The supremacy of law?
By Mushfiq Murshed
The March 2009 political upheaval initially suggested that, for Pakistan, the intrigue, agitations and riots that dominated the spring of 2007 would pale in comparison to what was expected this year. The disqualification of the Sharif brothers and imposition of Governor's Rule in Punjab again highlighted the primary issue confronting democracy in Pakistan which is the dominance of personalities as opposed to systems and institutions.The core issue behind the Zardari-Sharif clash has been the reinstatement of the judges deposed on November 3, 2007. It should have been apparent that the fate of the judges would be in no better hands under the present government. This struggle was far more relevant than the destiny of a few judges. It was the struggle for the supremacy of the rule of law in the country. The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), under which many of the key players of the present government were brought into power, is the most blatant contradiction to the struggle for the supremacy of law. The recent street agitation that forced the government to reinstate the judges
was, therefore, inevitable.
The NRO was touted as a replication of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Other countries have also experimented with such a concept. The one set-up by Nelson Mandela in post-apartheid South Africa is considered as a model for such endeavours. Informed analysts are, however, able to fathom the actual purport of these seemingly benevolent ventures. They are inclined to believe that the actual beneficiaries are the corrupt and powerful elements of society.The stated objective of such endeavours is to provide an opportunity for miscreants to repent and confess, thereby, giving others a chance to learn and understand the cause and effect of such actions. However, the recipients of clemency in Pakistan are a stratum of society that has always considered itself above the law and claims the NRO as a form of vindication and political victory.
What is even more exasperating is that this form of indemnification is not restricted to the white collar crimes of the elite. Militants are also the beneficiaries of similar initiatives designed to absolve them of their crimes.
Pakistan has been the primary victim of terror. The Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies has reported that in 2008 alone the country has witnessed approximately 8000 casualties from 2600 terrorist attacks out of which 63 were suicide bombings. The world has become accustomed to the frequency of such incidents and almost indifferent to the misery of the Pakistani people. However, the March 3 terrorist attack in Lahore that targeted the Sri Lankan cricket team, once again, highlighted the gravity of the situation, bringing Pakistan back into global headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Yet the Government continues to adopt a weak-kneed approach of negotiations and reconciliation. A case in point being the recent agreement between the NWFP Government and the leader of the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM), Maulana Sufi Muhammad which has virtually handed over the writ of the state in Swat to a group of clerics whose claim to fame has been vandalism and oppression under the guise of their skewed interpretation of religion. The two main beneficiaries of reconciliation have, therefore, been the political elite that have taken Pakistan to the brink of bankruptcy on more than one occasion in order to fill their personal coffers and the militants that have ruthlessly spread terror through indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians throughout the country.
Although one group is secular and the other extremist, the two have more in common than meets the eye. Both have complete disregard for the rule of law; both consider the writ of the state as a mere inconvenience in the pursuit of their personal agendas; and both consider any form of reconciliation as a form of vindication and victory of their ways of life.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is expected to resume his duties on 21 March 2009. Hyperboles abound as his reinstatement is considered by many as the triumph of the rule of law. Once again, the people of Pakistan are placing their hopes on personalities as opposed to relying on a sound judicial system. No one doubts the determination and resilience of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to withstand the threats and pressures imposed on him for the past two years. Yet, he alone will not be able to cope with the formidable opponents of the supremacy of law. He will continue to need the support of civil society in order to overhaul a judicial system that benefits a few privileged elite. It is too early to sit back and rest on our laurels. A battle has been won but the war for the supremacy of the rule of law in Pakistan must continue.
The writer is the editor-in-chief of Criterion Quarterly
E-mail: [email protected]
Wednesday, March 18, 2009