Supreme Irony

We are entering what promises to be an entertaining period in the history of the judiciary. The IHC has revoked Gen Musharraf’s bail and ordered his immediate arrest as the SC resumes treason hearings against the former dictator. This all sounds fairly straight forward, but as with so much in life, here too there is a twist.

The Supreme Court is considering charges of treason against Gen Musharraf due to his suspending the Constitution on 3rd November 2007. The question is an important one because it goes straight to the heart of whether Pakistan is a country of laws or a country of men. In other words, is the law supreme, or can a single man be considered as higher than even the Constitution itself? Do we have rule of law or not?

However important this question is, though, it is also curious in the way it is being addressed by the Court. After all, the 2007 PCO was not the only time that Gen Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended the Constitution. Actually, it was the second time. He did the same also in 1999 when he carried out a military coup d’etat against the democratically elected government of Nawaz Sharif.

So why is the SC only asking about the second and not the first act also? It might be because the first act received the help of some powerful people.

On 26th January 2000, all Supreme Court Justices were asked to take an Oath not under the Constitution, which was suspended, but under Musharraf’s Provisional Constitutional Order justifying his abeyance of the Constitution and swearing not to challenge his decisions as dictator. Six judges, including Chief Justice Saeeduzaman Siddiqi, refused to swear an oath to the dictator. These judges were quickly dismissed and replaced with others who were willing to allow the Constitution to be held in abeyance and the whims of a dictator to be made the supreme law.

Iftikhar Chaudhry and Gen Musharraf

In 2011, without a hint of irony, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry declared that “PCO judges do not have legitimacy and they could not claim themselves to be the judges of the superior courts”. Now the same Chief Justice is presiding over a Court that is considering whether suspending the Constitution itself is an act of treason.

A friend forwarded me another tale of judicial introspection, this one coming from a court in Michigan, USA. During a recent hearing, the judge accidentally poked a button on his phone causing it to start making noise. Known for strictly enforcing rules of etiquette in the courtroom by holding in contempt anyone whose phone interrupted a hearing, the judge was burning with embarrassment. But rather than threaten journalists for reporting anything that could embarrass the court, the judge did something extraordinary. He filed a Contempt of Court notice against himself!

Judge Voet, who is not only chief but the only district judge of Ionia, said he’s surprised by how much attention his story has gotten since the local Sentinel-Standard reported on it Friday. The self-flagellation was out of self-interest, he said: “It’s a small county. Your reputation is important. I wanted to make sure anyone who had a phone taken by me knew that I lived by the same rules.”

A judge who holds himself to the same rules as everyone else? How ironic.

The Trial of the Military

The Pakistani military establishment has had to contend with its fair share of strategic blunders in the past. The ones that immediately come to mind are 1965, 1971 and Kargil. The fact that the general public is not aware of the military blunders (or refuses to believe them) shows testament to the strength or rather the “myth” of the military. This myth has haunted Pakistan in the past, and it has come back to haunt us again with Osama Bin Laden. Several Pakistani military operations of the past have led to criticism and strategic failure, yet the Pakistan military has always been able to deflect blame towards civilian governments. This time, however, it may not be so easy for them.

General Pervaiz Musharraf shrewdly explained the strategic blunder of the Kargil Operation in 1999 by alleging Nawaz Sharif (then Prime Minister) as the major culprit of the debacle. Sharif, however, in 1999 was actively engaged in reopening diplomatic channels with India through then Indian Prime Minister Atul Vajpayee. General Musharraf, who was then Chief of Army Staff, refused to greet Vajpayee at the border ceremony. When the Pakistani army got caught infiltrating in Kargil territory, Nawaz Sharif went to Washington to seek clemency for an action that the military was responsible for. A few months later, Sharif was ousted and Musharraf gained power. Till this day, the Pakistani public refused to digest the fact that the Pakistani military’s Kargil strategy failed due to the military’s lack of prudence.

Fast forward to 2011, and you have a fragile political structure in which the PPP is trying desperately to hang on to its power. Coming into power after 8 years of unpopular military rule, it is remarkable to note that the public as has once again dismissed the civilian government as incompetent. The civilian government, simply put, has no control or say over Pakistan’s military policy. In 2008, President Zardari tried to put the ISI under the control of the interior ministry. However, ISI chief General Athar Abbas rejected the notion within 24 hours, and the matter was never discussed again. Wikileaks also have shown this apparent sensitivity and mistrust between these two entities. In November 2009, Interior Minister Rehman Malik conveyed his paranoia of an ISI takeover of the civilian government to then US Ambassador Anne Patterson. Similarly, Wikileaks have also shown mistrust between General Kiyani and President Zardari, with reports alleging that Kiyani in March 2009 was contemplating removing Zardari with ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan for the Presidency. This paranoia, if true, would not have existed in the first place if the institutional political structure were strong enough to resist army pressure. The threat of army intervention in the political sphere is real, and with Bin Laden’s death, it has become even more possible.

Knowing that the PPP is fragile, the military (and the ISI) have collectively been silent over the Osama Bin Laden issue, which can only be described as deeply embarrassing for the Pakistani military establishment. As the United States media has put it, the military has either been complicit or incompetent in this whole fiasco. The military’s silence is eerie, and there is every reason to believe that they will never discuss this issue in public. They might be contemplating ways in which they could eventually deflect the blame upon the civilian government. However, this civilian government is not that of Zulfiqar/Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif. This civilian government has rarely interfered with the institutional structure of the military. Zulfiqar Bhutto appointed notorious Tikka Khan as chief of army staff and then Zia-ul-Haq as well. Nawaz Sharif sacked a Chief of Army Staff, and Benazir Bhutto actively tried to change ISI’s structure in 1990. This civilian government has no serious charges in terms of manipulating the military structure, which is why the military for the first time may be caught in a predicament.

From the perspective of the military though, the silence is the best policy they can advocate towards. Already, the opposition parties and the public are deflecting most of the blame on the civilian government for being “corrupt” and for selling its sovereignty. Few in Pakistan have asked the military to provide answers, and even those questions are mostly deflected by the public assertion (including Najam Sethi) that the military was in the know-how of the U.S. raid in Abbotabad. Even worse is the public answer that asserts that the military knew where Bin Laden was hiding, which shows that the public is willing to incriminate the military at the cost of them appearing incompetent. The myth of the military has scarred the public mindset to the extent that we the people refuse to protest or seek active questions against the strategy of the military. The “myth” ensures that the public never thinks of military as an entity that can be incompetent entity that can harm Pakistan’s interests (speaking strictly from a strategic sense). The military is in a tough predicament, yet the “myth” will ensure that the civilian government once again takes its share for most of the blame in Pakistan.


Dictatorship vs. Democracy

From Huffington Post, the following article by Aparna Pande provides an excellent examination of competing political perspectives. We have often made the argument that debates should focus on reason, and the following piece gives some important historical context to the struggle between the preference for rational thinking which can be quite messy and the preference for order which is tidier. The author is a Research Fellow at The Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.

Aparna PandeWhile discussing the current Middle East situation in a recent interview, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf asserted that “good dictatorship is better than bad democracy.” Mr Musharraf’s quote is reminiscent of the traditional Asharite/Al Ghazzali view that “a bad ruler is preferable to anarchy.”

During the early centuries of Islam there were two broad views on political theory and philosophy — the Asharite and the Mu’tazilite. The Mu’tazilites, influenced by Greek philosophy and thought, emphasized reason and rational thinking (ijtihad), whereas the Asharites were more traditional and asserted imitation (taqlid). With the need for complete control desired by monarchs it was the Asharites who eventually won the debate and gained political blessing. The main reason was that every political system needs legitimacy and the Asharite view of taqlid was more likely to approve of the existing system than the Mu’tazilite view of reason and questioning.

While these views and names are rarely mentioned today, their basic conflict still remains. Across the Greater Middle East, this view has been prevalent for decades that autocracy or dictatorship is preferable to the anarchy or chaos associated with democracy. The Saudi dynasty’s legitimacy derives from an alliance with the Wahhabi clergy where the latter have consistently overlooked the personal indiscretions of the ruling family on grounds of avoiding anarchy. Al Ghazzali, a prominent Islamic theologian of the 12th century, often stated the need to avoid fitna (strife) and anarchy.

All of Pakistan’s military rulers, from General Ayub through Yahya and Zia till Musharraf, have held similar views on the need for order and avoidance of anarchy under democracy. General Ayub Khan (1958-69) believed that the people of the subcontinent were not suited either by temperament or by experience to the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. General Ayub also believed that democracy was best suited to cold climates and not to the tropical climate of Pakistan. That the same conditions prevailed in India did not seem like an anachronism to the general. General Ayub attempted to impose his form of autocratic rule under a system of ‘Basic Democracy’ which excluded political parties and instead installed an indirectly elected presidential system. Ayub’s failure in the end lay in his inability to gain legitimacy and the prevalence and popularity of local political parties despite attempts to get rid of the latter.

General Zia ul Haq (1977-88) sought legitimacy in religion, for him Pakistan had been created in the name of Islam and the reason for the 1971 break up as well as any problems to date had been because his predecessors had moved away from Islam. The Islamization of Pakistani society, education, politics and law struck deep roots under Zia’s era. Zia was fearful of democracy because it would show the strength of parties like his nemesis Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Zia repeatedly asserted that it was his rule that had prevented anarchy, corruption and further break up of Pakistan by its eternal enemy India, helped by Soviet Union, Israel and other allies.

General Musharraf believed that he was the messiah who saved Pakistan from the corrupt, inefficient and constantly bickering rule of politicians. Thus he ended anarchy and brought efficient rule under a dictatorship. Musharraf’s policy of ‘Enlightened Moderation’ was very similar to Ayub’s ‘Basic Democracy’ — an attempt to build legitimacy outside of the political system. Musharraf’s views have not changed, as evident from his memoirs and speeches given after he resigned as President in 2008. He still believes he is the messiah who will save Pakistan from its chaotic democracy. Musharraf’s recent statements are reminiscent of his predecessors not just in his condescending views of democracy but also in his worldview. Just recently in an interview Musharraf stated that Pakistan is faced with an existential threat — not from the Taliban and jihadi groups who are eating up Pakistan internally — but from the eternal enemy, India.

The view that the Pakistanis masses are illiterate and do not know what is right for them and given the choice would choose inefficient, corrupt and self-serving politicians is a view held deeply by the military-civilian establishment. From this it follows that the military and technocratic elite are by education and temperament best suited to guide and lead Pakistan and protect it from its external and internal enemies. The Pakistani army strongly believes it is the guardian of Pakistan’s territorial and ideological frontiers.

The notion that “good dictatorship is better than bad democracy” arises from the need to have order and predictability. However, for any multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual country like Pakistan, any attempt to impose one view will have long-term repercussions. As discussed in my book, Aparna Pande Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India, Pakistan’s founding fathers constructed an ideological identity for the country, which subsumed and denied the religio-ethno-linguistic differences. The various internal challenges facing Pakistan today are a blowback of this basic challenge of identity.

While order and conformity suit the people in power, they rarely ever benefit the masses. The irony of Musharraf’s statement seems to be lost on him — the only way Musharraf can return to power is if he contests elections under democracy!

Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, and Ahmed Quraishi

What do Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, and Ahmed Quraishi have in common? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak learned the lesson when they got on a plane and left. Ahmed Qureshi titled his own article, ‘A lesson from Egypt & Tunis’, but as usual he got the lesson hilariously wrong.

Actually, Ahmed Quraishi’s spin is laughably bad. He terms dictators ‘politicians’, and yet still goes on to praise them. The man who has never met a dictator he didn’t fawn over like a blushing bride, Ahmed Quraishi looks at Hosni Mubarak’s record of iron-fisted rule and writes:

We can say a few good things about Hosni Mubarak who consolidated the position of the country and gave an opportunity to the middle class to grow but he failed to fully represent the potentials of the Egyptian people.

That’s right. Ahmed Quraishi believes that Hosni Mubarak’s failure was not fully representing the potentials of the Egyptian people. Secret police? Iron-fisted rule? All of these are just fine with Ahmed Quraishi who knows all too well what dictatorships and covert agents are up to. He has even said so himself, defending the release of the fake Wikileaks story by saying that it is justified to use fake media stories for political ends, and he followed up this astonishing admission of manipulation by calling for a blatant authoritarian regime in Pakistan that will “enforce discipline” and “tolerate dissent but not chaos”. Was Ahmed Quraishi a speech writer for the newly deposed dictators? It certainly sounds like it.

According to Ahmed Quraishi, the solution to all of the country’s ills is to give unchecked power to the establishment, and this time he wants to make sure meddlesome justices like Iftikhar Chaudhry do not get in the way of dictatorial powers.

Within a few hours of the flight of its President from the country, the army arrested all the presidential nearest and dearest who were suspected of plundering the national wealth. Remember, they were arrested alone as suspects and they did not wait for an investigation by an agency like NAB or a legal court.

This is no suprise. Ahmed Quraishi has been condemning the lawyers movement and all demands for fair and neutral justice for years. His latest article is another boring display of his same old fetish for coups and military strongmen.

Ahmed Quraishi and Gen Musharraf

Tunisians and Egyptians may have held their own long marches to remove dictators and win democracy, but Pakistanis won our own freedom a few years ago. But now Ahmed Quraishi wants to hijack the Arab pro-democracy movement and twist its meaning to support the return of military dictatorship to Pakistan. I’m sorry, but we have seen that movie too many times already. We all know how it ends and we’re not interested in seeing it again but thank you for the suggestion.

A much better explanation of Pakistan’s political situation is made by Dr Pirzada in Daily Times on Wednesday.

When after Tunisia, Egypt started to rock with shouts of “revolution”, an important western embassy in Pakistan ordered an immediate “risk assessment” to determine if Pakistan could be “next”. The ambassador was told: “Don’t you worry, for while Pakistan presents all factors ripe for revolution, sadly it does not have any leadership to lead this.” This is certainly true, but it is only part of the explanation. I would have told him: “Excellency! Relax and welcome to a multi-polar, raucous but democratic Pakistan.”

This is precisely what many in Islamabad and certainly Washington have not realised — not so far. When some of us were naively whispering in worried American ears: “Sir, we will fix it up in a day”, they did not realise that the country has changed; today it has many centres of political authority, dozens of TV channels — all trying to outwit Fox, hundreds of chirpy radio stations and countless racy publications. And precisely because of this multi-polar and multi-media situation, our courts have found the space to assert themselves as independent entities and they in turn add to the depth of a rough, volatile and fragile mix that despite its many failings is the new democratic dispensation in which no one is all-powerful, no one, not even the good old GHQ has total control. If they are creating impressions of ‘control’, they too are bluffing.

Democracy is neither orderly nor neatly pressed and tidy like the khaki uniforms worn by the Hosni Mubaraks and Ziaul Haqs of the world – establishment ‘liberators’ who gladly free their countries to serve their own interests and those of their lackeys. It’s really sad that people like Ahmed Quraishi are willing to take the sacrifices and the dreams of people for democracy and twist them into distortions that claim to promote the very dictatorships that people are struggling against. Thankfully, the power of the people is greater than the power of any dictator, and certainly more powerful than Ahmed Quraishi.

Ahmed Qureshi Article 2-9-2011

Shoe Leather Politics

In the past political scientists often referred to the art of political campaigning as ‘shoe leather politics’ because candidates wore out the soles of their shoes walking the streets to speak with voters. Today, though, we have a new ‘shoe leather politics’ that is taking the place of ideas and constructive dialogue.

Back in August we saw a media circus erupt when a fool in London threw his shoe at President Zardari. Today we read that Pervez Musharraf received the same treatment over the past weekend, again in London.

According to TV channel reports, Musharraf was speaking about his rule when a man, followed by another, hurled shoes at him which did not hit him. The men were raising slogans in favour of Dr Aafia Siddiqi. The guards overpowered the two and took them out of the hall.

It should be noted that the man who threw his shoe at Musharraf is suspected of having links to al-Muhajirun, a banned Islamist group. When a shoe was thrown at Zardari during last August, it was during protests organized by another Islamist group, Hizb-ut Tahrir.

And this is where we see the real problem with these made for media theatrics: they are a poor excuse for not having any ideas. No amount of shoes will improve economic growth, eliminate militancy, or heal relations with our neighbors. Solutions for these issues can only be found in honest assessment of the facts and reasoned dialogue with ourselves and others. Groups like al-Muhajirun, Hizb-ut Tahrir, and Jamaat-ud Dawa don’t have any answers to the nation’s problems. This is why they attempt to substitute circus acts.

Whether you agree or disagree with Musharraf, Zardari, or anyone else, you should be able to explain yourself with words and ideas. Resorting to shoe throwing only demonstrates that you have nothing to add to the conversation.