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A day at the bullfight

Published Jul 20, 2012 09:02pm


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DESPITE the traditions and colour surrounding bullfighting, the bull really has no chance in the arena.

Before the matador steps out, the animal faces a pair of picadors on horseback who place two lances each into the bull’s shoulder and neck muscles.

The object of this preliminary bit of cruelty is to weaken the beast and reduce his stamina. When the matador emerges in all his brocaded finery, twirling his red cape, he faces an adversary whose ferocity and strength have been suitably diminished.

This enfeebled, bloodied bull reminds me a bit of our president who faces far more than two picadors. He has endured lances from the judiciary, the army and the media. The question that remains to be answered is, who will administer the coup de grâce to put him out of his misery?

Imran Khan? Nawaz Sharif? Or will the troika of the military, the judiciary and the media prevail?

The picadors goad the bull into charging their horses so he will tire himself out. But if he refuses to attack them, the crowd whistles and boos to express its displeasure over this show of cowardice. Occasionally, a black banderilla, or cape, is awarded to such an animal to shame his breeder.

Will history award this symbol of disgrace to Zardari? To switch sporting metaphors, he has most resembled a punching bag, absorbing blows from every quarter. And yet, he remains bruised but unbowed. Several of his close associates have been either forced to resign, or humiliated by the judiciary. But Zardari soldiers on.

Most politicians seek to leave a legacy behind them when they finish their stint in office. What will Zardari’s be? That he completed his tenure? This low ambition may accord with his abilities, but surely five years in power should leave more than this feeble achievement.

Even this modest goal has often seemed beyond this government’s capability. Given the poisonous hostility it has faced from day one from the judiciary, the military and most of the media, it is a wonder that Zardari and Co. are still in the ring. In the aftermath of one prime minister’s removal as a result of a Supreme Court decision, and another’s possible sacking on the same grounds, it is useful to revisit a similar stand-off between an elected prime minister and an appointed judiciary.

After the then-chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah issued a notice for contempt to the then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif in November 1997, tension escalated as the government sought ways to remove the troublesome judge.

On Nov 28, the day the hearing was due to commence, a mob of PML-N goons (including MNAs) invaded the SC premises, forcing the judges to flee. The next few days saw pressure build up against Shah in the court and on the streets. Finally, an in-house coup within the SC, orchestrated by the government, forced Shah out.

The details of the constitutional crisis that took the country to the brink have been recorded at tedious length by Sajjad Ali Shah in his book Law Courts in a Glass House (OUP, 2001). I only wish our judges wrote less turgid prose. But retired Indian Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju is eminently clear in the views he expressed some time ago, published in The Hindu, on the contempt cases presently preoccupying the courts and the people of Pakistan:

“…Section 248(2) of the Pakistani constitution states:

‘No criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted 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.

“I therefore fail to understand how proceedings on corruption charges (which are clearly of a criminal nature) can be instituted or continued against the Pakistani president.

“Moreover, how can the court remove a prime minister? This is unheard of in a democracy. The prime minister holds office as long as he has the confidence of parliament, not the confidence of the Supreme Court.

“I regret to say that the Pakistani Supreme Court, particularly its chief justice, has been showing utter lack of restraint. This is not expected of superior courts. In fact the court and its chief justice have been playing to the galleries for long. It has clearly gone overboard and flouted all canons of constitutional jurisprudence.”

Our judges are quick to fire off contempt notices to lesser mortals; perhaps they might heed the advice of a brother judge, even if he’s Indian.

Another thing that has struck me in the unending legal battles being waged between the judiciary and the executive is the complete unanimity in the judgments. Surely there must be some judges who disagree with the chief justice and are willing to record their dissent?

Apart from the fact that for the first time, an elected government might complete its tenure, the other memorable feature of the last five years is the perpetual gridlock caused by judicial activism. Even if this government had the capacity of actually doing anything worthwhile, the constant legal battles it has been forced to wage would have prevented it from performing.

However, it’s not been all bad news: the government has some progressive legislation to its credit, even though these laws have not translated into tangible benefits for the ordinary Pakistani. Clearly, the meagre achievements of the Zardari administration are not the stuff of which re-election bids are made.

But while the government is answerable to the electorate, the other players in this saga of institutional clashes and internecine warfare will get a free pass. This is why parliament is considered supreme in a democracy. Our studio warriors get away with the most outrageous accusations against elected officials and our judges can humiliate any civil servant or minister; neither is held to account.

So who ever said life was fair? The bull doesn’t ask to be pierced with lances and then dispatched by the sword. But when he’s facing his tormentors, he fights as best he can. That’s all Zardari can do, or be awarded the black banderilla.

The writer is the author of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.


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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 (17) Closed

A. Bose, US Jul 21, 2012 03:47pm
A meaningful article with an unprecedented metaphor. Your writings reminds me off an eminent Sanskrit scholar Kalidas...he was the king of metaphor. I enjoy reading your in frequent articles which are smooth, coherent and filled with inherent message left with reader to decipher. It's not only the marker of a joyful reading rather an adventurism to the core ideas of the subject matter as mentioned by another commenter. Dawn should notice comments section of your articles and should request you to write more columns/articles. I like joyous reading and your writings are too far in between like once in a week. Please write more on wide range of topics.
sabi Jul 21, 2012 03:58pm
judicary is activated on two popular public setiments i.e zardari and missing person.bye bye justice.
Karachi Wala Jul 21, 2012 11:44am
A good read. I think it is safe to say that Gilani lost his PM’ship through a judicial Cue.
kashif Jan Jul 21, 2012 03:54pm
I think Irfan saab should be the next senator for PPP. Being sympathetic to a party is one thing but to be blinded into thinking that something positive could have been done if only judiciary was less hostile to the government smacks of shameful bias or worse simply sleeping through these last 4.5 years of mismanagement and misrule
Syed Hamid Ahmed Jul 21, 2012 12:23pm
An excellent article, to the point and realistic, we all will see what history will say about Zardari and CJP. Zardari is a politician, the word politician is synonym to corrupt and inept where as the word judge brings to mind grace, fairness and worthy of respect. History will tell who reached the lowest in this fight.
Bakhtawer Bilal Jul 21, 2012 03:57am
Reading the headline, I thought Irfan had been at Pamplona and is going to give a narrative of it. Instead, we got a beautiful analogy of the current warfare.
BRR Jul 21, 2012 04:00am
A wonderful metaphor indeed. Well written, and to the point.
Agha Ata Jul 21, 2012 05:05am
NO MATTER how clearly …Section 248(2) of the Pakistani constitution states that: ‘No criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted against the president or governor in any court during his term of office." The fact remains that only Judiciary can interpret LAW. Besides, it never says that parliament would ever contradict the Judiciary's interpretation.
Shahid Jul 22, 2012 03:55pm
"how can the court remove a prime minister? This is unheard of in a democracy. The prime minister holds office as long as he has the confidence of parliament, not the confidence of the Supreme Court." Which law in which country states that the prime minister is above the law? The Supreme Court did not 'remove' the prime minister, it found him guilty of contempt of court. Under the law of the land anyone convicted by a court cannot hold public office. When the prime minister and the parliament refused to act, the court was duty bound to enforce the law. Supposing the prime minister had murdered someone and was found guilty, would Irfan Husain consider his remaining in office justified if the parliament continued to support him? Democracy does not give a free hand to holders of public office to commit crimes and defy the laws with impunity.
sanaullah Jul 21, 2012 07:42am
i wonder who wrote this constitution?? and on whose directive? it must be changed. why should a president or governor be exempted from the law! if someone is corrupt or dishonest he must be held accountable. i have no respect for this provision of pak constitution. NO SORRY
S.A.K.Rahmani Jul 21, 2012 08:01am
It is a common,but, wrong belief that judiciary's job is to interpret the constitution.Judiciary's job has been well defined in article 175 (2) of the Constitution of Pakistan.There is no mention of" interpretation" any where in the Constitution.Supreme Court's job is very clearly given in article 187 of the Constitution-to do complete justice.
S.A.K.Rahmani Jul 21, 2012 08:03am
If the job of the judges is to interpret the constitution,then they should be named,"Interpreters of the constitution.',and not judges.
Cyrus Howell Jul 21, 2012 09:28am
First they wound and enrage the bull and then they kill him and cut off his ears.
Cyrus Howell Jul 21, 2012 09:39am
It seems more like Pin The Tail On The Donkey than a bullfight.
p kumar Jul 21, 2012 12:48pm
interpretation can't be exactly opposite of what is written in law
Uza Syed Jul 21, 2012 08:16pm
It is a shame that a popularly elected government has not been allowed to function. The judiciary has done no justice whatsoever , it's not its function to run the affairs of the State. Anyone or all of them should have resigned from their jobs in the judiciary and joined political parties to change the system rather than abuse the power and bamboozle a government by creating all sorts of hurdles in its functioning. This has not in any ways enhance their standing if anything they have manged to create doubts about heir integrity in the minds of ordinay Pakistanis like yours faithfully.
g.a.shirazi Jul 22, 2012 01:25am
The parliment cannot pass a law which violates the constitution.