Jul 31, 2009

The law prevails

It was a long wait but the verdict came in the form of a short order at about 8.15 in the evening. There had been increasingly fevered and uninformed speculation as to the reasons for the delay and the verdict had been expected towards the end of the afternoon — but in the end it turned out that the delay was because the fourteen-member bench sitting with Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had been doing their job thoroughly. Occasionally, the use of hyperbole is justified, and this is one of them. The decision by the Supreme Court that the actions of then-President Musharraf on November 3, 2007, were unconstitutional is almost seismic in terms of the effect it is going to have in the near term, and perhaps for the nation as a whole for many years to come. He is described as a subverter and usurper of the Constitution and must have watched developments from London with a degree of apprehension. All of the institutions of state are going to feel the fall-out from the verdict and it may alter the shape of our political landscape too.The bench had to deliberate on the possible consequences of their decision in respect of the 37 ordinances promulgated under the emergency (a state of emergency which we should remember that Musharraf admitted himself was illegal and unconstitutional) and will also have been much-exercised by what their decision was going to mean to those judges who had taken the Kings Shilling and signed themselves into illegality. There are some sixty PCO judges, and if they are all shown the door in the near future it will leave Balochistan, for instance, entirely without a senior judiciary. Appointments made by the de-facto Chief Justice Dogar are now deemed unconstitutional, including those he made to the High Court and the Supreme Court.Whilst the verdict clarifies the constitutional position regarding Musharraf’s actions it opens a Pandora’s Box of troubles and a blizzard of questions. Does the verdict open the way for Parliament to take action against Musharraf, and should Musharraf be the only one to answer for actions that were taken by a collectivity of people not a single individual alone? If the PCO judges are all to be removed who is to replace them and what is the validity of any verdicts they may have delivered both during the time of the past government and the current one? Precisely why was Aitzaz Ahsan visiting the Chief of Army Staff and what were they discussing — and could it have been connected to the fate of General Kayani’s past boss? Some questions we will get answers to in the near term and others we may never get to hear the truth of. Answers aside, we saw the rule of law prevail on this day, and quiet celebration is in order. On Friday July 31 we were able to demonstrate to the world that we have a free and independent judiciary prepared to take difficult decisions. It is a step along the democratic road that was worth the wait — we now wait to see if the political establishment has the courage of the judicial, and follow the path they have signposted for us as a nation.

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