The headlines everywhere are filled with the scandal of District Attorneys fired for political reasons. The White House, the Justice Department, Congress and pundits are immersed in pondering the consequences of such gross politicization of the Law. Gone un-noticed, outside of a few reports, is another crisis involving the executive and the judicial branches that is tearing a nation apart. This one, though, has consequences far graver than Karl Rove’s testimony before some committee. Two weeks ago, General Musharraf suspended the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, on vague corruption charges. Since then, daily riots and protests have broken out in major cities; the goverment has tried to shut down tv stations which reported on these riots; the police have repeatedly assaulted the lawyers who are leading the process. Musharraf claims that this is much ado about nothing. But this crisis could bring down the government of General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.
I said government, but of course, a more honest description of the State in Pakistan would be praetorianism or authoritarianism or dictatorship. And no, I will not be crying if it does fall apart. The truth is, though, that with the support of freedom-growers like Condi Rice and the White House, Musharraf is secure in doing what he can to stay in power. If that means turning Pakistan into a police state [if an sustainable argument can even be made that it is not already one] and imprisoning or vanishing his opponents, then he will do it. This is a pivotal year for him – 2007. He has promised elections. He has promised to return democracy. He has promised to run in elections. But, like his earlier promises of shedding the military uniform or stepping down, he would have found a way – with the support of the White House – to keep himself in power as a military and civil commander while allowing some rudimentary nods towards electoral politics. How would he have managed that? The same way that every single military regime in Pakistan has done it since 1958: with the support of an ‘independent judiciary’ which would legitimize his actions as mere counter-balances to a ‘corrupt or run-away’ legislature.
From Ayub Khan to Zia ul Haq to Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s warrior-kings have made one fundamental claim to the public: that their particular act of suspension of democracy in Pakistan was ultimately constitutional and, hence, for the benefit of the nation. And they have had the support of the Supreme Court in making this claim – a support which gave them the necessary legitimacy to stay in power. In order to understand the current crisis in Pakistan – and to recognize the ultimate blunder of Pervez Musharraf – we have to look at the history and role of the Constitution in Pakistan, the historical involvement of the judiciary in the dismissal of democratic institutions and the tensions between the three centers of power in Pakistani society that undergrid this whole enterprise. Feel up to it?
Continue reading “Lawless in Pakistan”