Senior journalists sharing their views on Pakistan's current issues.
Amber Rahim Shamsi
Journalist and television show host
Among the many oft-repeated political statements the one that rang particularly hollow this year was: the parliament is supreme. The parliament certainly had one big moment during the joint parliamentary session on Kashmir in August when political leaders across the spectrum got to make fiery speeches and pass a resolution. Beyond that, the parliament has increasingly appeared to be the lame duck vis a vis the Executive and the judiciary.
For most of the year, the once-powerful Public Accounts Committee – led by the opposition leader, Shehbaz Sharif, after much wrangling over his appointment – remained idle. A new chairman was finally announced in November. The main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has remained evasive on why. Meanwhile, the government chose to privilege Executive authority over parliamentary debate when it tried to move nine ordinances in one day. The prime minister’s promise to be available for a Prime Minister’s Question Hour every fortnight has been all but forgotten.
With parliament hobbled by acrimony between Treasury and Opposition, and the Judiciary in a correction mode after the brash former chief justice Saqib Nisar, the Executive remained ascendant. It took one judgment to challenge that hegemony. By ordering the parliament to legislate on the army chief’s extension, the Supreme Court not just handed a measure of power back to the parliament but in a sense, directly confronted the Executive. It’s important to bear in mind that the Executive, according to the “one-page” mantra, includes the military bureaucracy.
Following the verdict against former dictator General Pervez Musharraf in the high treason case, the Judiciary is seen re-asserting itself. The year began with the then chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa calling for an intra-institutional dialogue to frame a charter of governance. It found no takers. And so, the year ends with inter-institutional friction and conflict.
Pakistan has been unfortunate. It is taking us so long to implement what’s already in our statute books. The recent spat between the Judiciary and the Executive over the death sentence awarded to former dictator General Pervez Musharraf has been typical. It showed that our state institutions still need to work on accommodation and respect for one another’s role. Potential impressions and popular perceptions are apparently more important to them than the actual good of citizens. Just as Prime Minister Imran Khan asked for more independence and assertiveness on the part of superior courts there was outrage at their stepping on other important institutional toes. The judgment was sadly taken as an assault on character and prestige. We were told that in Musharraf’s instance it was an “open and shut case”. It was, certainly the first such case and may be not even the last. Some say, the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had to pay the price for forcing 43 senior military officers, including two generals, into retirement to cleanse the armed forces of Bonapartism – a term he used to describe the eagerness among some generals to overthrow elected governments.
As a people, we need to decide whether we want the rule of law to be subject to upholding the prestige of certain offices. In a less than ideal world, there will always be hard decisions affecting one or the other institution. Our institutions should acknowledge that powers need to be shared reasonably, and exercised justifiably. If this does not become the norm, we may continue to be an unstable country. Professor Farrukh A Khan wrote, back in 2012, that “failed institutions are [those] unable to correct the problems faced by the society, and eventually lead to economic failure…If our leaders are sincere for change in Pakistan then they have to first get the institutions working again. But do they know how to, and do they have the will to do it?”
Journalist and author
Given the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government’s increasing reliance on the military, it is not surprising to see the security establishment becoming more dominant. Perhaps, continuity of the military command gives the government a sense of security. It is quite apparent that the army chief is now a part of the ruling diarchy.
A second term for the army chief is likely to tilt the balance of power further towards the establishment. The country does indeed require close cooperation between the civilian government and the military leadership. However, that should be more institutional than based on personal relationships.
The latest court ruling on the extension of the army chief could not have come at a worse time for a government that is in the midst of a serious political crisis. A major concern is that the government is looking for a confrontation with the Judiciary on the issue.
When extensions are seen to be part of political power games, then it also affects the military’s professionalism. A timely transition of the military command strengthens the institution and enhances its professionalism. General Bajwa’s being dragged into a court case and political controversy did raise the question of whether or not he should continue in the post.