Silent Successes

After doomsday predictions ranging from a war between the judiciary and the executive to the downfall of the republic itself, Daily Times reminds us that as usual the complaints of the chattering class about the section of the 18th Amendment that established the process for appointing of superior judges was much ado about nothing.

Contrary to perceptions of a confrontation between parliament and the judiciary created during the court hearings on the 18th Amendment, the new system has started off smoothly, with the unanimous election of Senator Syed Nayyar Hussain Bokhari as chairman of the parliamentary committee and establishment of its rules of business. One can be sanguine that the procedure of broader consultation and more transparent mode of appointment of judges can work with necessary improvements.

Perhaps this is something that we should keep in mind as the same voices are raising the same dire pronouncements for the passage of RGST. Perhaps we should also ask ourselves why it is that we are so quick to loudly pronounce new laws a failure before they’re even implemented, and so silent when we discover that they are actually a success.

Supreme Court’s 18th Amendment Decision

You have to hand it to the Chief Justice – he may have walked right up to the edge of the cliff, but he stopped before pushing the country into the abyss. Announcing a verdict on his suo moto hearing on the constitutionality of the 18th Amendment to the constitution (a bizarre bit of self-referential argument if there ever was one), the Supreme Court expressed its concerns with Article 175-A, but stopped short of upending the nation. All things considered, the court appears to have come to the correct conclusion – the authority to amend the constitution lies with the people through their elected representatives in parliament.

The apex court in its decision ordered that Article 175-A, detailing the amendments to the procedure of appointing superior court judges, be sent back to the parliament for review.

“Parliament is asked to review Article 175-A, for it has harmed judiciary’s freedom,” Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry stated, adding that consultation with the chief justice was necessary for the appointment of judges.

It is significant to note that the apex court decided to send Article 175-A back to the parliament for reconsideration instead of striking it down.

Clearly the court is not happy with Article 175-A. And I won’t take the time to make any particular argument for or against this specific article. But the court smartly avoided a constitutional crisis by not superseding the written constitution.

The Prime Minister handled the announcement with a great deal of class, saying that he appreciated the judiciary’s show of respect for the parliament and that, as parliament also respects the judiciary, he would work with the National Assembly to move forward with the court’s request and review the article in question. This is how a properly functioning democracy works.

I do want to say a bit about the guiding principles that became such a hot topic over the past few months. While it is without question that there are certain guiding principles behind the constitution, these principles do not exist above the written law. Actually, the exist within it. Just as the spirit of a song exists within the melody and the lyrics, so also the guiding principles of freedom, independent judiciary, division of powers between branches etc etc etc exist within the written words and the judicial interpretation of the nation’s defining law – the constitution.

This, of course, raises the question as to whether the constitution could be amended to say things that are against these guiding principles of a liberal democracy. I think the answer is obviously yes – we have seen just such abuses perpetrated by past dictators, and we are still working to undo those abuses. Actually, this is part of the reason the 18th Amendment was passed unanimously.

But just as the abuses of a tyrant cannot break the spirit of the people, so they also cannot break the spirit of our constitution. If there any errors or abuses find their way in, we will remove them. But it is vital that we do so properly. We cannot set our hopes on the benevolence of any dictator – military, civilian, or judicial. By trusting each other and working honestly to resolve our concerns and our disagreements, we are the masters of our own fate. We are a democracy.

Ali Malik: One will stab, the other will back-stab

The following blog post by Mr Ali Malik was originally published at his web site DemoPak. It is cross posted here for your information and to begin a discussion about the Supreme Court’s hearing on 18th Amendment.

Tomorrow Supreme Court will give judgment on 18th amendment case. I sincerely hope that my apprehensions and fears turn out to be unfounded, but it seems that the Supreme Court will stab the democracy and parliament with her judgment. It most likely will strike down some key parts of 18th amendment, specially the ones pertaining to the appointment of judges of the the superior judiciary. In this the Supreme Court will strike down the principle of sovereignty of the parliament. It will be striking down a legislation that has been unanimously approved by both houses of the parliament and has the support of all electable political forces in the country. Not only that, the Supreme Court will do it despite the clear guide lines provided in the constitution, which it claims to uphold, as is given in 239 (6):

“(6) For the removal of doubt, it is hereby declared that there is no limitation whatever on the power of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) to amend any of the provisions of the Constitution.]”

This amounts to rewriting the constitution, which the supreme court has started since July 20, 2007 and has been carrying on through NRO verdict, July 31st verdict and many other judgments in the course of judicial adventurism. I hope I am wrong but tomorrow will mark an assault on democracy and parliament in this country similar to the ones carried out by military dictators.

Post the stab of the judiciary, what awaits this nations and the system is a back-stab by PML-N. PML-N has been blowing the trumpet of COD (which is the foundation of 18th amendment). It has been a signatory of 18th amendment and its members voted in favor the amendment in both Senate and the National Assembly. Its leaders and particularly the Sharifs of Jeddah speak of supremacy of parliament and democracy day in day out. Yet, post the SC judgment to strike down parts of 18th amendment, PML-N will not be standing with the parliament but will be standing with 17 unelected officials, born out of a PCO, who are on the course to rewrite the constitution of this country. SC stab will be hard to handle but PML-N back-stab will cause way more damage to the democracy and the country. Just when the parliament should have stood together to counter an encroachment on its territory, PML-N’s stance might force other right-wing political forces to turn it into an issue of Judiciary vs. Govt. rather than an issue of sovereignty of the parliament, for their own political compulsions. This, of course, will have repercussions for the country and democracy here for years to come. Despite the faith in PML-N by many democracy-lovers, to me, the court will challenge the parliament at the behest of Mr. Sharif, for it is Mr. Sharif who controls the courts through his cronies.

Mr. Sharif is the only stakeholder in the current political set-up who gains from disruption of the system. With his ever-shrinking political base, he needs a chaotic situation where the powers concerned will be forced to have a settlement with him on his terms. He, of course, will have full backing of his local and global backers in such settlement. Once in the system, he can start rolling the agenda that has remained close to his and his backers hearts for decades. Other than Mr. Sharif, most political leaders and parties are to gain from the continuation of the system and this makes Mr. Sharif even more desperate.

Now the question is, will the system survive this combination of the stab and the back-stab. My analytical guess is yes. It will be hard. It will lead to further chaos, uncertainty, instability and confusion but I believe that ultimately the system will prevail. I believe that the 2007 experiment is a well thought out plan for Pakistan which is based on the vision of key influential powers in Pakistan. Its custodians are powerful just as its enemies are. My guess is that by virtue of being at the helm of affairs for years, the custodians of the system will outmaneuver its enemies. More so, in the great game of Pakistan, the power of custodians and their allies has been on the rise compared to that of the enemies.

Many players in the great game of Pakistan are holding their cards close to their chests for now. Post SC judgment, everyone, institutes and entities both foreign and local, will have to show where he stands and the show is likely to hold many surprises. The call of show is likely to lead to confrontation with in the bureaucracy, the security establishment of the country and the judiciary. This will lead to chaos and instability and the situation will likely get worse before any signs of stability start emerging. How soon the stability emerges will depend on the response of PML-Q and MQM in the political domain and the result of the conflict with-in the judiciary. How long the instability will last and how much damage will it do, no one knows. But a few things I dare predict are; SC will overstep, the Sharif’s will side with unelected judges against the representative rule and democracy, a chaos will ensue, and system has the capacity to survive this combo of stab and back-stab. Stabbers would not gain but the people of Pakistan will lose.

Anti-Democracy Forces Out of Ammunition

Vast challenges lie ahead for Pakistan. With the threat of terrorism, an unstable economy and power outages, it surprises no one that our leaders have ambitious plans to resolve these issues. The President, Prime Minister (also known as “The Magic Man” for his ability to get things done) and the entire legislative branch have the experts, intelligence, and motivation to accomplish much for Pakistan.

But above all, we now have a chance. The country has reached a consensus that all must be done, all progress realized, under the mantle of democracy. The constitutional reforms have taken Pakistan to a much more democratic level. The 18th Amendment has moved powers from the President to the Prime Minister and Parliament. Further, our Presidents can no longer adjourn Parliament as he deems fit. The Amendment has transferred certain authority away from the federal government and to the provinces, allowing the people easier access to the people responsible for their daily way of life. Provincial governments are not exclusively in charge of a wide array of issues – societal needs, criminal law among them.

We have restored the 1973 Constitution, and while it has not perfected the system (and what country’s political system is perfect at all?) it has allowed democracy to jump leaps ahead of where we were prior to the restoration.

Let us analyze the fact that we have a President willing to curb his own powers. The executive’s powers increased exponentially under Nawaz Sharif and Gen. Musharraf. After all, the latter felt it was his right to throw out the entire judicial system at his discretion! Whether one approves of him or harbors old resentment still, it cannot be denied that by signing the 18th Amendment the President of Pakistan has done what no leader in recent history has been capable of – handing over his powers for the sake of democracy.

Passing the reforms was not a walk in the park, by any stretch of the imagination. There was at times open hostility, barbs traded back and forth, from all sides. This dissent is a matter of public record. However, it is in the overall interest of a functioning democracy to have a vibrant debate before reaching consensus…and consensus was reached!

Looking at the end result, we can see that the push for reform came from all parties. That is the united attitude we need to continue in Pakistan.

We can also be proud of our newly free and (sometimes too) dynamic media. We are a country not afraid to voice our opinions and we are not living under a government too afraid to hear them.

Let us remember that this is Pakistan’s third attempt at democracy since its inception. Let us also remember that democracy is its own teacher, it learns and adapts with experience. We must now implement the reforms and solve the people’s day-to-day problems with the lessons we have already learned.

If the people do not like the direction the nation is headed in, they can voice their opinions via the ballot box. There will no longer be military dictatorships that turn the clock back on civil rights and equality. Politics has entered a new era, and the people now, at long last, have the power.


Be proud of what we have accomplished

Let us take a moment to celebrate Pakistan.

I feel as though I am scaling K2, and while I still have a long way to go, I look back and see I have come a long, long way. I can feel the closeness. It is with than pride that I write this, it is with a sense of validation with the Pakistani spirit.

Recent events – the Strategic Dialogues with the Americans, the Nuclear Summit with 47 other nations, and the passage of the 18th amendment – have been spectacular successes. The US and Pakistan renewed their vows of friendship and made gains on every topic during the Dialogues. The success of Prime Minister GIlani during the Summit was demonstrated for the entire world to see. But the real key is where we are at home, and to that end, the reasons to celebrate the 18th amendment’s passing cannot be exaggerated.

We have ended future possibility of dictatorship. No power-hungry, corrupt individual can take the reins of Pakistan, slam the Supreme Court, infringe upon the public’s civil liberties. That person will never have the respect of the multiple political parties currently hotly debating the key issues of the day. The PML-N, Q, PPP, etc are all in agreement: the time has come to allow democracy to be sustained.

That, reader, is why we should celebrate.

Congrats to the President for wisely steering the country to a better status in the world, congrats to the PPP government for understanding the legislative battles to fight and which to let go. Many thanks to all our Ambassadors and media folk alike, who pressed on for the changes we are now witnessing.

I am a realist. I focus on the work that needs to be done, I see that we are far from complete. However, I would hardly grudge anyone a moment to be proud…and Pakistan has lots to be proud of!

Slowly, we inch towards the Quaid’s vision. Surely, we will get there. Pakistan Zindabad.