Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Nov 28, 2017

IHC on military’s role After the controversial agreement arrived at between the government and the Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasul Allah (TLYRA) to bring and end to the sit-in in Islamabad and the rest of the country, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) summoned Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal to appear within 15 minutes. The quick summons was a portent of things to come. Justice Siddiqui took umbrage at the agreement, particularly the role of the military in acting as a ‘mediator’ to seal the deal. He was also furious at the minister for ceding civilian supremacy. Both the government and the military were on the receiving end of a thorough dressing down from the bench. Justice Siddiqui’s ire was directed not only at the terms of the agreement, which had rubbed out the difference between the law breakers and law enforcers, he asked how the army could act as a ‘mediator’ between the government and an organisation responsible for terrorist acts. He went on to say that the deal confirmed the widely-held impression of who was behind the sit-in. He then ordered the district administration, the Intelligence Bureau and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Barrister Zafarullah Khan to submit separate reports on the whole episode from beginning to end by November 30 and deferred the hearing to December 4. Justice Siddiqui had also directed the Attorney General to help the court on the issue of how the armed forces could act as an arbitrator in the matter. He found it most alarming that Major General Faiz Hameed of the ISI had signed the agreement as one through whom the deal was arrived at. He described as very strange the acknowledgment of the special efforts of COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa and his team in brokering the agreement. Justice Siddiqui clearly enunciated this role of the military as contrary to the constitution and law. He ‘advised’ military officers interested in politics to first shed their uniform and only then indulge in politics. He showed his annoyance at the fact that despite highly abusive and filthy language used against the honourable judges of the Supreme Court, no apology had been sought from TLYRA. Having delivered his remarks reflecting outrage and delivering a written order on the lines described above, Justice Siddiqui declared that he may be assassinated or join the ranks of missing persons, but could not shrink from stating the truth. He argued that there were no longer any followers of Justice Munir in today’s courts (a reference to the authorship of the doctrine of necessity in our early history). Justice Siddiqui expressed his astonishment at the clause in the agreement that the federal and Punjab government would compensate the damage to state and private property inflicted by the TLYRA. Even for Justice Siddiqui, whose plain speaking in court is by now well established, the outburst was extraordinary. It targeted the government for its incompetence in handling the sit-in but even more the military for its perceived extra-constitutional role in the affair. It should be borne in mind that Justice Siddiqui, soon after the sit-in started, had ordered the Faizabad Interchange cleared of the protestors and on the failure of the government to comply since it was still bending its back to arrive at a negotiated settlement of the problem through the good offices of religious leaders and scholars, issued contempt notices to the Islamabad administration and police. The good justice was dismissive of the authorities’ attempted explanation that the matter was complicated and had religious connotations, always of course a potentially inflammatory factor. While all that Justice Siddiqui declared and wrote then and now is correct according to the letter and spirit of the constitution and law, it was the intemperate manner in which the message was delivered that raised eyebrows. Perhaps this was a reflection of the bench’s frustration at the manner in which the issue had been handled and its eventual outcome. However, this does not justify the rush of blood that seems to have informed Justice Siddiqui’s views and the manner in which they were delivered. While appreciating Justice Siddiqui’s candour and courage, we need to remind ourselves of the need for judges, particularly of the higher judiciary, to examine even the most fraught matters coolly and in a considered manner, no matter how severe the provocation.

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