OVER A COFFEE: Washing dirty linen with memo soap —Dr Haider Shah
Sceptics can argue that whatever good name the judiciary had earned by pressurising the government to write a letter to the Swiss court has been blotted by its judicial activism in the case of another letter written by a shadowy character
As the Mayan 2012 has now commenced, various signs of impending disaster are becoming all the more noticeable — at least in Pakistan. We were repeatedly warned of a tsunami wave by Kaptaan (Captain) sahib in 2011 and now it was the turn of a commando to break the news of an earthquake during his recent public address. Karachi, being a port city, can whip the poetic imagination of any leader to become a Mayan soothsayer but the epicentre of the latest tremors experienced in Pakistan was in China this time.
It is an ironic coincidence that Pervez Musharraf, the army chief in 1999, had also visited China when Nawaz Sharif’s government was torpedoed by the Kargil misadventure. The visit proved a turning point in relations between Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf as the telephonic conversation between Musharraf and his deputy General Aziz was hacked by Indian intelligence and its full transcripts were released to the Indian media on the eve of the emergency visit of our then Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz. The transcripts are available on the internet and, like WikiLeaks, have an important learning value for understanding the civil-military relationships in Pakistan. It is not difficult to spot three clear themes in the discourse. First, major foreign policy initiatives are the handiwork of one or two army generals. Second, they take the civilian masters for a ride and in private conversation even sound contemptuous and third, they demand that the political leaders and institutions should act as their transmitters and mouthpieces only. The two army generals in a few minutes-long conversation confirmed between themselves what the foreign minister of a democratically elected government should and should not say. This time, however, the stir in China was created by the prime minister’s remarks against two army generals. It seems that Prime Minister Gilani, like Hamlet, is feeling crushed between the competing demands of a hawk and dove residing in his distraught self.
Some time back I had argued in this paper that the memo saga has thrown a pie in everyone’s face except one character, Mansoor Ijaz, who has become a household name overnight. Some developments in the past had given rise to hopes that sanity would prevail and the policy makers would return to the real issues rather than chasing a mirage. But unfortunately the Memogate scandal is now turned into a business of washing dirty linen in public. In the process, no institution has remained unscathed before a confused public. An honest appraisal can find no winner in this national tragedy as arguments and counterarguments are not in short supply on all sides.
Not all brands sell well. Coca-Cola learnt it the hard way when the soft drinks giant launched ‘New Coke’ in 1985 as a reformulation of Coca-Cola. The attempt proved a major marketing failure and the company was forced to reintroduce the classical formula of Coca-Cola to save its future. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has also tried the new ‘Zardari’ brand in place of its popular ‘Bhutto’ brand but it has not worked well. In its bid to save a doomed brand, the party is compromising its future prospects. In cases involving its ideological purity it has shown no remorse in making compromises, e.g. backtracking on the blasphemy legislation and its lukewarm attitude in the Salmaan Taseer murder case. But it is showing uncanny resolution in not writing a letter to the Swiss courts, come what may. For a genuine supporter it is not one of those causes that are worth dying for as it is neither glorious nor heroic.
Now let us review the role of the judiciary. Its intransigence over the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) issue is both understandable and commendable. The formulation of six options in the latest verdict leaves sufficient room for the government to exercise graceful pragmatism. The choice of words in certain sections of its judgement was not very tasteful though. If the elected prime minister can be called ‘dishonest’, then sceptics can remind us of the Raymond Davis affair where the judiciary’s role left many questions unanswered. The souls of Wali Khan Babar and Saleem Shahzad also clamour for justice. The judiciary is under oath to be the guardian of fundamental rights of all citizens but hundreds of missing persons in Balochistan are losing their right to life with no major tremors caused at the Constitution Avenue of Islamabad. Sceptics can argue that whatever good name the judiciary had earned by pressurising the government to write a letter to the Swiss court has been blotted by its judicial activism in the case of another letter written by a shadowy character.
The supporters of the judiciary can cite the recent case of former UK immigration minister Phil Woolas who was ejected from parliament after two high court judges ruled that he lied about his Liberal Democrat opponent during the general elections. Consequently, Woolas not only lost his seat in the Commons and was barred for three years but was also suspended by the Labour Party. Britain is the mother of parliamentary democracy. Perhaps we can learn from them that a democratic system can only function well if it is lubricated by respect for law and good governance. The counterargument can be that the British judiciary has earned its respect by its impartial conduct that spans over centuries. The Pakistani judiciary, with the Dosso and Zafar Ali Shah cases in its heritage, has to go a long way before it reaches that level of universal respectability. It made a promising start after the deposed judges were reinstalled with massive public support. It has to work hard to dispel the perception that it is under the shadow of the military establishment. Actions speak louder than words. The return of General (retd) Musharraf will be a godsent opportunity. Both Nawaz Sharif and the judiciary can then provide reassurance to any shaky believers as the whole world will be watching to see if both will act as swiftly as they did in the case of the Memogate saga.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org