By Kuldip Nayar
JULY 14, 2012
The judiciary has played havoc with Pakistan. Often it has justified military coups in the country through the dictum of necessity and on a few occasions it has supported the democratic ethos. Every time the people have paid the price. This time it has not been different. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has been disqualified and he had no option but to resign to make place for a new Prime Minister. Yet the people have to bear the brunt. With no electricity, no water and no reprieve from increasing prices, the people would have expected the government to attend to their problems—they even came out on the streets to protest—but the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, or its boss, President Asif Zardari, had a different priority. All their attention was focused on how to secure a loyal successor to Gilani.
Coming to Gilani, he sacrificed himself to protect Zardari who had been held guilty for having stacked billions of dollars in Swiss banks. The Supreme Court asked Gilani to write to the Swiss authorities to get information about Zardari’s bank account. Gilani refused and joined issue with the Supreme Court which held him guilty of contempt of the Court. This was as far back as April 26 this year. Gilani neither went for an appeal nor did he bother about the punishment for contempt. Instead, Gilani went to Pakistan’s National Assembly to get endorsement for his stand and, surprisingly, the House gave him full support. Even the Speaker, Fehmida Mirza, who had no business to comment on the judiciary, an independent arm of the parliamentary system, said that the Prime Minister did not have to comply with the Supreme Court’s order, laying down a new dictum that Parliament was superior to the judiciary.
It was a civilian coup of sorts. The arrangement would have come to stay if the Army, the real power in Pakistan, had sided with the government. But the Army was angry with the Gilani Government which had vainly tried to bring the ISI under civilian authority. Even otherwise, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Parvez Kayani, does not have an appetite for direct military rule. He has found back-seat driving useful because in this way he rules without having any responsibility. Had he sided with Gilani he would have taken on the Supreme Court, more so the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Moha-mmed Chaudhry, who caught the imagination of the people after forcing through a popular agitation former Chief of Staff General Pervez Musharraf to restore the supremacy of the judiciary. Since then the Supreme Court has been the custodian of the Constitution.
The outgoing Prime Minister, Gilani, a believer in the rule of law, could have saved himself by telling the Supreme Court that he would write to the Swiss authorities about Zardari’s hidden wealth. But he preferred to be a sati, a custom among the Hindus in Rajasthan where the wife burns herself along with her dead husband. I can understand a person staking everything on principles. Gilani did so not to bring Zardari to book. In Gilani’s case, the more apt word is hara-kiri (suicide). Maybe, he had political compulsions. Probably Zardari chose him because he found in him the best stalking horse available. The next Prime Minister would also have to keep quiet on Zardari’s money abroad. This is the requirement which the Pakistan President must have laid down before selecting the Prime Minister. That means that Zaradari’s confrontation with the Supreme Court will have no respite.
THE fallout of Gilani’s ouster is positive and it means that the independence of the judiciary has come to stay in Pakistan. This rectifies the earlier practice when the Chief Justices would succumb before the military’s pressure. Chief Justice Chaudhry has rightly said in his judgment: “Where will the independence of the judiciary go if the executive examines the ruling of a seven-judge Bench?”
I recall the time when the eminent lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, was offered the prime minister-ship. But he correctly said ‘no’ because he told Zardari that there could not be two parallel authorities in a country. Aitzaz has been proved correct. Zardari cannot play second fiddle, although the office of the President he occupies makes him a figure-head.
I think that Aitzaz was not justified in defending Gilani because the latter was in the wrong and had refused to write to the Swiss authorities about Zardari’s money which runs into billions of dollars and which rightly belongs to Pakistan. Aitzaz may have won on some technical point but the question was not legal but moral. Yet all marks to Gilani who knowingly took his stand which, he was well aware, would not stand the scrutiny of law.
The best course now is to have elections after Ramzan and in the meanwhile the administration should be entrusted to an interim government, an arrangement that the Pakistan Constitution provides. The PPP has been caught on the wrong foot and the Gilani episode is going to hurt the party at the next polls. Its performance too has been below par and the electorate will not forget this, more so Zardari’s money in the Swiss bank, on the polling day.
The petitions by Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan to the Supreme Court brought the govern-ment down crashing. Otherwise, Gilani would have continued as he did after April 26, when he was found guilty for disobeying the Court that amounted to contempt. Although the sentence was for one day but, as the petitioners had pleaded, a Prime Minister who had been sentenced even for day could not continue in office. The Supreme Court upheld the plea.
Yet I sympathise with Gilani and I think that statues should be built in Pakistan to remember that there are still some people who sacrifice all for loyalty. These are very rare things and they should not go unnoticed, unapplauded. Whether he should have declined to be a sati is a matter for him to decide. But there is no question of doubting his sacrifice and loyalty.
Kuldip Nayar is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read.