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Two transitions

Published Dec 11, 2016 01:05am


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ERAS and institutional decades can seem contrived and imposed ex post, a too-convenient way of explaining the past and divining the future.

Sometimes, though, they are helpful shorthand that tease out inflection points and bracket phases.

With two new chiefs in two months in two institutions, a subtle shift in eras may be upon us in the army and the Supreme Court — a shift into and away from two pivotal figures in the two institutions.

Bajwa is the first chief of the Zia era — the first army chief to have joined the military, in 1980, after the Zia coup. CJ Nisar will be, nearly, the last chief justice from the Iftikhar Chaudhry era.

(Two more judges, Asif Khosa and Gulzar Ahmed, will be future chief justices who were installed in the Supreme Court when Iftikhar Chaudhry was still chief justice.)

Change, surely, is upon us.

Because his shadow is receding quicker, it’s easier to start with Chaudhry. This much is clear: if Chaudhry had been around, this Panama Papers and London flats business would not have tied his court in knots.

A slashing, smashing, alarming judgement would have been handed down in double-quick time and, depending on his whims and the partialities involved, the PML-N would either hastily be searching for a new PM or crowing about court-authored vindication.

Chaudhry was bad for the system. But his successors have overcompensated.

Where the incumbent has seemed uncertain and, at times, flummoxed, Chaudhry would likely have seized history and assumed centre stage with relish.

Where the incumbent has seemed satisfied with averting a political crisis by pre-empting the PTI Islamabad lockdown, a Chaudhry intervention on Nov 1 would merely have been a prelude to a marvellous, fantastical Chaudhry-esque storm.

Chaudhry was bad for the system. But his successors, in trying to bring balance back after years of judicial hyperactivism, have overcompensated. Gone is the Chaudhry substance — which is a good thing — and gone too is the Chaudhry flavour, which isn’t such a good thing.

So the incumbent thought it a good idea to get mixed up in a political/legal dispute, but then didn’t have the gumption or backing to impose his will — leaving the court a little less elevated and a little more irrelevant.

Jurists and experts can argue over what else could have been done. For our purposes, what’s important is the reassertion of the old order, a perceptual gap between how Chaudhry saw the court and how most of his predecessors did and, now, successors do.

The traditional court — and we must slot the next few successors in this mould until they prove otherwise — is protective of the institution. It is a court above the hoi polloi; a paternalistic, benevolent institution that dispenses justice and is, theoretically, for the people, but never among them.

Chaudhry was of the katchery mould, a freewheeler alert to both what works with the people and what he could get away with. The trappings and solemnities of office surely mattered, but only to the extent that they projected power and demanded obedience.

The rest was made up as occasion demanded and he desired. It was terrible — but important in one undeniable way: he made the court a player again. In the institutional scheme of things, in the system of checks and balances, the court was emphatically relevant again.

Chaudhry did it in three ways: his own celebrity, which he was more than thrilled by; his populism, which allowed him to ride roughshod over tradition and legal precedent (remember sugar prices and the Steel Mills sale?); and by forcing a consensus on his court.

His successors — repulsed, for reasons good and bad, by the Chaudhry template — have walked back all three practices.

But they’ve replaced it with a nothingness: a court above the hoi polloi and therefore with no populist support; and a court unable to be relevant, even in a disruptive way, to the institutional order and a checks-and-balances scheme.

Successive chief justices have now left the system arguably worse than what they inherited. In his last days, Mulk got involved in the election rigging allegations — but extracted no electoral, democratic or institutional gains as a result.

Now, the incumbent couldn’t resist a shot at immortality — or infamy — and ended up disappointing everyone. The next in line, CJ Nisar, will inherit a system that has wiped out all the gains and losses of Chaudhry — and will be poorer and richer for it.

Good luck to him.

On to Bajwa. He actually is a triple first. First chief born in the ’60s — 1960 — and therefore first chief born after the first coup.

First chief commissioned in the Zia era — in 1980 — and therefore first chief who lived none of the culture before. And first chief wholly and entirely with a senior — brigadier plus — career rooted in post-9/11 and post-2004, when the boys waded into Fata.

Those are seismic changes in the history of the country and the institution. It’s possible the epochs may cancel themselves out: the last decade of militancy countering the lessons of Zia. Or it’s possible the memory of the ’90s transition to democracy may burn stronger than the post-2008 version.

But the beginning of an era it surely is. Because in a chief or two, we’ll be slipping into the longest era of all: the Children of Zia.

That is, the ones who only know of life since the greatest social experiment in our great, miserable history.

Good luck to all of us.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn December 11th, 2016


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (41) Closed

Mr.T Dec 11, 2016 01:39am

you should've written few more lines. coz something is cooking, and either is delicious and disgusting...

lalai Dec 11, 2016 04:34am

Change can come from within. Having seen so much people suffering at the hands of the policies announced during Zia era is a big catalyst for change.

lafanga Dec 11, 2016 04:45am

Lame attempt to still blame Zia after almost 30 years.

Sikundar Dec 11, 2016 06:12am

Current SC has clearly favored Sharif family, no doubt, every Pakistani is feeling it. It was almost finished, today we saw judges have issued statements for their publicity but have NO time for the most important issue of the country. Would it not be better if SC has cancelled holidays for the sake country? They are school kids, who need holidays, they are leaders and leaders are always on duty and on call for the country.

Syed A Awais Dec 11, 2016 07:50am

I don't normally agree with Mr. Almeida but in this one, he's as good as he can get. Well written!

qamar Dec 11, 2016 07:54am

Chaudhary or Jamali, it does not matter because courts have failed again and again to dispense justice.

U Dec 11, 2016 08:03am

The analysis of this day nd age becomes more nuanced but he put these very deftly.

tariq Dec 11, 2016 08:22am

Cyril, probably a good blog, now tell me how many people would understand what you are saying in the 30 letter words that you are using.No what the 97% percent of villagers that will never read this!!!! Face it man, preaching to the quire does not make a difference to the average person!

tuk Dec 11, 2016 09:23am

Choudry would have thrown out the case for lack of evidence.

mind control Dec 11, 2016 09:55am

That is, the ones who only know of life since the greatest social experiment in our great, miserable history.

May be the Dragon's embrace has come just in the nick of time.

The Sweeter than honey guys would not encourage Zia's vision.

Or, may be they would

You do need plenty of Good Luck.

Shalone Dec 11, 2016 10:41am

Good analysis. Pakistan is far away from a perfect system, but it is getting better, although very slowly.

al Fatmi Dec 11, 2016 11:14am

Supreme Court slowly & gradually will become a lame duck institution of the ruling governments.

Maestro Dec 11, 2016 01:43pm

brilliant stuff

tHecool1 Dec 11, 2016 02:04pm

Cyril surely is one of the few analysts who can say much in a few words. It's always refreshing to read his analyses. I am not sure how many of his readers really get to his subtle allusions. Good job bro!

wajahat hussain Dec 11, 2016 02:30pm

@Cyril Almeida: I have gone through your article and I found it ridiculous that you are linking all army officers commissioned in Zia regime have the same thought as gen Zia,(apart from what gen zia policy is right and wrong) everyone has his own thought and everyone faces a different situation. maybe your agenda is to make Pak army leadership controversial.

Guest67 Dec 11, 2016 02:37pm

We Pray and hope with fingers crossed that " the Children of Zia , as you mentioned " they do not bring back THE PERILS OF ZIA ERA on to this poor national's psyche Nor the Ghosts of Zia's either . Let them rule on it to even Move his dead remains " who knows if they are actuals or fake ! " , from the area and send them to his Native village/town so , the area and the era can be cleansed form his dark age days for ever .

bala Dec 11, 2016 03:01pm

I like General Bajwa for the reason that he is sensible... this is very evident from the fact that LoC firing has come down drastically. It's the duty of every army to protect their country's border, but not the cost of creating trouble to neighbours. In that way Gen.Bajwa has very quickly handled the situation, and if he does not give in to any hardliners and support to help strengthen the democracy, rest assured, the relationship between Pak and India will improve

Saad Dec 11, 2016 03:36pm

well written and balanced...

Parvez Dec 11, 2016 04:01pm

Very, very well summed have said what a majority of the people are thinking.

NEIGHBOUR Dec 11, 2016 04:51pm

cyril is one of the best writers in the whole of the subcontinent.His command and use of language has a natural flow.Dawn and TFT of Mr Sethi has the finest writers/enjoy reading them though i often disagree with their content and anti India stance.

Owais Mangal Dec 11, 2016 06:22pm

Another article for Almeida fans club

A.N Dec 11, 2016 06:39pm

@wajahat hussain I have also read the same article but have not reached the conclusion you have. No idea where you got that message from the column.

Asif A. Shah Dec 11, 2016 06:55pm

Good luck to us all! I agree.

Nagi Dec 11, 2016 06:54pm

@lafanga This is what you think alone

munib Dec 11, 2016 07:00pm

Good analysis on Chaudhry but needed more paraz on Bajwa. Relating everything to Zia is not what i agree with but yes shades of his evil actions are still visible in one way or other.

hasrat Dec 11, 2016 07:04pm

The era of cowasjee is gone and it's not coming back, at least not any time soon. We have to live with the 'Next best thing's. Jury is still out. With the changes in Military and Judiciary, Media would be redesigned to suit the needs of political and commercial needs. Gone are the days where journalist's duty was to empower the common man.

Mustafa R. Dec 11, 2016 08:16pm


'Gone are the days where journalist's duty was to empower the common man.'

Media is a business and never empowers anyone except it's owners.

Fiqa Dec 11, 2016 08:18pm

I was in teens in Zia era and have seen n experienced it all. I decided to shun that narrow, bigoted narrative of that era but am still a Muslim. Not everyone is the same .

Talha Dec 11, 2016 08:39pm

@Sikundar So you mean apparently people can't see justice being done in Panama Leaks case? I feel I wasted my time following the case when now it has to start all over again. In my mind I am doubting intentions of people with whom I had hopes that they would do something about corruption. I think I was a fool hoping to see any frutiful outcome for Pakistan right now. Perhaps, the nation has the same feeling. Those who say the institutes aren't working themselves aren't doing anything to counter it.I have no hopes of a corruption-free Pakistan anytime soon.Won't happen until we have people in Pakistan who are willing to sacrifice their careers, reputations and even lives for our motherland. I am a commoner and I don't have enough powers to make my sacrifices meaningful. However, this spirit of sacrifice for Pakistan is mandatory on people with legal power because with great powers come greater responsibilities & if one doesn't realize his responsibilities then he doesn't deserve power.

Ash Dec 11, 2016 08:50pm

@Mr.T 'something is cooking' I like that observation. Thanks.

Umar Khitab Dec 11, 2016 09:10pm

Interesting analysis as always :) CJ Nisar is probably from the same school as IK..Things would get interesting as PM MNS would be muddling through a lot of his own doings. :)

Faisal Dec 11, 2016 09:27pm

We need to learn as a nation that cursing the past will take us nowhere, and the if the so called educated people with keep on playing the blame game just as an excuse for all the wrong happenings of today our future will not be any better.

Moni Dec 11, 2016 09:36pm

Sad Days: Those who were responsible to establish the "rule of law" have failed us again.

OBSERVER (Beijing) Dec 11, 2016 10:20pm

Agree with the author. In my opinion, courts were neither unbiased even in the Chaudhry's era nor will be hopeful in the future.

ashar Dec 12, 2016 12:27am

Great Cyril, I enjoy reading you.

Zak Dec 12, 2016 12:57am

Useless and meaningless article of no consequence.

Contempt Dec 12, 2016 04:20am

Time to Judge Judges, you have been paid all of your life, At least Deliver.....

AXH Dec 12, 2016 08:59am

@lafanga - "Lame attempt to still blame Zia after almost 30 years."

Really? Zia sowed the seeds of hatred which we are reaping to this date. Dec 12, 2016 08:49pm

Cyril, always tries to insinuate or muster a certain response or action .... daring people to do something other than how he corners them into an image that he so cleverly weaves around them. Cyril, Stop it buddy you are better than that!

V Dec 13, 2016 02:27am

Beautifully written - with such clarity of thought. I started reading Dawn regularly due to Cyril and now keep coming back. Salute!

md Dec 13, 2016 04:16am

at the end of day it is the the economy. dollars or governership.