Democracy in danger?
“Critics are the men who have failed in literature and art.”
The Pakistani nation has been beset by problems since its creation and to make things worse, the institution of democracy has always been under threat. The situation is not different today, as state institutions are fighting without bothering about constitutional constraints. Some Pakistanis want issues, which could have a profound impact on the future of the country, to be settled in the streets. The politicians, both at the federal and provincial level, too have made a fool of themselves creating serious doubts among the people as to whether democracy is serving the best interests of Pakistan.
Against this backdrop, the situation has not improved even after the disqualification of an elected Prime Minister, who was sent home for not following the Supreme Court’s directions. As a student, my teachers would tell me that a PM could only be sent home if he loses the confidence of members of the National Assembly. The PM, they said, was not bound to seek the confidence of any other institution, not even of the judiciary.
Nonetheless, we were also taught that if the judges were on the wrong side of the law, they should be respected just like a cricket empire who could make an incorrect decision, yet he must be respected by the players. Some might argue that is entirely different from the state’s affairs and, therefore, the judiciary must be extremely careful while adjudicating on issues that could have far-reaching consequences for the country and its people.
On its part, the government could have utilised several options that were available, but chose to take a line that has resulted in the current polarisation and confrontation between two important pillars of the state.
Cashing in on the present situation, Justice Markandey Katju, a former judge of the Indian Supreme Court and currently Chairman of the Hindu Press Council of India, commented on the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision to disqualify Yousuf Raza Gilani. The Indian justice quoted from history the reasons why the King of England was granted total immunity from criminal proceedings, even if he committed murder, dacoity, theft or some other crime.
According to Justice Markandey, “if the King is made to stand on a witness box or sent to jail, the system will not function.” This, according to him, was the only practical view why total immunity is required to be granted to a person at the top. In his article, Justice Markandey said: “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.”
Justice Markandey has tried to create an impression, as if the Supreme Court of Pakistan was playing to the galleries and had clearly gone overboard, flouting all canons of constitutional jurisprudence. Here, it would be of some interest for the readers to know that in the recent past when the Indian Supreme Court ordered the Indian government to distribute grains amongst the poor in India that were lying in the open and rotting, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who never picks up a quarrel with anyone, stated that since its order is about the government’s policy, it will not allow the judges to encroach on the domain of the executive. A review petition was then filed against the Supreme Court’s order and the matter seems to have come to a standstill.
It may not be appropriate to go into the merits or demerits or what is going on in this country as far as various state pillars are concerned. However, a vast majority of the Pakistanis are worried that a confrontation between different state institutions may encourage the anti-democratic forces. While the military establishment has earned a good repute for their patience and restraint on several issues that could have triggered another martial law, there are many people who believe that even a single false move by any institution may trigger the early demise of democracy. While this may be extremely unfortunate for Pakistan and its people, it is equally important that the civil and the military leadership, along with the superior judiciary, must tread cautiously as far as the role assigned to them in the Constitution is concerned.
Any attempt to encroach or violate the domain of other institutions could be fatal for democracy. It would also be in the fitness of things if someone clarifies about what is going on in Pakistan so that people like Justice Markandey have a more realistic view of the working of Pakistani institutions. Already Pakistan is faced with a serious dilemma of being a state that tolerates extremism and is a breeding ground for militants that has not only retarded the country’s economic development, but has also tarnished its image throughout the world.
One hopes that with the next general elections drawing near by the day, restraint and tolerance would be the hallmarks of Pakistanis, who should be careful in what they do and say, as it will further damage the country’s image. This can only happen with the people’s will and greater responsibility on the part of different state institutions. Otherwise, there would not be much hope for the welfare of the poor people!
The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.