available in normal courts, yet what is the force that drove this mob to break into the very symbol of justice in Pakistan and try to impose their collective will on the Supreme Court? One is ashamed that elements in the PML stooped so low as to use such bully-boy tactics. In the history of Pakistan this must be one of our blackest days, a day of infamy and regret.

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Motivated disinformation

This beautiful country of ours is a hapless victim of motivated disinformation, a mixture of lies and distortions laced with truths which when aired take on a life of their own and more often than not influence decision-making at the highest level. What is happening today in this country is a series of knee-jerk reactions at half-truths and outright falsehoods when mature people who make up the hierarchy should know better and have verified not only the facts but the reasons why the falsehoods being disseminated as facts are being propagated at all. In many cases a direct approach is enough to ascertain the truth, unfortunately as we go higher up the pecking order our overblown egos come in the way and we always seem more inclined to seek an elliptical approach, with disastrous results as in the process it is easy to doctor facts and impute false motives. The present crisis is a case-study of disinformation, not only in being effective in distorting decision-making at the highest level but also in creating multiple problems that vitiate a conducive environment for rapprochement. Unfortunately such falsehood creation seems vicariously to be admired as an art by our society, we have become so used to accepting lies over truth.

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Prime Minister, use the CDNS

On the evening of Thursday Nov 20, 1997, the entire nation remained tense. This was the culmination of mind-boggling developments in a confusing series of chess-like moves and counter-moves over the past fortnight. The impeachment of the President had always been on the cards once the honeymoon period between him and the ruling PML was over. “Apocalypse now” was very much a possibility, even if the President was not in league with the CJ till then, who could fault him for using all means available to defend himself? Whether the CJ himself is open to manipulation by anyone is another question, his track record is very much as an individual person with independent views, not subject to any direction from any quarter. On the other hand, the ruling Party had very few options left in the face of continuing legal checkmates by the CJ. When the 14th Amendment was suspended and left no restraining “stable gates” for horses leaving for greener pastures, the ruling Party had held together, would they hold together once the PM was no longer in power? Every dark cloud has a silver lining, this loyalty must be something for Mian Nawaz Sharif and the nation to cherish. The fact also that he got disparate allies such as the ANP, MQM, JWP, etc to stay together is a real feather in the PM’s cap. When the return of the Army Chief on Wednesday morning and his subsequent meetings till late that night did not make any significant impact, the ruling coalition decided then that it was time to raise the stakes and impeach the President.

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The Parameters of Fairplay

Requiring the Chief Executive of any Government to appear in person in any court of law is unprecedented, not only in Pakistan. Even in the United States, President Clinton has been fighting to avoid fighting court cases while he is President, what to talk of appearing in person. There must be some legal protection for Chief Executives of Government and other important functionaries otherwise they can be kept in Court by anyone for any length of time, what this will do for governance needs no elucidation.

The PM had three options, viz (1) to apologize before the Court unconditionally (2) go half way i.e. without expressly admitting any guilt express regrets for any remarks which may have upset the judiciary or (3) fight out the case on merit. Given the circumstances and the composition of the Court (and mood thereof), he risked being sentenced on any one of the options and thus being put on course for disqualification as PM. With such an eventuality a foregone conclusion, there were many suggestions from different quarters, ranging from one extreme to the other. One must refer to Fuller as far back as 1732, to quote “natural folly is bad enough but learned folly is intolerable”. Suffice to say, many ambitious souls are looking forward to Mian Sahib coming to grief, this is an excellent opportunity to differentiate friend from foe.

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Damage Control

Rip Van Winkle woke to a new world after sleeping for twenty years, this nation had to wait for 40 years since the Tamizuddin case to wake up from its extended slumber. The immediate feeling is that of euphoria, of complete freedom, the casting away of bureaucratic shackles that have suffocated this country for almost all its life span. For the foreseeable future the rule of law seems to have been restored but the subsequent dissolution of the Punjab Provincial Assembly has shown that the potential of the Evil Empire for mayhem remains alive though somewhat diminished. For the first time in four decades, the actual rulers of this country, bureaucracy and its “Republican” political allies (mainly from among the landed class) are under pressure from real democracy, not their stunted, guided version of it. The main prop in the persistence of their bluff has been the support of a usually gullible military, in the absence of that support they have been badly exposed as paper tigers at best, at worst as connivers and manipulators. The Nawaz Sharif regime does not have time to gloat over the return of fortune, they have to shift into high gear to rescue the nation from the flat spin that we are now in economically, politically and in the realm of foreign affairs. Mention must be made of the memorable photograph of the Honourable Justices walking out of the Supreme Court Chamber after delivering their historic verdict, the shortest man by far, Chief Justice Mr. Nasim Hassan Shah, seemed to be tallest among a group of men who had good reason to be walking tall. In the individual context, the stoic forbearance of Justice Shafiur Rahman in the face of a profound personal tragedy will remain a shining example in the putting of duty before self.

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Chairman JCSC

When Gen Jehangir Karamat assumed the charge of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in January 1996 he was easily the most professional soldier in Pakistan’s history who made it to that post, suitably both on merit and seniority. Assuming additionally the post of retiring Chairman JCSC on Nov. 08, 1997, the COAS follows in the illustrious footsteps of three fine professional soldiers, Generals Sharif, Iqbal Khan and Shamim Alam. Despite being upright and deserving, even these three could not establish the writ of their superior rank because of circumstances beyond their control, the reasons differing in all three cases. Some good officers from the other Services did make it to Chairman JCSC, they did not have the requisite knowledge and experience besides professional competence to command predominantly ground forces in the military machine and/or to dominate their nominal subordinate, the COAS.

To be or not to be, that is the question the new Chairman JCSC must answer on behalf of his new appointment in the next few months. Jehangir Karamat has an excellent opportunity to take the Pakistan Armed Forces into the 21st Century as a modern, responsive and efficient fighting machine. As Chairman JCSC and concurrently COAS, he can (and must) reform, reorganize and re-structure the entire Armed Forces along lines suited to modern warfare. He has to break the mindset of the 19th Century that keeps us mired in tactical and strategic concepts of an unreal world. If our military manpower did not inherently have a high percentage of dedicated professionals, we would be a pushover for any adventurer, let alone our traditional enemy.

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Selection and Maintenance of Aim

The primary mission of any government in the world is to tend to the economy. A vibrant economy is the source of life for the people of any country, divergence from the selected aim has meant disaster for many a nation. In the struggle for power since the country was divided in 1971, the economy has been given a very low priority and the result has been that on a pro-rata basis the quality of life in 1997 is far inferior to that enjoyed by the average citizen 25 years earlier in 1972. For divergence from the primary aim we have only got an inferior leadership to blame, a leadership that gives only lip-service rhetoric to its major responsibility, subordinating it to a myriad number of issues with their own priority given to survivability and how to ensure longevity. The unfortunate part is that if the government would concentrate on fulfilling its promise for the service of the people (and only people) as its primary aim, the issue of longevity would resolve in its favour as a side effect of its greater success. However every government that comes to power gets itself so involved in working for the “next” term that they never finish their first term. Despite our hopes for a sea-change in attitudes, we find that Mian Nawaz Sharif’s regime is no different in their approach to governance than their predecessors, they have fallen into the same routine of riding to power as democrats with the “mandate” of the people, then shedding their democratic cloak for absolute monarchy and then attempting to elongate their civilian dictatorship by any number of means. Less than a year into a massive “mandate” from the people, the Mian Nawaz Sharif regime is reeling, mainly because of a penchant to rail against windmills, with the advice of mule-headed Sancho Panzas.

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