Laughing at ourselves

Published November 5, 2000

BY God's grace, day follows night despite whoever in Islamabad may be responsible for our destiny in Karachi. The sun rises each morning and each evening it sets, and the tides meticulously rise and fall.

Our last two prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who drained the nation as they did, impoverishing the already impoverished of their country, were each allowed a second round in power, a repeat performance. Neither has denied they were corrupt, nor that they robbed and plundered. They justified their actions by informing the world that they were 'freely and fairly elected' and were deposed by force of one sort or another. When the end finally came, rather than hiding their faces in shame, and disappearing into the wide world to live off their spoils, they are both attempting a comeback. Upholding the old tradition of honour amongst thieves, they are now trying to form an alliance.

Benazir Bhutto spoke to the BBC in London on Friday. She was asked how come, with the mutual loathing she and Nawaz have for each other, she is now in the throes of forming an alliance with his party. Well, she said, there is a hope that the Generals are looking for an exit point and if they are, we, the PPP, will do all we can to help them find a point from which they may exit gracefully. On the other hand, if they are not seeking an exit point and intend to entrench themselves, then in the interests of democracy and our beloved people the only way left to us is to all get together and form a force of sufficient strength to remove the generals. All is in the larger national interest.

This grand alliance is being formed under the tattered old umbrella of the Hookahmaster, well described by a perceptive correspondent to this newspaper whose letter was published yesterday. "Who is this great man?" he asked. From childhood we have been incessantly listening to and reading and watching an old, fragile looking but hookah-bearing mystery man. No matter what is the political situation of the country, which political party is in power, who is heading the government, what is the form of government, he always remains very much on the negative side of affairs ..... "Who is this great man, what are his qualifications, what are his services to Pakistan and the masses? Can somebody enlighten the new generation about the background of this asset of this unfortunate country.S Well said, young Mahmood of Sarghoda!

As my late lamented friend Pandit Abu Kureshi used to say, a politician in this country never dies. Even if you go to his funeral and see the body interred safely six feet under, never be sure that he truly is dead until you have attended the Chehlum. Justice being what justice is, we Pakistanis being what we are, allies and enemies being who they are, I am not willing to lay one rupee against the possibility of either of the two champions of democracy, Benazir and Nawaz, being 'freely and fairly' elected once again to occupy the Islamabad hot seat for the third time.

And justice being what justice is, both candidates are now claiming they are all in favour of an independent judiciary, that they worked their fingers to the bone to ensure that the honourable judiciary not only remained independent but was, under their great legislative abilities, assured even more independence. This, of course, is to be expected, now that both are out of power.

Nawaz Sharif, being an honourable man, has never claimed that it was not he who engineered the November 1997 storming of the Supreme Court. He has never formally denied that in order to save his own skin he did not suggest a handy way out.

In December 1997, the new Chief Justice of Pakistan, Ajmal Mian, in an attempt to redeem the honour of his court, and prodded by protests by the people, ordered an enquiry into the storming. Justice Abdur Rahman Khan of the Supreme Court was appointed to head it. He got nowhere. Then a Bench was formed to further enquire. On the Bench sat Supreme Court Justices Nasir Aslam Zahid, Munawar Ali Mirza and Abdur Rahman Khan. They enquired, and then initiated contempt proceedings against seven PML minnows. It took them almost a year and a half to conclude that no one had committed contempt as no one was responsible for the storming, that in fact it was doubtful if the storming had even taken place, since no alleged stormer could be identified even on Supreme Court's own CCTV cameras (which cameras were removed during the enquiry proceedings.) There had been no plan, no order ordering disorder, no storming, no contempt.

Earlier this year, with Nawaz deposed and safely incarcerated in an ancient Northern fort, the present Chief Justice of Pakistan, Irshad Hassan Khan, in the face of much public outrage at the outcome of the initial enquiry, and in another attempt to redeem the honour of his court, formed a Bench to hear an appeal filed praying for initiating de novo proceedings in respect of the 1997 storming of the Court. The Chief Justice headed the Bench, with Justices Muhammad Jehangir Bashiri, Shaikh Riaz Ahmad, Chaudhri Mohammad Arif, and Munir A Shaikh sitting with him. The formerly acquitted minnows were found to actually be guilty of contempt and were sent to jail for a month.

The Bench also ordered that the IGP Islamabad institute a further enquiry to be conducted by an SP 'to identify the miscreants involved in this incident and thereafter proceed in accordance with the law.' The people understand this to mean that not only should additional stormers be brought to book but that the planners of the operation should also be nabbed. A superintendent of police is now expected to do what a Supreme Court judge, with the power he had, failed to do.

In deference to the Supreme Court order, the IGP Islamabad has appointed SP Khalid Mahmud to further enquire into the storming. And where is Khalid Mahmud now stationed? In the Aiwan-i-Sadar, in charge of the security of the President of Pakistan, Rafiq Ahmad Tarar. And what was Rafiq Ahmad Tarar on the day the Supreme Court was stormed in 1997? He was an honourable Senator, installed in the honourable Senate by Nawaz Sharif. And to where did Tarar journey a couple of days before the eventful day the Supreme Court was stormed, the same day on which the Quetta Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Irshad Hassan Khan (the present Chief Justice of Pakistan) and the Peshawar Bench of the Supreme Court (headed by Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, who succeeded Ajmal Mian as Chief Justice of Pakistan) handed down their orders against their then sitting Chief Justice, Sajjad Ali Shah? He went to Quetta, secretly, in the dark.

To quote Benazir Bhutto, from her speech entitled "Guaranteeing the Rule of Law and Independence of the Judiciary in Pakistan", delivered in London to the Commonwealth Ethnic Bar Association, reproduced in the national press on November 1: "A judge [Tarar] who dishonestly legitimized the overthrow of my first government was elected President of Pakistan. This same man stands accused by a former President [Leghari] of "taking briefcases of money" to bribe other judges in the famous 1997 case. The Election Commission rejected Justice Tarar's nomination for the presidency. Justice Qayyum, on leave for his mother's funeral, rushed back to grant a stay. And Tarar was elected. As for the bribery charges, Tarar, as a former judge, like former generals, is immune to prosecution in real terms."

We laugh a bit more. Tarar was despatched to Quetta by Nawaz Sharif in a special flight which landed at Quetta at night. Now, the Quetta airfield is not normally lit up after nightfall as no flights land. The runway was specially lit up for Tarar and the security man on duty is reported to have noted in his log: "Instructions have been received from Islamabad that the details the special flight carrying the visiting dignitary, senator Rafiq Ahmad Tarar, must be kept confidential and not reported" (or words to this effect).

Now poor SP Khalid Mahmud will also have to question the present Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, Lieutenant General Rana, who on the day the Supreme Court was raided in 1997, headed the ISI spooks. He reported the then COAS, General Jehangir Karamat, at the dawning of November 27, that Nawaz's cohorts were to raid the Supreme Court in the morning.

All this is written in jest, in an effort to alleviate the pervading atmosphere of gloom and doom.

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