Although the conflict between Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and the judiciary became history many years ago, the incident shows that the clash between judiciary and legislature is not new in the South Asian country. Common people in Pakistan still believe that the judiciary is regulated by the army.
For Pakistan, 2007 was a critical year. As the country was all set to hold an indirect Presidential Election in that year, the two main parties – Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – joined hands to ouster then President General (Retired) Pervez Musharraf. However, the ‘autocrat’ military ruler was elected as president for another term by using an emergency law.
The oppositions moved the Supreme Court (SC), challenging Musharraf’s decision to use emergency law. After hearing a set of petitions against Musharraf’s plans to be re-elected while still in military uniform, the SC delivered its final verdict on November 2 (2007) and declared the enforcement of the special law as anti-Constitutional. At the same time, the highest court dismissed most of the challenges to Musharraf’s re-election and allowed the army chief to serve as president. Opposition leaders rejected the ruling as engineered and illegitimate, but the military ruler managed to stay in power.
Pervez Musharraf (Image: hindustantimes.com)
It was a historical verdict indeed, as the judiciary allowed a person to hold two constitutional offices (president’s office and office of the army chief) simultaneously. General Musharraf was well aware of the fact that the military uniform was the source of his actual power. That’s why he used to attend press conference in military attire and refused to leave the official residence of the Pak Army chief in Rawalpindi even after his retirement. Then, why the SC declared the enforcement of the emergency law by him as anti-Constitutional? Here lies the continuous variability of Pakistani politics. Actually, a large part of the Pak army became active against General Musharraf. The army, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI – the premier intelligence agency of Pakistan) and radical Islamists lost confidence in the military ruler and they wanted a new army chief to replace him. The situation brought the army ‘close’ to the judiciary.
Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007. She was about to leave the Liaquat National Bagh in Rawalpindi after addressing a PPP rally when a terror attack rocked the ‘Garrison City’ and claimed her life. The incident had a major impact on Pakistani politics. Later, Benazir’s husband Asif Ali Zardari became chairperson of the PPP and sympathy votes helped the party win General Elections in 2008. We should not forget that Benazir’s father and former PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged on April 4, 1979 on the basis of a SC order. At that period of time, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (with the support of the army) influenced the judiciary. The Pak media described Zulfiqar’s death as ‘Murder of a Trial’. That is why the PPP never had any confidence in the SC. For the party, the SC is an ‘anti-Sindh” or an ‘ethnocentric’ institution.
Benazir Bhutto (Image: livemint.com)
General Zia served as president of Pakistan from 1978 to 1988. The technocratic-military government of General Zia drafted the 8th Amendment to the Constitution and the bill was passed in the absence of an elected Parliament. The amendment, which allowed the president to unilaterally dissolve the National Assembly and elected governments, changed Pakistan’s political character from a parliamentary democracy to a quasi-presidential system. General Zia first used the amendment in May 1988 to dismiss then Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo for alleged corruption. And once again, the SC backed the military ruler’s move, thus, affecting the stability of Pakistani politics. Interestingly, the SC ruled in October 1988 (after General Zia’s death in a plane crash on August 17, 1988) that the 8th Amendment of the Constitution was ‘illegal’.
General Zia (Image: azquotes.com)
After General Zia’s demise, Benazir became the first female prime minister of Pakistan on December 2, 1988. She had served as the PM for one and half years. Later on August 6, 1990, then President Ghulam Ishaq Ali Khan dismissed Bhutto’s government under the 8th Amendment, claiming that it was necessary due to the government’s failure in tackling corruption and inability to maintain domestic law and order situation. Interestingly, the SC remained silent and refused to play any active role this time. Thereafter, Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N became the 12th Prime Minister of Pakistan on November 1, 1990. Once again, President Khan dismissed the government on July 18, 1993, as Sharif had some issues with the president over the authority circled. A subsequent political stand off was also instigated between the president and the PM and it prompted President Khan to call for fresh Parliamentary Polls. This time, the SC said that the president’s order was illegal. With President Khan and PM Sharif duelling for supremacy, the year 1993 saw political unrest within Pakistan. Both the president and the PM resigned in April and the PPP formed the government with MQM’s (Muttahida Qaumi Movement) support.
Nawaz Sharif (Image: dawn.com)
On October 19, 1993, Benazir was sworn as Prime Minister for the second term. The following month, the PPP’s nominee for the presidency – Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari – was also elected. On November 4, 1996, Bhutto’s government was dismissed by President Leghari mainly because of corruption. Leghari, too, used the 8th Amendment discretionary powers to dissolve the government. Benazir was surprised when she discovered that it was not the military, but her own hand-picked puppet president who used the discretionary power to dismiss her government. She turned to the SC hoping for gaining Leghari’s actions unconstitutional. But, the SC justified and affirmed President Leghari’s move in a 6-1 ruling.
On February 17, 1997, Sharif was sworn as PM on to serve a non-consecutive second term. And when General Musharraf ousted Sharif on October 12, 1999 through a bloodless coup d’état, the judiciary backed the army chief’s move, thus, setting a dangerous precedent.
Supreme Court (Image: pakistanpoint.com)
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, too, was removed by the SC in the same way on June 19, 2012. Five years ago, 20th Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry murdered the judicial system because of his personal rivalry with then President Asif Ali Zardari. Asma Jahangir, the former President of the SC Bar Association of Pakistan, called it a ‘soft judicial coup’, saying: “Sadly, the democratic process may prove short-lived. The (military) establishment has played its cards well. It has masterfully used the hands of civilian institutions to cut each other down to size.” In recent times, a case has been filed in the SC according to which the ISI gave a huge amount of money to a political leader during election. However, the highest court has not given any importance to the case.
Yousaf Raza Gillani (Image: scmp.com)
These events help us realise the fact that Pak army has always controlled the judiciary. Now, we have to see what will be the role of the army after the appointment of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as prime minister. For a PM, it’s really difficult to handle the military establishment in Pakistan.
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