Remember Caesar, thou art mortal

From this turmoil some good must come
By Ayaz Amir - Dawn, March 30, 2007

THIS is a movement different from other movements in our history. Sparked in the first instance by the courage and fortitude of one man, My Lord the Chief Justice, it has been given body and shape by the legal fraternity whose unity and enthusiasm, from Khyber to Karachi, have been exemplary.

It is hard praising gentlemen of the bar and the bench. Some of our best lawyers have served military dictators with aplomb and distinction. And there has been no shortage of judges who have felt proud to collaborate with generals and deliver the most extraordinary verdicts in their favour. But our fortunes may be about to turn. On the eve of the 60th anniversary of our existence, a new history is being written and new traditions set.

Not for nothing are leading lawyers reluctant to come to the government’s defence. It is not easy living with the open contempt of one’s colleagues.

The media (most of it) has also been remarkable, informing the nation of what has been happening. It is this synergy between lawyers and the media which has created the climate in which a seemingly powerful military ruler, who seemed to have everything going for him, has been put on the defensive. On his face there seems to have settled nowadays a permanent look of unrelieved tension. So much for commando resilience and staying cool under fire.

‘In the Line of Fire’ was the title of the General Musharraf’s much-lauded memoirs. Experienced hands, familiar with the fate of similar memoirs, said the book would soon be on the footpaths where second-hand books are sold. I suppose we’ll have to find out.

This movement is guided by a clear aim, the legal community fighting for and seeking to enforce a single commandment: withdraw the misguided reference against the CJ and do so unconditionally. Munir Malik, the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, puts it succinctly: there is nothing to talk about, simply withdraw the reference. Other things like the judiciary’s independence and the rule of law will come automatically once this fundamental objective is secured.

I must say Munir is proving to be a good president of the senior bar. A man of few words, when he speaks he is forceful and to the point. A Lawrence College man, a year senior to me, he is doing his old college proud.

Incidentally, Justice Jawad Khawaja who has resigned from the Lahore High Court to show his solidarity with the legal fraternity spent two years in Lawrence College as a junior school boy. If I am not being too unfair, Lawrence College’s main claim to fame used to be to produce academic duffers who would then go into the army and do well there. I am glad if it is beginning to acquire a slightly different reputation.

Clarity of aim is important because confusion of aim has destroyed or led astray many a popular upsurge in our history, be it the anti-Ayub agitation of 1968-69 which toppled Ayub but gave us Yahya Khan and in time led to the breakup of Pakistan; or be it the anti-Bhutto agitation of 1977 which was launched for the holding of fresh elections but which, along the way, acquired Islamic trappings –the evocative slogan, Nizam-i-Mustafa (Islamic rule) – and then fell like a ripe plum into General Ziaul Haq’s lap. This was 30 years ago but Pakistan has still to recover from the consequences of that hijacking.

So perhaps it is a good thing that the lawyers’ struggle, for all the public sympathy it is attracting, is staying first and foremost a lawyers’ struggle and not turning into something else. Good that the Jamaat-i-Islami, although verbally committed to this battle, is still keeping its powder dry and not throwing its cadres into the fray (something easy for it to do) because if that happens we will soon start hearing slogans of ‘Islami Inqilab (revolution)’ which for the moment we can do without.

Good that more and more people think that Maulana Fazlur Rahman is playing a double game, saying all the right things but not doing anything to undermine the interests of the military government. The Maulana is an astute man but often too astute for his own good. Still, by exposing himself thus he performs a useful public function. It increases the public’s awareness of humbugs.

Musharraf’s hands are tied, but how? Because unless he sweeps everything from the table and imposes emergency or martial law he must abide by the Constitution, moth-eaten and mutilated as it is. He tried using strong-arm tactics with the Chief Justice but when Justice Chaudhry stood his ground, there was nothing that Musharraf could do.

He is not the man he was and this crisis has weakened him further. Everyone recognises this, the Q League, the people of Pakistan, even our American friends, the godfathers of this dispensation. So tough decisions like sweeping everything from the table and ordering a general clampdown are no longer Musharraf’s to make. If he insists, it is doubtful whether his own constituency will go along with him. While we shouldn’t put any folly beyond the General Staff, we should give it the credit of recognising when a liability is a liability.

The problem, however, is not Musharraf. Because as things stand, if he falls into the pit he has so assiduously dug for himself, it is not democracy that will replace him but a freshly-groomed product of the General Staff who can be trusted to follow the pattern we are so familiar with: promising the nation deliverance and giving it hell. Haven’t we had enough of these circus performances?

The problem is to salvage the Constitution from the wreckage strewn around this dispensation. If My Lord the Chief Justice is restored, other things will fall in place. The choice then will not be Musharraf’s to abide or not to abide by the Constitution. He will be subject to its provisions.

The clock is ticking and in Sep/Oct this year his term comes to an end. Getting elected from these assemblies is now out of the question. Even the Q League won’t have the stomach for such a farce. And if Musharraf, flouting all dictates of good sense, insists on grappling with the impossible, that will be the cue for resignations from the assemblies followed by mass unrest.

But the key to all this is the independence of the judiciary and the restoration of My Lord the Chief Justice so that the judiciary acts as the Constitution’s guardian, as it should always have done, instead of being Marie Walewska or Madame Pompadour (take your pick) to a succession of some of the most hollow dictators our eastern climes have known.

A small caveat though. Roman emperors celebrating a triumph would have a slave standing beside them in their chariot, whispering into their ear: “Remember Caesar, thou art mortal.” If My Lord the Chief Justice is restored, let his restoration not go to his head. Humility should be his garment and prudence his guiding principle.

Look where we are. The religious seminary, Jamia Hafsa, located but a short distance from ISI headquarters in Islamabad takes the law into its own hands, abducting police officials and releasing them only after the Islamabad administration succumbs to its demands. The town of Tank near Dera Ismail Khan in the Frontier Province is attacked by militants, the first time such a thing has happened in Pakistan. This is the writ of the state.

So what games is the General Staff playing? Musharraf has already done the nation a favour by triggering this judicial crisis which may yet lead, unless misfortune is woven into our destiny, to the triumph of constitutionalism.

He can do another by taking off his uniform, now not so much a mark of distinction as an emblem of fear and timidity. He may yet be remembered with gratitude but only if he seizes the moment. Events are moving fast. If he remains a prisoner of his fears it won’t be long before it is too late for him to do any good.

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