By Mohammad Aslam
When you have a constitution not worth the paper it’s written on, seeking exemplary justice from a nation’s Apex Court is nothing but a farce.
Musharraf Musharraf Musharraf! These days, not a day goes by where mention of the former military ruler, his possible trial or arrest, fails to appear on any Pakistani news syndicate. But just where exactly is it all going?
It goes back to March 2009. The re-instatement of the country’s deposed Judges, and their chief, after arbitrary dismissal months earlier by the outgoing military ruler; was supposed to usher in the birth pangs for an era of equal justice and accountability. After all, the country’s deposed Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry, a Musharraf appointee, had bespoken at Bar Associations across the country on the need for a rule of law.
The rational mind, of course, would have duly liked to take Justice Chaudhry back to the events of 1999/2000 when he himself took oath under a Provisional Constitutional Order which in turn endorsed General Musharrafs coup under the infamous ‘Doctrine of Necessity’.
My Lord, in good time, would of course remind everyone that this action was subsequently validated by Parliament and therefore need not be subject to further scrutiny. If only that was convincing.
And so it began with a written fifty-five page judgement from a five member bench of the Supreme Court hearing the appeal of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the 1999 plane hijacking (which resulted in the military coup). They did the expected and set aside the judgement and acquitted him of all concerned convictions.
Next the stage was to hear the validation for his November 2007 emergency law actions – which resulted in the incarceration and dismissal of most of the superior court judges. The court, unquestionably stuffed with partisan judges who were nearly all affected by Musharrafs extra-constitutional measures, were tasked amongst other things to undo these actions. The supposedly clean and free Justice of the Lahore high court, Khawaja Mohammed Sharif stated that Musharraf be “punished” for his unconstitutional steps. If fairness and neutrality are the order of the day; it beggars belief how an honourable court can make judgements on actions which also entail their own dismissal.
Can one really act as a judge in his own cause? Can a rape victim really try the rapist?
It was Article 6 of the constitution which was being thrown around by revenge-stricken media outlets and anchorman, Lawyers and of course anti-Musharraf politicians. But there was one problem: The article also calls for ‘any person aiding or abetting the acts mentioned in clause 1 shall likewise be guilty of high treason’. This was the catch, because in the process of hounding Mr Musharraf, it also laid the ground for those whom endorse constitutional violations to also be put in the dock, and so the judges that endorsed him in the past should have also been held to task, which includes none other than Justice Chaudhry himself.
Finally, the decision came and Musharraf’s actions were deemed Illegal and unconstitutional. The bench declared that though it could rule on the constitutionality of his actions ‘only Parliament’ can initiate proceedings against him. It was typical of the Chaudry-led Supreme Court. Fearful of provoking a clash with the Army, the countries main power broker, they passed over the baton and left it to the Parliament to squabble over the future course of action.
More than two years passed, and after hearing anything and everything from complainants, they settled for the surreal idea of him being charged with conspiracy to commit the murder of former Premier Benazir Bhutto. A summons was sent to his homes in Pakistan and London, where he currently resides, but it came to no avail when the former General refused to even entertain the idea of his involvement in the murder. It fell on deaf ears.
Undeterred, the former General vowed to return home in time for the next elections. He has set up a new political party, and unfortunately for his detractors – extradition requests beforehand have failed to register as Pakistan and the UK have no such treaty. The desperate Anti-Terrorism Court is now pondering the highly unlikely step, of grounding his immovable assets in the country as a reaction to his refusal serve the courts notices and present himself before them. They eventually declared him an absconder.
The era of a ‘rule of law’ has yet to convict any mainstream Judge, General, Police Officer, Bureaucrat or Minister – with the exception of one. If every society gets the type of criminal it deserves, perhaps every society also gets the type of constitution it can’t preserve.
The writer is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the department of Middle-East & Mediterranean Studies, King’s College London.