More than ever before, Pakistan’s security situation is cause for enormous concern. Innocent lives are lost everyday in bomb explosions and suicide attacks. The most recent explosion, on a bus in Sargodha, situated in the relatively calm plains of the Punjab, killed several Pakistan Air Force personnel.
The “war on terror,” an unpopular war in Pakistan because it was viewed as “America’s War,” which pitted Pakistani against Pakistani and Muslim against Muslim, has now come home to roost. It is no longer contained in the tribal areas of Waziristan but spreading like wild fire to Karachi, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Sargodha, thus confusing urban and rural inhabitants who previously took solace in the fact that they were geographically distanced from the tribal belt.
In bustling Mingora city and idyllic Swat, often compared to Switzerland in the beauty of its terrain, the tourism industry has come to a standstill and schools are closed. Many families are secretly fleeing for safety to Peshawar. Pakistanis are fearful, disturbed and shocked not only at the ferocity and alacrity with which the bombings are continuing, but also at the growing numbers, force and influence of the militants.
Unlike in Britain or America, where terrorism, at least in the immediate aftermath, propels a display of unity and rallying behind the government, in Pakistan it is not so. Instead, there are feelings of resentment and anger. Because the government has done so little for its people in terms of health care, education and infrastructure over the years, the lapse in security is also squarely placed on the government’s shoulders. To some extent, it’s an easy target. Not to mention, a target against which one can speak freely in Pakistan. Perhaps it is not so easy to condemn the militants who have instilled fear in the hearts and minds. Nevertheless, questions as to how the militants were able to stockpile arms in large quantities and organize themselves and penetrate into urban centres are valid concerns that must be addressed.
The government, for its part, is toying with the idea of imposing emergency measures. Not because of the ugly security situation, although it must undoubtedly be alarmed by it and will certainly use it as a rationale, but because of the judiciary’s aggressive posturing towards the executive. The Supreme Court is currently considering “the dual office case,” which is to examine whether President Musharraf, as a serving chief of the army, was qualified to contest the presidential election. The Constitution provides powerful ammunition to the petitioners challenging his dual office.
Arguments offered by government’s counsel in support of the dual offices reportedly hinted at the so-called “doctrine of necessity,” which has previously justified the imposition of martial law in Pakistan. Yet, the Supreme Court bench, although off to a slow start (ruling on the case was initially postponed until after the election took place and has now been sub-judice for nearly a month), is making increasingly bold remarks about disregarding the looming threat of martial law in reaching its decision on the matter.
It is rumoured that the government is exploring interim solutions, not full-blown martial law. Just enough of an emergency to hold the Constitution in abeyance and circumvent a potentially unfavourable Supreme Court ruling until elections are held. It is with this understanding perhaps that Ms. Bhutto suddenly departed for Dubai only two weeks after landing in Pakistan after a lengthy exile.
Ms. Bhutto, who had earlier cancelled her visit to Dubai, in a surprise development, decided to go ahead with the trip. It is believed that she is aware of the government’s plans of imposing emergency measures and has decided to temporarily leave the country to save herself and her party the embarrassment of her cognizance and de facto complicity.
In stark contrast, Mr. Aitzaz Ahsan, newly-elected President of the Supreme Court Bar Association and counsel for the petitioner in the dual office case, has issued a clear warning stating that if a Provisional Constitutional Order is instituted the legal community will strongly oppose it. Mr. Ahsan played a key role in the movement for the reinstatement of the Chief Justice whom Mr. Musharaf had clumsily sacked earlier this year and has become a formidable foe of the government. Although he is a member of Ms. Bhutto’s party, it has appeared recently that they rarely see eye-to-eye.
By taking the case of the Chief Justice to bar associations across the country, Mr. Ahsan and his team of lawyers politicized the movement, which led to a peaceful reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry as well as a new-found faith in the independence of the judiciary. For once, the hopes and aspirations of the common people were not crushed and the movement they supported achieved its objective.
As a result, the judiciary and the legal community are the most potent force Mr. Musharraf has to reckon with. The ruling government is more fearful of them than they are of the politicians, many of whom have historically been up for grabs to the highest bidder. In a refreshing show of unity and modesty, out-going President Munir Malik praised Mr. Ahsan’s victory at the Supreme Court Bar Association and expressed profound faith in his ability to lead the body.
As the country is dazed by the clutch of terror, the government desperately tries to extend its time in power unconcerned with legalities or the effectiveness of its governance, and opposition politicians remain fixated on petty point-scoring instead of coming together to fight either terrorism or military rule or both, the only group that has outperformed all expectations and provides continued hope and inspiration is the judiciary and legal community of Pakistan, who have demonstrated a remarkable commitment to Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s creed of “unity, faith and discipline!”
AYESHA IJAZ KHAN is a London-based lawyer and writer and can be contacted
via her website, www.ayeshaijazkhan.com