Army’s coup under judicial mask?

A Prime Minister duly elected by the people of Pakistan through democratic process has been declared disqualified by the Supreme Court of that country. Disqualification is not for any serious act of treason or corruption jeopardizing national security and integrity: it is for a matter bogged with legal and constitutional controversies. Interestingly, besides declaring PM Gilani incapable of holding the post of Prime Minister, the court’s direction to Pakistan Election Commission is to arrange election to the Multan parliamentary seat vacated by Yousuf Raza Gilani.

The Supreme Court has fixed 26 April as the cut off date from which Gilani stands disqualified. In legal terms, this means that all decisions made by Gilani Government from that date till now are to be considered null and void. .It could result in many complications and cause embarrassment to the future Government in Islamabad.

Will Gilani’s ouster deepen political crisis in Pakistan or will it put an end to persistent triangular rivalry among Army, judiciary and the executive? This will generate lively debate among Pakistan watchers. Often considered the quiet man in Pakistani politics, Yousuf Raza Gilani became increasingly vocal in his criticism of the military. In late December 2011, he warned of conspiracies to overthrow the Government — seen as a reference to Pakistan’s military. “There can’t be a state within the state. They have to be answerable to this parliament,” he said. The army rejected his accusations.

But days later, PM Gilani criticised the army and intelligence chiefs for providing evidence to the memo inquiry implicating the Government. When the army said his comments could have “grievous consequences for the country”, he responded by sacking his defence secretary. Earlier Gilani had wanted to put ISI under administrative control of the Interior Ministry. The Army put its foot down. Meanwhile in April 2012 the Supreme Court found Gilani guilty of contempt for refusing to re-open corruption cases against President Zardari. It gave him a symbolic sentence of detention for a few minutes in the courtroom, leaving him free to continue in his position as prime minister. But in a shock move two months later the court announced that it was disqualifying him from office.

Pakistan was faced with internal crisis following the US military action against Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad. Sharp public resentment against the Army was noticed in the aftermath of that event. Army was keen to retrieve its shattered credibility of defending Pakistan against external threats. This was followed by another episode that widened fissures among three power players. The Army tried to capitalize on “memogate” scandal and was successful at least in claiming the head of Pakistani Ambassador Huqqani in the US. However Army’s real target, President Zardari, is still there and the case in reality was against him and not Gilani whose reputation as an honest man is above board. By the way revelations made by one Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani American businessman in connection with “memogate” implicated, among others, Yasin Malik the JKLF chief of Kashmir branch for links with Indian super intelligence agency.

Pakistan Army Chief General Kiyani pushed for an investigation into the “memogate” affair, saying the alleged note was a conspiracy against the army. In return, he was accused by Gilani of acting unconstitutionally. Pakistan’s military has carried out three coups in the past and there has been mounting concern that another is on the cards. However analysts say the military has little to gain from such action at a time when its hands are full with the fight against Islamist militants, insurgency in Baluchistan and financial and energy crisis. Military coup would attract strong international criticism. Therefore the workable option was a “judicial coup”. The Supreme Court has historically given legitimacy to military coups and some say the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chowdhury has dragged his feet over corruption allegations against the intelligence service while pursuing those against the Government — such as the sudden decision to disqualify Prime Minister Gilani in June 2012. The reason is sought in how the CJ absolved his son Arslan of the charge of accepting millions of dollars in bribes. Observers say that the court has not only pursued the Government over the amnesty against corruption prosecutions but is also arbitrating on the “memogate” scandal. The view now is that the military could be sitting back to let the court do the work of ousting the Government.

Now that damage has been done to the fragile democracy of Pakistan, upholding the law should be the right course for all political parties and stakeholders who are in the fray. PPP is engaged in taking the next step of electing a new Prime Minister as its alliance has a majority in the parliament. But that does not absolve President Zardari of improprieties brought against him by the Supreme Court and for which Gilani became the scapegoat. If the Supreme Court no more pursues the issue with as much ardour, it could have done that before fresh political crisis overtook Pakistan. Observers may not be stopped from thinking that this time the Army and ISI relied on a novel method of getting things done indirectly through the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Whether true or false, it does not augur well for Pakistani democracy.

As far as India is concerned, this is entirely an internal matter of Pakistan and India has nothing to say on these developments. What India is really interested about is that democracy should take firm roots in Pakistan and democratic institutions in that country should become vibrant and active. A vibrant and functional democratic Pakistan is in the interests of India and the peace in the region. We should not forget that Pakistan is a nuclear power in South Asian region and at the same time this region is in the throes of Theo- fascism. Any wrong or miscalculated step could plunge the entire region into very dangerous situation. A democratic Pakistan is the best guarantee against the dirty bomb falling in wrong hands or being used by reckless enemies of people.