Friday, August 15, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Aug 16, 2014

The courts and politics The Lahore High Court (LHC) issued an order that no “unconstitutional” march or sit-in could be held by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri on the eve of Independence Day. That wording left room for Imran Khan and Qadri to argue that they would proceed with their respective marches while adhering to the constitution and remaining peaceful. The order also seemed to have a salutary effect on the government, persuading it to adopt a ‘softly, softly’ approach to the marchers. Unfortunately, the LHC forgot the well known jurisprudential principle that courts should not issue orders that cannot be implemented. The marches took off on August 14 regardless. Now some people are trying to hold Imran and Qadri in contempt of court, after the horse has bolted. The LHC also held that asking for the resignation of the Prime Minister (PM) was unconstitutional. With due respect, that does not hold water. Asking for resignations is the very stuff of democratic politics. Whether those asked to go comply or not is a separate matter. What is not constitutional however, is holding the country, government and the democratic system hostage through street power to force him to resign when the PM enjoys a clear majority in parliament. This development once again highlights the perils of the courts adjudicating political issues. This is the consequence of seeing the courts as the final arbiters of everything, a trend that set in after the judiciary was restored in 2009 as a result of Nawaz Sharif’s long march for the purpose. It was given further traction by the hyper activism of the Supreme Court under former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Unfortunately, the hangover of that mistaken belief in the power of the courts to fix everything under the sun still persists. In defence of the LHC’s order, what could at best be said was that it acted as a restraining influence on the government and the marchers. The two marches set off peacefully, albeit at a snail’s pace, from Lahore on August 14. The relief that brought did not last. An unfortunate clash between PML-N and PTI workers in Gujranwala queered the pitch again. In the wake of the clash, Imran Khan abandoned his slow moving container and decided to dash ahead to Islamabad in a bulletproof car. Some analysts were inclined to ascribe this change of travelling mode to the alarm in PTI circles that Qadri and his contingent had dashed ahead and would arrive in Islamabad ahead of Imran Khan’s cavalcade. By now it is hardly a secret that the PTI is concerned its agenda may be overtaken or trumped by Qadri’s in Islamabad. What are these respective agendas? Going by their repeated statements, Imran Khan is insisting on the resignation of the PM, the setting up of a non-political interim government, and fresh elections, thereby ostensibly rejecting all the olive branches proffered by Nawaz Sharif in recent days. Qadri, on the other hand, has just issued a radical sounding 10-point agenda that he calls the foundations of his ‘revolution’. Theoretically, Imran Khan can still be seen as having stakes in the parliamentary democratic system despite his scathing criticisms of the present setup. Qadri, on the other hand, cannot be accused of any such consideration. He wants to upset the apple cart and bring in a government leaning towards theocracy and headed by himself, presumably through the back door as he does not have any presence in parliament. It is therefore in the interests of Qadri to escalate the confrontation to a point where the establishment intervenes in the name of saving the country and paves the way for Qadri’s hoped for success. The intriguing question now is what the stance of the establishment is to the current crisis. The military has, according to reports and as expected, conveyed to the government that it will not physically intervene in the confrontation brewing in Islamabad. That understandable hands off approach to a purely political situation notwithstanding, Pakistan’s history of military intervention, overt and covert, has persuaded some conspiracy theorists that behind the scenes the establishment is preparing a new version of the ‘Kakar solution’. This refers to the manner in which General Kakar, the then COAS, intervened in the conflict between then PM Nawaz Sharif and then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1993 to send both packing. Were such a scenario to be played out, it would be terribly disappointing to those who saw the 2013 elections as a watershed moment for Pakistan in terms of a peaceful transition from one elected government to the next, thereby raising hope that democracy, fragile and uncertain as it may be, was on its way to consolidation in the country. If any extra-constitutional outcome follows the marches and sit-ins in Islamabad, it would be a grave setback to the forward march of democracy and a case of back to square one: establishment-driven imposed solutions on a country by now weary of such anti-democratic manipulation.

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