“The army, the judiciary perspective that
The News on Sunday: How do you view the current term of the elected government vis-à-vis the challenges it has faced?
Dr Mohammad Waseem: For me, the current political experiment is not democracy; at best, it’s a sharing of power between the civil and the military players. It has political legitimacy but the policy is controlled by the army. A huge portion of policy — foreign, nuclear, defence etc — falls in that category. I would call this a “transitional government”. In the modern world, the study of this stage is called “transitology”, which means power is moving from the military to the civilians only gradually and over a considerable length of time.
TNS: How independent is this very government?
MW: This democratic government is weak because the parliament as an institution is weak. Parliament depends on, and is being run through, the executive. As the parliamentary system is weak, the executive is weak too. The army, on the other hand, continues to be strong, being in control since the 1950s. The judiciary has become strong for the second time over. It became strong for the first time during the tenure of Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah who took a firm stand against the then elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — in 1997.
This time, the judiciary is strong mainly because of the civil society, which backed the present Chief Justice and stood up for his restoration when he was sacked by General Pervez Musharraf in 2007.
The other force behind him was that of the political parties. As you know, the civil society, especially the lawyers’ community, was the first one to stand behind the CJP. He has been riding the popularity wave since.
The non-parliamentary institutions — the army and the judiciary — are united and intact, while the parliamentary forces are divided. With regards to the National Reconciliation Ordinance, the parties within the coalition government — such as MQM — also refused to back PPP.
Besides, the distance between the civilian and military establishments has continued to increase in the past two years — on Kerry Lugar Bill, Raymond Davis affair, Abbottabad Operation and Memogate which put further pressure on this government.
TNS: How do you look back at the tussle between the judiciary and the government as it has played out in the last couple of years?
MW: Judiciary is a state institution like the army and the bureaucracy. At the other end, there is the political institution such as the parliament that consists of political parties elected by the people. There has been a tussle, undoubtedly. In my view, our judiciary has a middle class perspective. The middle class perspective, especially urban, is that politicians are the most corrupt people in the country.
A major part of the media shares that perspective. The army, the judiciary and the media, openly, and the bureaucracy not so openly, have this middle class perspective. They condemn the political governments because they think the politicians are under-developed educationally and professionally.
The sitting CJP considers himself as the ultimate upholder of law and justice in Pakistan while the elected government is considered accountable to the judiciary because it is considered corrupt per se. The SC, mainly its Chief Justice, has assumed the role of a dispensing vigilante justice by “targeting the big fish”. Nobody is considering or talking about the corruption in judiciary. The lower judiciary is said to be very corrupt. What has been done for that in the past four years despite the judicial reforms instituted by the sitting CJP after he was restored? If that was done, it would have been a miracle in my view. The whole system is being run as previously.
Another problem is that the judiciary which considers civilian government accountable to it thinks that the judiciary itself is not accountable to anybody. They are appointing, promoting and rehiring (on ad hoc basis) judges. They object to any other idea or system to hold them accountable, not even the parliament.
These two perspectives, i.e. institutional imbalance and the middle class being irreverent about the middle class are in place by design. The third, by default, is that since the government has been rendered ineffective, it is not governing but is most of the time defending itself against the chances of being thrown out. Its authority is not accepted by the court. Whenever the court summons the representatives of the government, they appear, and whenever the court likes it ousts them from power.
TNS: As a political scientist, how do you see the ouster of a prime minister by the court over a contempt case?
MW: Perhaps this is the first time in the history that the judiciary has sent home an elected prime minister on a contempt of court charge. Earlier, they had summoned the PM a couple of times, sentenced him and the sentence was carried out. Despite that they have thrown him out. An elected PM can only be removed by the parliament that elected him in the first place. Moreover, there are the Zia regime incorporated sections in the Constitution as in Article 63, requiring the elected members to be “sadiq” and “ameen” that pressurises the assemblies by using the religious idiom.
The Pakistan judiciary here is operating like the Indian judiciary at one point where no institution wants to kill the other but just to work along a modus operandi to put pressure. Like in the Memogate, we saw that the judiciary and the army were on the same page. There are also thoughts that this judiciary has the tacit support of the army, at least in this case. This is a tussle between the institutions where the media, the army and the judiciary are pushing the elected government to the wall holding a high moral ground of accountability for corruption and bad governance.
TNS: There has also been talk of a Bangladesh model being applied to Pakistan?
MW: There are talks of the Bangladesh model and other things. If the judiciary will be sending the prime ministers home, it will certainly weaken the government. But I think it will be very difficult and not liked. This will expose the judiciary and this exercise ultimately will be termed a joke. The judiciary might think it is gaining but in fact it will be losing. This is like a referee becoming a player.
The other option which is being heard is the Bangladesh model. A government of technocrats which failed in Bangladesh because it did not deliver will not work here, nor should it be tried. It was not a success but a failure. As far as the technocrats are concerned, technically they are already in, like the finance minister is a technocrat, and so are some others.
The last thing is that there should be discussions and deliberations on the side. Political parties should have a mutually-agreed upon caretaker setup and go for elections which, in my view, is the most suitable and likely, legitimate and amicable solution.
TNS: What should be the media’s role in this political and transitional phase?
MW: As I said earlier, the media, like state institutions, predominantly holds the middle class perspective. It will only be talking against politicians, and hardly ever criticising other powerful institutions like the army or the judiciary. In that sense, it has a negative use of the freedom of expression. Although it has played a good role by creating awareness about issues but mostly it has made selective coverage. More importantly, the media has eroded people’s trust in democracy. Of course, I wouldn’t blame the entire media for it; only some sections.