Never one to mince his words, Federal Law Minister Babar Awan has accused the PML-N of trying to introduce judicial martial law in the country. This was in response to the PML-N’s desire to invite the military and judiciary to a proposed all-parties conference. While Awan’s statement is rhetorical overkill, there is a patina of truth in what he says. Bringing the two institutions, whose roles should not encompass policymaking, into the political fold would be a grave mistake. It would give official sanction to a clearly unacceptable state of affairs. The unacknowledged, extra-constitutional legislative power of the military and judiciary has been silently tolerated. Giving them a seat at the table with political parties would make it loud and clear that this is acceptable.
The irony of the PML-N’s proposal is that, in recent years, it has repositioned itself as the champion of civilian rule. The party, which was birthed by the martial law government of Ziaul Haq, changed its stripes after Nawaz Sharif was removed from office by Pervez Musharraf. Since then, it has been consistent in its call for civilian supremacy over the military. It would not be too cynical to suggest that this about-turn is indicative of a party that realises it may soon assume power and needs to be on the right side of the military in order to be allowed to govern. Ironically, by inviting it to the all-parties conference, the PML-N is actually strengthening the military’s self-belief that it is the true governing authority in the country.
It is less surprising that the PML-N wants the judiciary to also take part in these deliberations. The PML-N’s current popularity can be partly attributed to its piggybacking on the lawyers’ movement and the restoration of the judiciary. Given the party’s staunchly anti-independent judiciary actions while in power, this move, too, smelled of opportunism. Inviting the judiciary to discuss matters like counter-terrorism policies smacks of the PML-N shoring up its base before the next elections. The PPP should refuse to allow it, not just for self-preservation, but because it would set an extra-constitutional precedent that will be hard to turn around.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2011.
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