Pakistan’s ruinous political farce

By M Ilyas Khan

The political pantomime played out in Pakistan over the past few years is degenerating into farce.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court terminated the career of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani – disqualifying him from office on the basis of a contempt of court conviction linked to his refusal to reopen corruption cases against President Zardari.

Two days later, a lower court issued a warrant for the arrest of Makhdoom Shahabuddin, a member of Mr Gilani’s party, just hours after he was nominated as his possible successor. Uncanny timing, some might say.

Late on Thursday night Mr Shahabuddin was still closeted with senior colleagues at the president’s house – but whether he will be a free man come morning remains to be seen.

Many in Pakistan see these developments as signs that the skirmishes between the judiciary, the military and the civilian government are now erupting into all-out war.

This is all happening at a time when the country can least afford it – relations with the West are at an all-time low, the economy is heading for disaster and people are battling severe power and fuel shortages.

To compound matters, nuclear-armed Pakistan – which is known to have promoted armed militant groups over the past two decades – has steadily been losing territory to these groups in recent years. That’s a major issue for its neighbours and the wider world.

But instead of dealing with the big problems, Pakistan’s power elite have other fish to fry.

Military role

A major part of the problem lies in the traditional domination of the military in Pakistan, and the fact that the judiciary has supported successive attempts by the generals to cut the politicians down to size.

The civilians have rarely held the reins of power, and when they have, they have always had the military establishment to contend with.

Accusations of corruption are a time-tested tool to beat the civilians with, and corruption cases lodged against them during the country’s 64-year history literally run into the hundreds. Few of those cases have ever been resolved.

But they have been successfully used to bring every single civilian government down well before the end of its constitutional five-year term.

The present administration is the longest-serving civilian government Pakistan has ever had – it is just over six months short of reaching the finish line.

If it does, it will set a new precedent – and this is an unsavoury proposition for the establishment for two reasons.

First, prolonged civilian rule is likely to permanently dent the political influence of the military, and thereby the massive business and real estate empires it has acquired.

Second, while Pakistan’s military and civil bureaucracy are dominated by Punjab province, the country’s largest vote-bank, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party has its roots in the southern province of Sindh, the country’s main source of revenue and home to a distinct linguistic group that detests Punjab’s domination. So while the establishment is generally sceptical of politicians, it has been almost intolerant towards the PPP.

Judicial activism

The military is widely accused by Western powers of playing a double game in Afghanistan and lost credit in the eyes of many Pakistanis when US forces killed Osama Bin Laden in a secret raid on Pakistan’s soil.

But its diminishing ability to openly control Pakistan’s politicians has been more than offset by what some analysts describe as the judiciary’s increased ability to encroach on the administrative sphere.

This has led to a number of fierce battles between state institutions in recent years which are a distraction from the main challenges.

Since 2009, when judges sacked by the Musharraf regime were reinstated by the present government, they have shown an appetite for pursuing long-standing corruption cases against President Zardari.

Mr Zardari spent eight years in jail because of them, without being convicted in a single case.

That led to the Supreme Court’s dogged pursuit of Prime Minister Gilani and his conviction in April.

The Supreme Court also responded with alacrity late last year in investigating a controversial memo which invited the US to help avert a possible coup in Pakistan after Bin Laden’s death.

The “memogate” affair had the potential to drag in President Zardari but has led only to the dismissal of Pakistan’s then ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani. Top military leaders showed a keen interest in the case and participated in initial hearings, but gradually pulled out when questions were raised over their own political role.

Most recently, the country was stunned to find its bulwark against corruption – Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry himself – implicated in allegations of bribe-taking levelled against his son. They both deny any wrongdoing and an investigation has been ordered.

Continue reading Pakistan’s ruinous political farce

Tehrik-e-Insaaf Lahore chapter faces internal rift

By Qamar Jabbar

LAHORE: The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) Lahore chapter is facing an internal rift after its reorganisation last month, sources told Daily Times on Sunday.

Malik Muhammad Usman, the PTI president in Punjab, has asked the party chairman, Imran Khan, to call a workers’ convention after Eid to reconcile the annoyed workers, sources said.

The PTI wants to participate in the local government and general elections, but internal rifts were affecting the reorganisation process, they said.

According to party sources, the party had been divided into three groups in the city namely “progressive group” of Ahmed Ali Butt, “ incidental group” of Shadaab Jafri and “old workers group” of Amin Zaki. There had been a tug-of-war between the groups since 1998, but now had surfaced again when Mr Khan directed the Lahore leadership to prepare for the polls, sources said. ….

Read more » Daily Times

CMKP Rejects Judicial Coup in Pakistan

In his statement Dr. Taimur Rahman, General Secretary of the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party Pakistan (CMKP) opposes the recent judicial coup against the elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. This decision by the SC, which is completely outside of the power of the Supreme Court, is simply one more coup in a series of coups that have been organized time and time again in the history of Pakistan against elected governments. These successive coups have destroyed the democratic process in Pakistan, destroyed any chance of the development of a mature political leadership. And finally contribute to nothing except to further fragment politics along reactionary right wing lines.

We would have been the first to support a change in government if it was the product of a mass movement of workers and peasants fighting for their rights. But nothing of the sort is taking place. In fact, the elected government and the right wing judiciary have been trading punches only within the framework of their own narrow class interests for the last four years.

When little over a week ago the moral authority of the judiciary was questioned in a fundamental manner over serious charges of corruption, the judiciary decided to act immediately before its own corruption was completely exposed to the public. Today all those allegations of corruption of the judiciary have been buried in an avalanche of right wing propaganda hailing the decision of the Supreme Court as a great step against corruption. Nothing of the sort has been achieved. In fact, a new PM will be elected very soon. The same case of writing a letter to the Swiss authorities to open cases against the President will be opened against the new Prime Minister. And the musical chairs will continue.

Continue reading CMKP Rejects Judicial Coup in Pakistan

Pakistan courts order arrest of new prime minister nominee

Having already ousted one prime minister this week, Pakistan’s courts on Thursday sabotaged the appointment of a replacement by ordering the arrest of the man nominated to take up the job.

By Rob Crilly, Islamabad

The extraordinary move deepens the sense of political crisis in a country already reeling from an Islamist insurgency, economic woes and crippling power shortages.

Mahkdoom Shahabuddin, who most recently served as Textiles Minister, was due to be voted into office by parliament on Friday, replacing Yousuf Raza Gilani who was disqualified by the Supreme Court earlier this week.

Mr Shahabuddin was selected by President Asif Ali Zardari after two days of talks as the man best able to keep his coalition government alive until elections due early next year.

But no sooner had his name been announced than an arrest warrant was issued for his alleged role in a corruption scandal involving controlled drugs.

Fawad Chaudhry, a senior figure in Mr Zardari’s Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP), said the arrest warrant was the latest attempt by unelected judges to bring down the government.

“This has been going on for one and a half years,” he said. “If they really believe he is involved why have they waited until today to issue an arrest warrant?”

Party leaders were meeting on Thursday night to select an alternative candidate. Qamar Zaman Kaira and Raja Parvez Ashraf, both former ministers in Mr Gilani’s cabinet, filed nomination papers for the post ahead of Friday’s parliamentary vote.

Pakistan’s civilian government, military and judiciary are locked in a three-way tussle for supremacy.

Continue reading Pakistan courts order arrest of new prime minister nominee

Pakistani Supreme Court has gone overboard – says Justice Markandey Katju (Supreme Court of India)

It has no right to dismiss a Prime Minister or overrule the constitutional immunity given to the President

By: Markandey Katju

When I was I was a student of law at Allahabad University, I had read of the British Constitutional principle ‘The King can do no wrong’. At that time I did not understand the significance of this principle and what it really meant. It was much later, when I was in law practice in the Allahabad High Court, that I understood its real significance.

The British were experienced and able administrators. They realized from their own long, historical experience that while everybody should be legally liable for his wrongs and made to face court proceedings for the same, the person at the apex of the whole constitutional system must be given total immunity from criminal proceedings, otherwise the system could not function. Hence the King of England must be given total immunity from criminal proceedings. Even if he commits murder, dacoity, theft, or some other crime, the King cannot be dragged to court and made to face a trial.

One may ask why should the King be given this immunity when others are not? The answer is that in the practical world one does not deal with absolutes. The British were one of the most far sighted administrators the world has known. They realized that if the King is made to stand on the witness box or sent to jail, the system could not function. A stage is reached at the highest level of the system where total immunity to the person at the top has to be granted. This is the only practical view.

Following this principle in British constitutional law, almost every Constitution in the world has incorporated a provision giving total immunity to Presidents and Governors from criminal prosecution.

Thus, Section 248(2) of the Pakistani Constitution states:

“No criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted or continued against the President or Governor in any Court during his term of office.”

The language of the above provision is clear, and it is a settled principle of interpretation that when the language of a provision is clear the court should not twist or amend its language in the garb of interpretation, but read it as it is.

I therefore fail to understand how proceedings on corruption charges (which are clearly of a criminal nature) can be instituted or continued against the Pakistani President.

Moreover, how can the court remove a Prime Minister? This is unheard of in a democracy. The Prime Minister holds office as long he has the confidence of Parliament, not the confidence of the Supreme Court.

I regret to say that the Pakistani Supreme Court, particularly its Chief Justice, has been showing utter lack of restraint. This is not expected of superior courts. In fact the court and its Chief Justice have been playing to the galleries for long. It has clearly gone overboard and flouted all canons of constitutional jurisprudence.

The Constitution establishes a delicate balance of power, and each of the three organs of the state — the legislature, the executive and the judiciary – must respect each other and not encroach into each other’s domain, otherwise the system cannot function. It seems to me that the Pakistani Supreme Court has lost its balance and gone berserk. If it does not now come to its senses I am afraid the day is not far off when the Constitution will collapse, and the blame will squarely lie with the court, and particularly its Chief Justice.

Continue reading Pakistani Supreme Court has gone overboard – says Justice Markandey Katju (Supreme Court of India)

New York Times – Pakistan Court Orders Arrest of Presidential Ally

By DECLAN WALSH

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The high-stakes battle between Pakistan’s judiciary and government took a fresh twist on Thursday when a court issued an arrest warrant for a close ally of President Asif Ali Zardari, effectively blocking his nomination as the country’s next prime minister.

Mr. Zardari wanted Makhdoom Shahabuddin, a former health minister from Punjab Province, to replace Yousaf Raza Gilani, who was dismissed as prime minister by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

But hours after Mr. Shahabuddin’s nomination, a magistrates court, prompted by the military-run Anti-Narcotics Force, ordered his arrest to face charges relating to the illegal production of a controlled drug two years ago.

The court also issued an arrest warrant for Ali Musa Gilani, a son of the outgoing prime minister, in relation to the same case.

The ruling party Pakistan Peoples Party quickly nominated a new candidate, former information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, who now looks likely to become the prime minister after a vote in parliament on Friday.

The dramatic court manoeuver highlights the growing difficulty of separating law from politics in the country’s rapidly evolving machinations of power.

Mr. Zardari’s supporters, and some analysts, say judiciary is using its widening powers to erode the authority of the government and ultimately push it from power. “Absolutely no subtlety anymore in going after the govt. Amazing,” wrote Nadeem F. Paracha, a newspaper columnist, on Twitter.

Continue reading New York Times – Pakistan Court Orders Arrest of Presidential Ally