Justice, Chief Justice and the Illusion of a False Revolution

In the following op-ed, Hasan Nisar asks some critical questions about the Long March and the restoration of the Chief Justice. Some of those questions are:

1. The Long March remained in the main confined to the Punjab.

2. Both Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardair softened their stance after the USA intervention.

3. Restoration of Chief Justice does not mean the restoration of justice.


Jang, 20 March 2009


analysis: After the revolution —Salman Tarik Kureshi

No amount of restoration of judges to office, no amount of safeguarding of legal procedure, no amount of triumphant speeches at bar councils, will serve to bring about and consolidate the rule of law. That project is by its nature a political project

A plume of steam rising from a very late night mug of coffee, this writer watched the revolution taking place on the television screen. It was from civil society activist Tahira Abdullah, that most courageous and admirable of ladies, that I first heard the term ‘soft revolution’, as she waxed euphorically ecstatic the next morning.

Since then, the term ‘revolution’, whether hard or soft, has been used by many to describe the events of the previous week, culminating in the Sunday night drama. In the process, the government shed two federal ministers and a slew of party loyalists, the Chief Justice and several other superior court judges were reinstated to their rightful positions, Mian Nawaz Sharif became the man of the hour, Prime Minister Gilani managed some moments in the limelight and General Kayani quietly stayed out of the media glare.

In the euphoria that followed, the media pundits and those politicians who succeeded in their goals have waxed eloquent regarding how this revolution has opened the road to constitutionalism, stable democracy, judicial independence and the rule of law. If indeed so, how marvellous!

Mao Zedong wrote regarding the conduct of revolutions, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” But, the Great Chinese Helmsman to the contrary, there is little evidence of pitched battles between these not-so-long-marching revolutionaries and the authorities littering the path of Mr Sharif’s political parade on the Grand Trunk Road. The Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, said, “Revolutions are not pink tea parties.” I am afraid my TV screen gave very much the picture of a political cakewalk as Mian Sahib’s 500-horsepower chariot moved towards the capital and the forces arraigned against him dissolved into thin air.

Okay, so it was a peaceful revolution, a ‘soft’ revolution, in Tahira Abdullah’s words. How nice! Would that everything in life could be so easy, so non-violent. But let me ask again, as I did in these pages last week: If this was a revolution, then against which powerful tyranny? Which oppressive dictatorship? This society is riddled with appalling injustices and the most vicious forms of exploitation. These remain still untouched, still untouchable.

So, it has been no revolution, no new Dawn of Possibilities. But, yes, there has been, must have been, some kind of transformation, of the kind one longed for back in the too-recent days of our last and most arrogant of military rulers. Let us look at who, or what, has altered as a result of these events.

President Zardari is clearly diminished, tarred in the eyes of the media and the public with accusations of ill intent and conspiracy. He and the government he had put together are the principal losers in this particular set of showdowns. That government’s standing has been critically damaged. While it may not have yet been reduced to ‘lame duck’ status, it is difficult to see it hobbling its way through to 2013.

Mr Zardari’s primary error is not that he gave way and threw in the towel as Nawaz Sharif’s huge procession advanced towards Islamabad; in fact, it was the government’s ‘surrender’ that prevented further violence and a spiralling of uncontrollable instability. However, that he permitted matters to even come to this point stands out as his most signal failure. The same holds true for Prime Minister Gillani, who accepted the role of eating humble pie before the media and managed to collect some brownie points — brownie points that may be of help to him in enhancing his relative stature within the party.

But, more than these, it is the PPP itself that has suffered. Split within, seriously weakened outside and demoralised throughout, the political instrument forged and formed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and then revived and redirected by his daughter, is more imperilled today than at any time in its history. Discouraging as that fact may be, the real danger lies in that this was the party considered to be the char subon ki zanjir. The PPP was the sole major party that could claim a significant vote bank in all provinces. In a real sense, it was the guardian of federalism in Pakistan, and therefore of the very heart of the Constitution.

Now, given that the only other party of comparable magnitude, the PMLN, is overwhelmingly Punjab-centric, weakening of the PPP means weakening of the federation itself and stimulation of regional/ethnic tendencies. Humiliation of the PPP in the largest province means a weakening of the very foundations of the Constitution. Was this one of the aims of this revolution?

As for democracy and the parliamentary process, Mian Nawaz Sharif had clearly abandoned both when he took to the streets and raised slogans of rebellion. President Zardari and the government also showed little commitment to democratic principles in their indiscriminate mass arrests and their attempts at media muzzling, erection of barriers, and use of police force (later abandoned in panic). So much for this revolution’s claims of strengthening the Constitution, parliament and democratic methods!

With somewhat greater justification, it can be contended that judicial independence and the rule of law have triumphed. Certainly, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who had emerged as a titan, of granite strength of character and seismic personality force, has been vindicated and his status still further enhanced. Here is a man who defied an arrogant dictator and a roomful of generals face to face.

In the two years since that time, his defiance has grown still firmer. To the lists of the opponents he humbled, he has now added a slew of subsequently appointed judges, more generals and an elected president with all his ministers, parliamentarians and the force of his electorate behind him. Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is a true colossus of our time, towering far above all others. The same holds true for the indomitable Aitzaz Ahsan and the other leaders of and participants in the lawyers’ movement, who have set examples of fortitude and integrity of purpose that all Pakistanis must admire.

But let it be understood clearly that the goal of the lawyers’ movement was not merely to get Chief Justice Chaudhry his job back. It was the people’s need for an inexpensive, responsive and perceptibly fair system of justice that was primary The ordinary Pakistani, even more than you and I of the so-called gentry, craves institutionalised justice and wishes to bring about the rule of law, in whatever sophisticated or unsophisticated terms this may be perceived.

The personage of Justice Chaudhry came to symbolise the search for such a system. And it is here that we come to the nub of the issue. No amount of restoration of judges to office, no amount of safeguarding of legal procedure, no amount of triumphant speeches at bar councils, will serve to bring about and consolidate the rule of law. That project is by its nature a political project.

And a political project of this nature and magnitude requires a political organisation to bring it about. Could the PMLN of the Sharif brothers be that organisation, now that the PPP seems to have gone into terminal decline? On the basis of the past record of the PMLN and the Sharif brothers, on the basis of the kind of intemperate rhetoric indulged in recently, on the basis of the threats of violence implied and proclaimed, the answer would seem to be ‘No’. Where then do we stand?

In any case, before we can even begin to talk of the rule of law, the juridical black holes that have appeared in FATA, PATA and the NWFP must be dealt with, else they will suck us all into their frightful regions of chaos.

The writer is a marketing consultant based in Karachi. He is also a poet

(Daily Times, 21 March 2009)