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No restraint in Ramazan

July 31, 2012

RAMAZAN emboldens the illustrious speakers on the national stage and consequently there is an abundance of truth to choose from. I choose only two which appear to be best representative of our black and white world.

First, his long-time friend thrown out of the prime minister’s office, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has finally been a bit disturbed by the judges’ take on how politicians should conduct themselves. A rap on the knuckles of his party has moved him to ask questions. He finds defence in the comparatively small numbers the opposition has at its command in the assembly to explain how the government managed to steamroll the contempt bill through parliament.

The opposition leader in the National Assembly calls for a review of the remarks passed by judges who wondered at a lack of opposition to the new contempt law. He goes as far as saying: “Such sweeping and one-sided statements do not strengthen the dignity of the Supreme Court nor do they ensure fairness and justice in an environment where justice is the need of the hour.”

All those who had thought that justice was the need of every hour, no matter who and what the subject were, should now stand corrected with this timely intervention by the seasoned PML-N parliamentarian who next asks the court: “While making these observations, the honourable judges should also have troubled to elaborate how the opposition, with 90 members in a house of 342, could have stopped the passage of the bill short of snatching it from the minister’s hands and creating a violent scene.”

This is a remark which in times gone by would have been directed at an erring journalist who failed to incorporate the opposite version in his reporting of the truth. Chaudhry Nisar’s is as polite a counter-statement as he could manage in his moment of hurt. It reads uncannily like a rejoinder to a news report that has been published and cannot quite be fully countered.

Much more illustrative of the dilemmas the politicians are forever confronted with, Chaudhry Nisar is only following his leader Mian Nawaz Sharif when he acknowledges the lack of numbers on his benches. Mr Sharif has used this excuse to contest the perceptions about the lack of initiative on his part on a given issue. He has often been pulled up by his supporters for his inaction. In the bargain, this inaction has been seen as a sign of maturity and has contributed to Sharif’s reputation as a senior politician committed to the role and authority of the parliament and the system on the whole.

The PML-N chief has reservations about how the current parliament has been conducted. But by recognising his own assigned role in a system that works by majority, Mr Sharif does recognise the right of the treasury to introduce and spearhead initiatives of its liking and accepts his own limitations within the system that he, as an experienced democrat, does not want to destabilise.

Chaudhry Nisar’s message is the same but his delivery is left-handed. “The honourable judges venting their feelings against the opposition should enlighten us where exactly the opposition erred in coming up to their expectations,” he ripostes.

Inevitably for a matter that involves the PML-N and the judiciary, the role the party played in the restoration of judges comes into the discussion. And that is where Chaudhry Nisar’s question takes a most remarkable tone: “How can such a statement be made about a party which has over the years often single-handedly raised aloft the banner for a free judiciary and rule of law in Pakistan?”

Without contesting the claim here it appears as though the PML-N had expected certain exemptions from the judiciary. If Chaudhry Nisar is to be believed, his party was at least hoping for preferential treatment from a judiciary for whose restoration it had worked — despite the fact that it had only 90-odd members in the National Assembly standing against the aspiration of more than 200 representatives of the people.

If anyone had any doubt, the episode strengthens the long-held impression about opposition politicians’ obsession for tagging their political line to proceedings in the courts. Just as they are eager to use a court decision to embarrass their opponent, the government, they fear public embarrassment for themselves when the judiciary chooses to advise them how they should have conducted themselves. They fear losing ground, if not to the government then to the other contenders in the so-called pro-judiciary camp, and they react with emotion.

It is a situation that puts additional burden on state institutions and functionaries to tread with caution. They cannot be — shouldn’t be — seen as aspiring for a part bigger than that has been written in their original brief. But things have moved so fast and their direction has been such that even the most respected, trusted and honest among us are finding it difficult to be not swayed by the tide.

Secondly, “If free, fair and transparent elections are held once, the fate of the country will change.” This is a quote from Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, our consensus chief election commissioner — the best thing that has happened of late to our blighted Pakistan. Should we then assume the past elections were not only not fair and not free, they threw up people who were incapable of changing the fate of this country? Supposing the past polls did send the incompetent and the unworthy to the assemblies, should the CEC be taking this suo motu notice against them, especially when they will be there contesting the next polls?

As admirers of Mr Ebrahim and believers in his neutrality, as well as wishers for a free and fair system, let’s hope this was a one-off expression of a sentiment that should be best left out of the proceedings.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.