Your one ‘no’ has made you immortal

By Ayaz Amir

Daily Dawn (April 13, 2007)  

I LIKED this slogan inscribed on a banner when Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry came to address the ‘Pindi chapter of the High Court Bar Association: “tumhari aik naan, tumhein amar kar gai.” Who would remember Justice Chaudhry otherwise? Chief Justices have come and gone. Who remembers them? Or who remembers them for the right reasons?

Some have served military dictators, straw and tin dictators at that, straw that horses would not touch, tin that scrap dealers would not buy. When courage was needed most they were found wanting, writing a judicial history which makes every honest-thinking Pakistani hang his/her head in shame. We did not deserve most of our saviours. We did not deserve most of the lordships adorning the judiciary’s superior benches.

Then comes Chaudhry – a PCO judge, let us not forget, someone who took his oath under Musharraf’s Provisional Constitutional Order – who got his chance to wash away his minor blemishes (which mortal is without them?) and enter the pantheon of lasting fame when he said no to Pakistan’s latest version of a military saviour.

From Khyber to Karachi lawyers are standing with him, and agitating for him, because when it counted he had the courage to say no. There is no shortage of judges and, I daresay, lawyers who would gladly play the role of Judas Iscariot. But they are afraid because of the passions ignited amongst the legal fraternity.

The reception that Chief Justice Chaudhry gets when he comes to the Supreme Court to appear before the Supreme Judicial Council is of the kind that riches cannot buy. For General Sahib’s ‘public’ meetings, sanitary workers, municipal employees, primary school teachers, etc, have to be pressed into service. Those who come to show solidarity with the Chief Justice, some of them travelling from long distances, come on their own.

At every conceivable opportunity General Sahib raises his arms and declares loudly, “I am afraid of no one except Allah”. This is a noble sentiment but it makes you wonder why he feels the need to protest so much. What do we make of the lady who is always proclaiming her virtue? Or of the braggart in one of our Punjabi movies who thumps his chest and says he brooks no interference?

Chief Justice Chaudhry has never proclaimed his bravery. But the entire nation – except, of course, for careerists and opportunists of whom, incidentally, there is no shortage in every clime – is saluting his courage.

Justice Jawad Khawaja of the Lahore High Court, who resigned in protest against the assault on the Chief Justice, doesn’t need anyone to sing tales of his integrity. Those who think that more senior judges should have followed his example are wrong. “Mausam aya tau nakhal-i-dar pey Mir, Sar-i-Mansur hee ka baar aya”: when oh Mir arrived the season of challenge, only Mansur’s head appeared as the fruit on the bough of the scaffold (forgive my mangled translation). If all of us were heroes, the world would be a different place.

Afraid only of Allah, General Sahib says, and who are we to disbelieve him? But what is that expression in Urdu? “Awaz-i-khalq ko naqar-i-khuda samjho”: consider the voice of the people as the drumbeat of God. And what is the voice of the people? That they have had enough. Is anyone paying heed? Doesn’t seem like it. If our rulers, most of them self-appointed, were afraid only of Allah, we wouldn’t be in such dire straits.

If they were afraid only of Allah would they need to cling so desperately to such flimsy protection as that afforded by their military attire? As it is, General Sahib’s uniform is turning out to be the most expensive dress in the world, holding an entire country to ransom and blocking its progress towards a democratic future. Indeed, his uniform has become such an issue that it is the biggest millstone round his own neck, shackling his feet, slowing him down, limiting his freedom of action.

Why can’t he get out of the fatal embrace of the Chaudhries? He has nowhere else to go. Why can’t he come to some understanding with Benazir Bhutto even though, given certain conditions, she seems eager to sup with the devil? His uniform stands in the way, as Benazir herself is making it clear. He wants too much but is prepared to give too little. The Daughter of the East also wants too much but is prepared to blacken only half her face. Why is Musharraf so desperate to get elected from the present bank rupt assemblies even though their own terms will be ending when he seeks a veneer of legitimacy from them? He dare not risk the unknown. He calls this courage.

In Islam the rationale for submitting before Allah is that this one submission frees one from all other submissions, making one truly free. Not much evidence of this dialectic at work here where every action seems to be dictated by fear and expediency.

We are unfairly blaming the cricket team for the World Cup fiasco. During the seven and a half years of this dispensation, when we have seen military favouritism becoming the guiding principle of statecraft, most of our institutions have been turned into replicas of the cricket team, their competence when challenged little better than the performance of the cricket team in Jamaica.

Nasim Ashraf as czar of Pakistani cricket is no accident. A truer representative of the mediocrity prevailing in most sectors of national life would be hard to find. Heading most national institutions is a Nasim Ashraf clone, chosen because of his connections to the right quarters.

Look how PIA has performed? About as spectacularly as the cricket team. The Steel Mill scandal (trying to sell it for a song, which Chief Justice Chaudhry prevented, this being one of the unspoken reasons behind the action against him), the sugar scandal, the stock exchange scandal, real estate scams, the unabashed ostentation of defence housing authorities, etc, etc. A good thing the ethos of the army has undergone a radical change, standing up to India no longer its foremost priority.

Waziristan, north and south, has been an unmitigated disaster. If we are getting better results in South Waziristan now, it is because the army has been compelled to adopt a new approach, staying back and allowing the tribesmen to take matters into their own hands. If only this principle could be applied across the board.

And General Sahib says (as in Sialkot the other day) that he needs three-to-four years to complete the great things the nation is embarked upon. Everything on the horizon suggests the nation has had enough. Three-to-four more years of the same medicine? A recipe, if ever there was one, for national madness or collective suicide.

The Lal Masjid/Jamia Hafsa standoff is a distraction, drawing attention away from the issues involved in the reference against the Chief Justice: the independence of the judiciary, the rule of law, the restoration of democracy. Religious extremism in Pakistan is a gift of military rule. It can be fought only if military rule gives way to the triumph of democracy. Otherwise we are in for more mayhem and disorder across the land.

Tailpiece: It was Hamid Asghar Kidwai and not Anwar Kidwai who (allegedly) brought General Sahib to the attention of the Sharifs, something, I suspect, they have had ample occasion to regret. My apologies.

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