Myth of judicial independence

Weekly Bang-e-Sahar Saturday, June 7—-June 13, 2008

By S.G. Jilanee
“To talk about independence is a cruel joke on the people of Pakistan. Its rulers have reduced the country to the lowest form of slavery.”- Zia Sarhadi, Muslimedia.PAKISTAN pawned away its independence to the United States just about a fortnight after it became ‘independent’. The move was purely voluntary like Faust going to Mephistopheles to ask his favours. Curiously, instead of the foreign minister or the defence minister, it was the then finance minister, Ghulam Mohammad, who met the US charge d’affaires in Karachi in Sept 1947 and asked for military assistance. According to the latter’s signal to the secretary of state, George Marshall, the next day, Ghulam Mohammad spun a lot of rigmarole such as that the onus was on Pakistan now to defend India against an expected Soviet onslaught! Since then, Pakistan has slid ever deeper into the bottomless pit of dependence. The inventory is very well known. Cento, Seato, Badaber, the claim of being the ‘most allied ally’, fighting a proxy war against the USSR, earning the remark “I’m sure the people over there will turn in their mothers for $20,000, let alone two million dollars” from Aimal Kasi’s prosecutor Robert Horan, and the dog cartoon in the Washington Times complimenting the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and other American preys are just a few examples of Pakistan’s voluntary surrender of its independence. Where is sovereignty when US drones and even ground troops ravage the sanctity of our soil every other day? Where is independence when even Pakistan’s domestic policy has to be tailored to US wishes, although following its dictates has led to a civil war-like situation in part of the country? Pakistani troops are pitted against their own brethren. Their deaths in America’s phony war on terror have been second in number only to America’s. Yet Pakistan does not enjoy the second place of honour which, instead, goes to its Anglo-Saxon cousin, Britain. The poodle is coddled; the Rottweiler, who actually delivers, is kicked. The US agrees that economic development in the tribal areas is essential to wean terrorists away from crime. It is also axiomatic that peace is a pre-requisite for any economic uplift. Yet, when the new government, elected with massive popular mandate, decided to engage with the militants in order to restore peace, America got jittery, saying it was ‘concerned’. To sabotage peace negotiations, the US even carried out a missile attack on Pakistani territory last month. Ambassador Anne Patterson flutters frenetically between Zardari and Sharif; kibitzing, admonishing, advising Gen Petraeus, who is to take over the Centcom command shortly, the other day “endorsed a US intelligence assessment that the next 9/11-type attack on US soil would come from Al Qaeda bases in Pakistan’s tribal region…” at a Senate Armed Committee briefing. And Daniel Markey, a former US State Department specialist on South Asia, gloated in an interview about the current negotiations between the Pakistan government and militants: “One of the differences is that this time the Pakistani army has really moved into the area in force and enforced an economic blockade against Mehsud tribes before starting negotiations,” adding, “It has inflicted various punishments on some of the tribal villages to demonstrate that the army, in fact, has the upper hand.” Americans may write the most outrageous things against President Bush. The Canadians may call them names. Yet, when Dr Shireen Mazari wrote a couple of articles critical of Uncle Sam she was abruptly removed from her office as director of strategic studies at one quiet signal from the latter. What is true of the country is also true of its judiciary. Therefore, when deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said the other day while addressing Karachi lawyers, “We would not have seen this day had our judiciary not supported unconstitutional steps taken by dictatorial regimes in the Zafar Ali Shah case and on other occasions,” he was stating the obvious. The rot started with Chief Justice Munir, when he validated Ghulam Mohammad’s arbitrary dismissal of Khwaja Nazimuddin. It was a case of voluntary abdication of judicial independence, because, GM was not a military dictator. Nor was there any evidence that he had exercised pressure on the chief justice. These examples are proof simplicitur that independence is a state of mind. Iftikhar Chaudhry exercised it. Others abdicated or willingly compromised it. Although they legitimised coups etc., they could have taken action in other fields to protect national interests and give relief to the helpless like Mr Chaudhry did. Seen in this context, the ongoing agitation about an ‘independent judiciary’ would appear totally misleading. That Mr Chaudhry’s reinstatement deserves unqualified support is, of course, beyond question, because his removal was a case of blatant abuse of authority by Gen Musharraf. But to treat it as synonymous with judicial independence is sheer hokum and a cruel joke. Mr Chaudhry may be an exemplar of judicial independence. But, first, the attitude is personal to him. There is no guarantee that all judges would henceforward cast themselves into his mould. History is witness that not even the greatest leaders, prophets included – have been followed literally by their disciples. Second, Mr Chaudhry’s display of ‘independence’ has been Musharraf-specific. The big question is, will he, (indeed, can he) demonstrate the same ‘independence’ vis-à-vis Nawaz Sharif, who has staked his political power to resurrect him and who can send ruffians to chase a too-independent chief justice out of office? The plain truth, therefore, is that the current agitation is actually not so much for ‘judicial independence’ as it is a vent for the seething anger against Musharraf. It is a fig leaf for vendetta. And it is not Nawaz Sharif only who is obsessed with settling scores. There are others as well, equally aggrieved. Even the media is after him, tooth and claw, to avenge the draconian restrictions he imposed on its freedom on Nov 3.—Dawn

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