American organization Committee for Democracy and Justice in Pakistan says that American security depends on aiding Pakistan today. The column appears in the newspaper, “The Hill” and offers a refreshingly sophisticated look at the NRO crisis from abroad.
First, the Pakistani Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Ifitkhar Chaudry, issued its full opinion (originally announced last December) declaring the Pakistani “National Reconciliation Ordinance” unconstitutional. The NRO, which was decreed in October 2007, granted amnesty to over 8,000 individuals of all political parties who had been accused of corruption under politicized circumstances. The decree was negotiated with the assistance of the United States to assist Pakistan in making the transition from a military dictatorship to democratic elections.
But the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the NRO also upheld a controversial article of Pakistan’s constitution, much to the dismay of some of the brave lawyers who took to the streets to defend the court’s judicial independence and integrity last year. Article 62 was conceived in 1985 by General Zia-ul-Haq and declares that members of parliament (which includes the currently elected president, Asif Ali Zardari, and all ministers of the Cabinet) are disqualified from serving if they are not of “good character,” if they violate “Islamic injunctions,” do not practice “teachings and practices, obligatory duties prescribed by Islam,” and if they are not “sagacious, righteous and non-profligate.” Non-Muslims must have “a good moral reputation.”
Relying in any way on such entirely subjective and political standards, such as “Islamic injunctions” and “good moral reputation,” increases polarization in the country and brings into question the political independence of the Pakistani Supreme Court, which those lawyers bravely defended on the streets as critical to the rule of law.
Indeed, some leaders of the Lawyers Movement, such as Asma Jahangir, spoke of the danger to civilian rule this decision represents and the imbalance in power among democratic institutions that the judges have created for themselves. “If parliamentarians, who also go through the rigorous test of contesting elections in the public domain, are to be subjected to such exacting moral standards then the scrutiny of judges should be higher still,” Jahangir said.
The author ultimately calls on her government to support Democracy in Pakistan, which is a refreshing perspective from abroad. Too often in the past, the Americans have been supportive of military dictators who they thought would provide some stability and special relationship for US interests. This time, it seems that the author is putting Pakistan first.
Could it be that the Americans have finally learned that the only way for Pakistan to have real stability is for there to be democracy in Pakistan? It would appear to be so. Hopefully President Barack Obama will listen to this Committee for Democracy and Justice in Pakistan and stand in support of a free, independent, and democratic Pakistan.