|Pak has had enough of cantonment democracy|
|By Kuldip Nayar|
Suppressed societies require only a pinprick to give vent to pent-up feelings. It seems as if Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s suspension has provided that outlet to Pakistan. By sending him on forced leave the government may have overcome some technicalities, but the basic fact remains unchanged: that it has attacked the judiciary.
President Pervez Musharraf has admitted that Justice Chaudhry was maltreated. Mrs Indira Gandhi also admitted that imposing the emergency was a mistake, yet the voters defeated her at the polls. President Musharraf says that he will not impose any emergency or postpone the elections which are due towards the end of this year. People will praise his words. But free and fair elections are not possible in Pakistan as long as the military is at the helm of affairs. The polls will have credibility only if they are held under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court. It is argued by some in Pakistan that lawyers cannot agitate for long since they have to return to practice to earn their livelihood. This is probably true. But the stir is beginning to take a different shape. Political parties are already associating themselves with the lawyers. Despite Musharraf’s warnings, the agitation is acquiring a political edge.
I picked up the thread on the suspension of Justice Chaudhry in Lahore on the day when the lawyers from all over Pakistan had assembled to take out a procession from the high court to the Punjab Assembly, a distance of one kilometre. Theirs was a protest against the onslaught on the judiciary. But the government’s response was a display of authority. Hundreds of policemen practically took over the high court building and the places surrounding it. Traffic in the vicinity was stopped. Lawyers were baton-charged and tear-gassed so as to confine them to the premises of the high court. Many lawyers were hurt, some badly, and numerous had their black coats torn. It was mayhem all around, and several lawyers ended up in hospital. Pakistan’s Supreme Court was so horrified that it took suo moto notice of the lawyers’ manhandling. The legal fraternity all over the country wore black badges.
When the top police brass at Islamabad had been arraigned before the court for mishandling Justice Chaudhry, the use of brutal force by their counterparts in Lahore made it seem like the police had been told to go after the lawyers. Some media hands were also thrashed. I think that the word "mishandling" does not convey what really happened. It was not maltreatment or something done unwittingly. It seemed deliberate, meant to be excessive, and designed to teach a lesson. In both cases, the message was loud and clear: How dare you?
President General Pervez Musharraf did well to clarify that Justice Chaudhry was not summoned, as was the general impression. He was there because he wanted to meet President Musharraf. Yet the fact is that the latter met the Chief Justice at the Army House and that too in uniform to flaunt authority. The Chief Justice was reportedly made to wait for five hours and then told about his suspension. It is another matter that Justice Chaudhry stood his ground and refused to step down.
The history of Pakistan would have been different if an Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had been heading the Supreme Court when the military took over the country for the first time in October 1958. General Mohammed Ayub, Chief of Army Staff, staged a coup to oust the civil government. The then Chief Justice, Mohammed Munir, otherwise brilliant, lacked the courage to stand up to Ayub. He invented the "doctrine of necessity" to give legitimacy to the military takeover.
Chief Justice Anwar-ul Haq followed Munir’s example to invoke the same "doctrine of necessity" to legalise General Zia-ul Haq’s coup to replace Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Arshad Husain was the Chief Justice when Gen. Musharraf threw out the then elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The two-time precedent was followed once again. So Justice Chaudhry looked tall when he did not relent. Whatever his limitations, he has become a focal point.
His troubles appear to have begun when he is said to have observed, in reply to a question, that combining the offices of the President and the Chief of Army Staff was a controversial point. Gen. Musharraf, wanting another term to sustain the status quo, could not have been happy about Justice Chaudhry’s answer. That the Chief Justice refused to use an official car is commendably repeated in Pakistan. After a brief encounter at the Army House he walked to the Supreme Court. This was when the police roughed him up. Correctly, the acting Chief Justice took note of the police behaviour. Yet it was difficult to believe that the police could have behaved the way it did without the government’s connivance.
Eyes are now fixed on the Supreme Court’s decision on the filing of the presidential reference against Justice Chaudhry. Something similar had sparked defiance against Prime Minister Indira Gandhi when she superseded three judges in 1973 to elevate A.N. Ray, her own choice, to the office of Chief Justice. This was the beginning of her downfall. She tried to shore up her image and silence her critics by imposing the emergency in 1975. Two years later, when she held the elections, she, her son Sanjay Gandhi, who exercised extra-Constitutional authority, and her Congress party were wiped out from northern India. The resentment I witnessed in Lahore makes me believe that Gen. Musharraf has committed a similar mistake. Justice Chaudhry’s suspension has brought the forces opposed to the military rule together. Civil society in India had caved in during the emergency, while the intelligentsia, led by the lawyers, has dug in against President Musharraf’s rule. Lawyers even at the tehsil level are up in arms.
It is rumoured that Benazir Bhutto, chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party, may return to her country any day. She said at a recent conclave in Delhi last week that she would be back in Pakistan before long. Her presence in Pakistan, even in prison, will stoke the fires already burning. Nawaz Sharif, who reportedly met Benazir in London recently, would also like to return. But the government, as announced earlier, is determined to put him on a special plane and send him out.
It is difficult to say what turn events will take in Pakistan. Even if Benazir Bhutto does not return or the lawyers’ agitation peters out, one thing that can be said with certainty is that Pakistan will not go back to the same old days of cantonment democracy. I could see a change in the body language of lawyers, political leaders and members of the intelligentsia. Even religious parties are veering round to the viewpoint that a democratic set-up is a better alternative to a theocratic state, especially when it is elusive and well-nigh to establish.