Back from the brink

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As the opposition was desperate to see the back of the PPP government which was being blamed for defying the apex court orders, partners in the ruling coalition decided to defend the supremacy of parliament rather than letting anyone overstep the Executive’s domain.

The decision was taken at a meeting jointly presided over by President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani. It took place amidst calls from various quarters for the invocation of Article 190 which asks all “executive and judicial authorities throughout Pakistan to act in aid of the SC.” The participants’ view that any flexibility shown by the government at this stage would cause damage to the democratic process had to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Finally better sense seems to have prevailed with both the executive and the judiciary resolving the deadlock between them. Their Lordships have not only protected the integrity of the Bench but also provided an exit strategy to the government by directing it to reinstate former Secretary Establishment Suhail Ahmad and give him a posting within a week.

This will certainly cause a huge disappointment to all those who were expecting the standoff to end up in the ouster of the federal government. The Punjab Chief Minister had set the tone for the PPP bashing which dominated the proceedings of the PML(N)’s General Council the next day when it met to rubberstamp Mian Nawaz Sharif’s nominations for the party offices, including his own presidency. Mian Shahbaz went to the extent of saying that his party could not witness the situation in silence and would resort to direct action to “foil the nefarious designs of the corrupt government and its allies.”

As for General (retd) Aslam Beg’s suggestion to the military leadership to play its role to save the country from a disaster, the less said the better. But while raising a hue and cry over the government’s non-compliance with the court orders former Chief Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui should not ignore how he had once overstepped his mark by hearing a petition against his own CJ during the second Nawaz government which eventually caused division among the members of the superior judiciary. It happened after Justice Sajjad Ali Shah had requested the then President in writing to take action under Article 190 of the Constitution and provide security to the judges by calling in the army for their protection. And he also demanded action against Siddiqui by the Supreme Judicial Council.

President Leghari, who had already become the object of scathing criticism for having betrayed his own party, simply forwarded the Chief Justice’s letter to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It didn’t spring any surprise when the PM declined the request for deploying army at the Supreme Court or taking any action against Justice Siddiqui who was later rewarded with the office of the Chief Justice of Pakistan for his allegiance with the PML(N) and also for having successfully lobbied against Justice Shah and getting rid of him.

Obviously, the PML(N) leadership would not like to be reminded of the story of the storming of the Supreme Court in November 1997 by its armed-to-the-teeth parliamentarians and workers. The main target of the attack was Justice Sajjad Ali Shah who had ruffled many feathers in the corridors of power. Not only was he opposed to the idea of setting up special courts which he rightly described as an attempt aimed at creating a parallel judiciary but he also wanted the government to immediately fill the vacant judicial positions for carrying out the business of dispensing justice in a speedy manner.

Mian Nawaz and his party do not tire of castigating the PPP leadership for not showing due respect to the superior judiciary but then they should not forget that it was under their own rule that the country had grappled with its worst-ever constitutional crisis. The footage might still be available at the Supreme Court archives to show how the unruly mob broke into the court room during the hearing of the contempt case against the PM and others. Interestingly enough those who had stooped to the extreme rowdiness and indulged in disrespecting the sanctity of the court are now trying to become the champion of the rule of law.

PPP’s enfant terrible Babar Awan may be known for giving offence to his detractors both by his disconcerting demeanour and offensive talk. You can disagree with him on many issues but he was right in his observing that that those using the ‘judicial card’ have no love lost for the judiciary; they are only trying to draw political mileage from the situation. The opposition has yet to realise that Pakistan cannot afford any confrontation between the institutions, especially at a time when it is facing serious threats to its sovereignty.

 

The writer is Executive Editor, Pakistan Today