Who can ignore the perception that if no action is taken against Musharraf the message everyone will get is that ‘to err is civilian’ and that ‘men in khaki can do no wrong’
The run-up to the elections in Pakistan is like a comedy thriller. When a news item was shared on our rationalist society forum that the election commission returning officers were making candidates recite kalimas’ (lines from scriptures) as a part of eligibility screening I took it as a 1st April joke. And when it was reported that Mussarat Shaheen, a veteran Pashto movies actress successfully passed the screening test after she recited ‘Ayat-ul-kursi’, I again laughed it out as something coming from a prankster. But soon horror gripped my smiling face when I saw these news items on the front pages of national dailies. The biggest comic shocker, however, proved to be the news about the rejection of Ayaz Amir’s nomination papers. Amir is not just an ordinary member of parliament, nor is he an ordinary column writer. As a politician he is considered an impartial and sane voice not constrained by party loyalties. He was the only MNA who had the guts to oppose openly the peace deal with terrorists in Malakand. Many write columns. With Amir it becomes a perfected art. Rejecting his nomination papers is a stark reminder that from the Nobel Prize winner Dr Abdus Salam to Ayaz Amir, we have let pygmies decide for us the meaning of patriotism and literary achievements.
Judging by these developments it seems that either the conspiracy theorists were not entirely wrong about new alignments in the establishment or that the Election Commission and Supreme Court both have capitulated to the demands of a handful of pious journalists, who daily dictate on the front pages of national dailies or in talk shows what the future of this country should look like. If that is how things are going to be, for once, I also want to add my voice to the slogan ‘tabdeeli aagaee hei’ (change has come).
In the backdrop of these events when the return of Pervez Musharraf is looked into one finds the situation even more perplexing and inexplicable. Here is a man who is wanted in so many murder cases, and who in sheer disregard of his oath twice committed acts of treason. Here is a man who incarcerated judges including the present Chief Justice and then tried to kill the electronic media in its infancy once it sided with the popular movement for the restoration of the Chief Justice. The threats from terrorists and the prospect of a trial under Article Six did not stop him from staging a comeback. Even a person of ordinary intelligence can imagine what must have been happening in the holy Arab lands that culminated in his safe return. If the political parties have not taken much notice of his return, one can appreciate their situation with some degree of unease. Both the Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, as aspirants to lead the next government, cannot ignore the demands of the western powers relayed through Saudi Arabia and other Gulf sheikhdoms. The case of the Supreme Court is, however, altogether different. It is the custodian of the constitution and rule of law in the country. It earned respect and appreciation by fireworks of judicial activism. We have seen it exercising the suo motu power against many offenders — from the liquor bottle case of Atiqa Odho to NICL case involving the former prime minister and top civilian bureaucrats. It is, therefore, not surprising that when a proclaimed offender in high profile murder cases and a fugitive, after an unsuccessful coup, roams freely in the country, we expect the Supreme Court to use its suo motu power if the government is not doing what is required under the rule of law.
Ever since the judiciary was restored after a heroic struggle I have been regularly defending all decisions taken by the Supreme Court in good faith and with noble intentions. As an admirer and well-wisher, I find the current situation created by the return of the former dictator very difficult to understand, and even harder to defend the conduct of the superior judiciary. Who can ignore the perception that if no action is taken against Musharraf the message everyone will get is that ‘to err is civilian’ and that ‘men in khaki can do no wrong’. A politician with a fake degree is to be disqualified and sent to jail while a blind eye is to be turned to acts of tampering with the constitution. The speeches made by the Chief Justice and remarks of other honourable judges on the importance of the rule of law sound hollow if people see a coup maker roam free enjoying perks and privileges of the state. I find it increasingly difficult to counter the argument of my friends who suggest that before this honourable court ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’. The court never for a moment thought that in the Swiss account case or in the NICL case or the Hajj scandal case it was the job of the government to carry out its duty. The departure from the norm in the case of Musharraf is, therefore, exceptionally striking.
If Musharraf has to visit the court to seek relief like a common citizen, risking a shoe or two during the process, the spectacle may help strengthening of the democratic order in the country. But if this ‘Napoleon’ is back as a part of a much wider and deeper conspiracy woven by spymasters to restore democracy-gilded Bonapartism in the country then the complete silence of all major stakeholders does not augur well. With guarded optimism, one hopes that the doctrine of necessity did not accompany Musharraf back home when his plane landed at the Karachi airport.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at email@example.com