Here we go again

Published: December 10, 2011
The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co 
in Lahore

The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore saroop.ijaz@

We have reached a point where inside information, rumours and political analysis have lost significance or even the morbid thrill, primarily because it is becoming impossible to tell them apart. The president leaving the country is not supposed to be big news; quite to the contrary, one of the major charges against him all throughout his term has been that he spends a bit too much time overseas. Hence, the outrage and conspiracy theory-mongering now would seem slightly odd. It is not completely out of the ordinary, once one inspects the context.

I hold no brief for President Zardari or any other political figure and by all means they should be voted out if they have lost public support. I suspect the silence of many pro-democracy activists and leaders can be explained by the fact that speaking against any and all potential extralegal or meta-constitutional measure will be construed as an apology for the president. That is ridiculous; our fascination with individuals, both messiahs and villains has reached absurd proportions. It has been said that the great censor of our times is the tyranny of ‘popular’ public opinion, and both the media and the judiciary have capitulated without a fight. The inherent mistrust of public representatives is classic masochism, it is self-hatred.

The lazy and implicit consensus amongst the media, the army and another crucial pillar of state seems to be that President Zardari has to be removed. The role of the khakis is no longer the taboo it was and has been replaced by another set of unelected gentlemen, the Supreme Court. I tread carefully now. There is a hazy sense of unquestioning deference when it comes to the conduct of the Supreme Court. The brave journalist or activist, who has an innate desire to display the latent bravado, feels compelled to write against the ‘military establishment’ and having done so can have a clear conscience and a good feeling. In the meanwhile, the same anti-politician rhetoric (which is by definition anti-people) manifesting contempt for the elected representatives and uncritical sympathy for the armed forces being voiced day in and day out from the Honourable Supreme Court goes unchallenged.

The genesis of this glorification is vague. However, it is either to do with some misplaced understanding of the law of contempt or the fact that most of the members of the bench stood up to a dictator. Undoubtedly, they stood up to a dictator, but to allow that singular virtue to give them lifelong immunity from fair criticism does not follow logically. Fortunately, we do not apply the same standard of quarrels with dictators on politicians. It is, above all, a squalid compromise by the lawyer community, more particularly the leaders of the lawyers’ movement, who betray the very spirit they ostensibly fought for.

The unhappily-worded ‘memogate’ is the latest example in a list of cases displaying a consistent trend. If I were to borrow a phrase which my lordships have in the past taken a particular fondness to, the Supreme Court displayed an ‘unholy haste’ along with uncritically taking the word of that buffoonish, self-contradictory and semi-coherent Mansoor Ijaz. And all this while the missing persons’ case, the Saleem Shahzad commission and lest we forget, Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s petition filed in the 1990’s remains pending. I do not allege complicity on part of the Supreme Court, rather I think they genuinely believe themselves to be the platonic guardians who will steer the country out of the abyss and that to me is the fantastically dangerous bit.

If the Supreme Court, the media or public intellectuals believe that the present government or the president should be removed even if it entails going beyond the strict confines of law, then that is what the real fight should be. Admittedly, the performance of the present government is not easily defensible by even the most ardent of supporters, yet the principle is absolutely clear. One is especially disappointed in Mian Nawaz Sharif, who seemed to have been displaying signs of a newfound political maturity up to this point — it seems old habits do die hard. I sincerely hope that Mr Sharif and leaders of other political parties wake up to the realisation that demagoguery has a tendency to be unforgiving and indiscriminate. Desperate times call for desperate measures, lesser evils, interim set-ups and other such claptrap is ‘doctrine of necessity’ and ‘martial law’ plain and simple.

A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt is an exquisite play on the life of Sir Thomas More. One of the finest scenes of the play is when Sir Thomas is asked by William Roper if he will apply the principle of innocent until proven guilty on the devil. Sir Thomas unequivocally answered he would and in turn asked Roper if he will “cut a great road through the law to get after the devil”. Roper replied that he would cut every law down in England to get the devil. To this overzealous answer, Sir Thomas replied, “well when all the laws having been broken, the devil turns on him, where would he run for refuge, since all the laws of the realm having been struck down”. “Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!” concluded Sir Thomas. It has not yet been alleged that President Zardari or Husain Haqqani possess demonic powers, although one would not be greatly surprised if some conspiracy theorist found evidence of that in one of their investigative journalism exposes. The media and the judiciary do not seem to understand that it is this architecture of democracy which gives them the freedom to thrive and prosper. One would expect scars of previous battles to have matured them to this realisation. The larger point being, if ‘due process’ and ‘the rule of law’ are to mean anything, they have to mean everything in tough cases. If any excuse however strong to subvert democracy is permitted, then every excuse however flimsy becomes kosher.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2011. 

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Reader Comments (49)

  • Dr.Masood Tariq
    Dec 10, 2011 - 11:56PM

    Personality based politics by the way of own agenda through individually managed and self loyal persons as an alternative of party manifesto politics, results non-systemized and un-organized party structure, un-skilled and un-experienced leadership, non-political aptitude workers.

    Whereas, establishment is well skilled and organized, experienced and systemized in bureaucratic and administrative duties at national, provincial and local level.

    Therefore, manifesto less politics, fragile party structure and pseudo-political coworkers, force the political leaders either to subordinate or confront the establishment for politics or governance instead of reciprocal, honorable, reliable and fruitful institutional working relationship to perform their charter of duties according to the constitution, laws and rules of business.


  • Err
    Dec 11, 2011 - 12:10AM

    Saroop, you may use as many beautiful words as you want to make it sound like its the civilian government that is the victim of the authoritarian army-media-judiciary nexus, but the reality is that the govt put itself in this position and shot itself in the foot. Instead of blaming everyone but the PPP why don’t you take the parties to task, for undermining the govt themselves and giving other’s the opportunity to weaken the democratic system. If there is any lesson we can learn from turkey over the past 10 years (which has a similar history of overbearing army and authoritarian judiciary) is that when the government delivers its promises to the public, and protects the interests of its demos, both the army and judiciary cannot stand in their way if they want to. Turkey despite being staunchly secular has embraced Erdogan’s Islamic party, because most people dont care about ideology, they care about whether the party can give them jobs, stay clean of corruption and provide decent welfare services. This party has in just a short time of 10 years managed to weaken the army, judiciary and media’s grip on politics, and I am sure if PPP had done the same, we would not be standing here today.
    So its not the army’s fault if the civilian government bungles up so spectacularly that the larger public themselves begins romanticising the army’s rule.


  • Parvez
    Dec 11, 2011 - 12:27AM

    Although I’m a fan of your I found the first half somewhat difficult to get through. Your view on the law and workings of a democratic dispensation are Utopian but admirable.


  • Waqar Zaka
    Dec 11, 2011 - 1:27AM

    Democracy is a western concept which is being forced upon us. Every society is unique and need to have its own way of governance. We need a Zia-ul-Haq to take Pakistan from its current mess into the path of glory.


  • rajah
    Dec 11, 2011 - 1:32AM

    I must say you have courage in present day Pakistan to speak the truth. Well composed .


  • rajah
    Dec 11, 2011 - 1:38AM

    @Waqar Zaka:

    Please don’t insult the Pakistani nation, these are all the ripple effects of Zia ul Haqs tenure.

    A political system, an important aspect of human society, also comes very much under the banner of the Islamic hemisphere. The great Muslim thinker and poet Allama Iqbal has rightly said, “Juda ho deen siyasat se to reh jaati hai changezi” (take religion [morality] away from politics and you have despotism), for religion is the source of all morality, individual and collective.
    The governing system of the Righteous Caliphs was the manifestation of this democracy. Today there is much talk about western democracy, but the aforesaid democracy presented by Islam is more accomplished. The basic pillars of a true democracy, i.e. consultation, justice, equality and accountability, are found in the governance of the Righteous Caliphs, Abu Bakar, Umar, Usman and Ali.


  • Arifq
    Dec 11, 2011 - 1:51AM

    Saroop, another brilliant piece. Thanks


  • Javaid R. Shami
    Dec 11, 2011 - 1:52AM

    Thank you for a well written and well argued essay. You now have a new admirer.


  • SH
    Dec 11, 2011 - 2:02AM

    @ Waqar Zaka: More like we need a Zia to take us further into the stone age. Much of what plagues us today can be traced back to the late Bhutto and certainly the Zia period.


  • D Das
    Dec 11, 2011 - 2:06AM

    In any democratic dispensation,the source of legitimacy of power is people.People’s mandate is usually for five years and if the democratic forces can muster enough manadte to table a no confidence in parliament and get it passed the it is assumed that the earlier mandate has lapsed and a mid term election is held.Not in Pakistan.The media of Pakistan believes that it has the mandate of people to make or break a government.
    Pakistani people doesn’t believe any of canard churned out by these hysterical.half leterate and barely concieved lies.Therefore there is paronia that Zardari may get a repeat manadte.therefore they want his head on a plattter.You can’t miss to see the jack boot behind all these anchors.They donot know that they are also being judged about their neutrality or tilt.Shahidnama is an example.Whole programme is based on hypothesis with half filled sentences like what do you thin,how do you see etc etc.Talat,shrieking female anchors are a torture.
    People of Pakistan specially the politician should realise that zardari is the only politician who doesn’t owe anything to army and is out manoveuring army at every turn.
    God bless him.He has united all the political class and history will judge him well.How did he govern the ungovernable by knives constantly poking his rubs from everyside,inside,army,media,afghanistan and US.


  • Mj
    Dec 11, 2011 - 2:10AM

    @Waqar Zaka:
    Are you really suggesting that Zia put us on a path of glory? Need I remind you of the drugs, weapons, sectarian parties, unabashed tyranny and the squashing of our basic freedoms which are a legacy of his rule? If it is really a ruthless dictator we need then I suggest you live one year in Zimbabwe, Syria, North Korea, Myanmar, Yemen or any dictatorship of your choice. With a functioning democracy, you at least have the choice to bring about some change. Try bringing some change under the great leadership of Kim Jong-il. If democracy is a western concept then so is modern medicine, computers, the idea of freedom of speech, universal human rights. Do not make the mistake of dismissing a great idea or concept just on the basis of its origin. It marks you as an ignorant person, if not a bigot.


  • amjad cheema
    Dec 11, 2011 - 2:21AM

    Khakis’s used to issue PCO but this time they want to get it issued by Supreme court, They will then enforce it by 111 brigade.


  • Umer
    Dec 11, 2011 - 2:59AM

    @Waqar Zaka:

    We need a Zia-ul-Haq to take Pakistan
    from its current mess into the path of

    We had the Zia-ul-Haq, where is the glory?


  • Huma
    Dec 11, 2011 - 3:20AM

    @waqar zaka…. really? so that whatevers left of pakistan should be destroyed as well?drugs, guns, militancy, thugs and dummy politicians were his contribution to the country. more of those are not required.


  • Rehan
    Dec 11, 2011 - 3:23AM

    @ Waqar Zaka:
    Internet and electricity are also western inventions. Give them back!


  • Minx
    Dec 11, 2011 - 3:39AM

    @Waqar Zaka: your views are appalling.


  • Talha
    Dec 11, 2011 - 3:47AM

    @Waqar Zaka

    Are you talking about the same Gen. Zia who took money from America for a war that had nothing to do with Pakistan, and in the process destroyed Pakistan with extremism, militancy, sectarianism, brutality and intolerance?

    Are you talking about the same Gen. Zia who forced laws made by Saud’s on Pakistan, and destroyed its inter-faith harmony?

    Are you talking about the same Gen. Zia who destroyed the army by promoting corrupt Islamists over qualified ones?

    Are you talking about the same Gen. Zia whose actions and decision led to the death of many Pakistani’s, look up Ojhri for one such example.

    He took us to a great path of glory, look how much glory we have today.


  • Cynical
    Dec 11, 2011 - 3:50AM

    @Wakar Zaka

    You can’t be serious!


  • Sherlock Holmes
    Dec 11, 2011 - 5:09AM

    That was brilliant! And please, no more Zias! Hasn’t that man already done enough damage for a country’s lifetime?


  • pmbm
    Dec 11, 2011 - 5:11AM

    Amazing a lawyer equating SC to army dictators.It is sad to ignore that judges have acted when a petition is brought to them,or an outrageous and unlawful event becomes public. Unfortunately most of their judgements have been ignored by executive branch, which did not bother defender of of laws, the respected lawyer..


  • Anti-Truth
    Dec 11, 2011 - 5:33AM

    good piece of text,
    but you are on hit list of Zaradi haters…


  • Messi
    Dec 11, 2011 - 5:34AM

    Brilliant, brilliant write up


  • Nadir
    Dec 11, 2011 - 5:40AM

    Great stuff! Hight time we all appreciated the the office of the President, PM, Chief Justice, COAS is greater than the individual that sits in it. The are all replaceable bureaucrats whose lack of performance should make them easily removable. The fact that some seats of power are more vulnerable than others highlights the institutional weakness, not the popular talking point that “Zardari is destroying institutions” and the counter attack is to remove him and thus destroying the sanctity of the Presidency along the way.


  • Ayesha
    Dec 11, 2011 - 6:44AM

    Excellent piece by Saroop Ejaz again. The SC has replaced the army as un elected gaurdians.


  • Peshawar
    Dec 11, 2011 - 6:47AM

    One can only stand in the defense of the present democracy for so long. It has failed and HAS to be replaced for the survival of Pakistan. After watching the mini Zardari, Gillanis and Shareefs on TV I have lost all faith in the present system because the future is just more of the same.

    Dear writer, it is food that fills stomachs not “principles”(read ransacking of pakistan). Recommend

  • Feroz
    Dec 11, 2011 - 7:05AM

    Brilliantly written but am not sure that the message being communicated will reach the target. In very polite words the Media, Establishment as well as the interventionist Courts have been disrobed.
    I admire your courage but must emphasize that journalists have been in slumber for too long. They have been asleep even as the bus has left the station and waking up now may be too little too late.


  • Dee Cee
    Dec 11, 2011 - 8:40AM

    @Waqar Zaka: So you need kings, emperors, and warlords who will rule you? You do not like to live your lives as free men? I think the tribal Arab and Asian culture doesn’t allow for free growth of mind and character. Except for Bangladesh and India, where there is still some hope for free men living in a democracy.


  • Nitin
    Dec 11, 2011 - 9:09AM

    @Waqar Zaka:
    I agree with you completely. what Pakistan needs really is Mullah Military rule like what Zia exemplified. All pro democracy and liberal fascists should be silenced. All those who fight for women’s rights, rights of minorities should also be silenced. Further, I think that Talibanization of Pakistan is even a better idea with Pakistan being a sanctuary of all Jihadis in the world. Only then will Pakistan can be the envy of the world


  • Ch Allah Daad
    Dec 11, 2011 - 9:24AM

    Brilliant article.


  • Nasier Sheikh
    Dec 11, 2011 - 9:37AM

    While I appreciate this brilliantly written article,yet the author has also to educate us on a way out when democracy runs amok,should we be waiting for the elections when you can see clearly the people are not educated or trained enough to use their vote judiciously, and already the vote is being purchased upfront,with the public money,through different means and is utopian to expect the rule of law of Sir Thomas More,the local environment,people and the thickness of their skin has to be considered.And what would Sir Thomas say to the Democracy,which is almost turning in to heradetory,I am sure he has nothing to say as he himself supported usurper Kings.some one has to come forward to save the country,Judicary or the Khakis from total ruine,as time is not on our side.


  • pmbm
    Dec 11, 2011 - 9:38AM

    So my earlier comment about the lawyer-writer/judges did not make it.


  • Saif Rehman
    Dec 11, 2011 - 9:40AM

    excellent piece.


  • Imran Swati
    Dec 11, 2011 - 9:56AM

    Brilliant piece of work BUT
    accountability must be done and this is right for it !
    Hope for the BEST .


  • observer
    Dec 11, 2011 - 10:21AM

    @Saroop Ijaz

    Very illuminating. Rule of law does demand that the law be applied equally to all whether a self proclaimed saint in khaki or an alleged sinner not in khaki.


  • Osman Waheed
    Dec 11, 2011 - 10:22AM

    @Waqar Zaka:
    Another Zia-ul-Haq? Path to glory? Seriously??????
    Maybe when we’ve recovered from the first edition.


  • Asif Shah
    Dec 11, 2011 - 11:08AM

    Very good article. Especially the commetns “…our fascination with individuals, both messiahs and villains has reached absurd proportions…” and “…they stood up to a dictator, but to allow that singular virtue to give them lifelong immunity from fair criticism does not follow logically…” very rightly points to the situation at hand.


  • Syed
    Dec 11, 2011 - 11:17AM

    No one is against Democracy – but hugging democracy at the cost of Country and its people is not acceptable even in the WEST!

    Not Impressed with your article!


  • Skin Taj
    Dec 11, 2011 - 11:58AM

    a well written an
    expressed article. thanks


  • Rao Amjad Ali
    Dec 11, 2011 - 12:02PM

    Yes, you have made some important observations! But the question remains as to why the SC has assumed the role that it has? A study, in my judgment, more in the realm of organizational behavior than balance of power. I suppose one reason could be that once you have suffered the kind of democracy deficit as we have here in this country, a disequilibrium among state institutions is its natural corollary as is also evident from the experience of several other countries, most notably Chile.

    It must not mystify anyone that in the face of the rather grim choices which the political landscape presents our teeming millions, the collective political consciousness of the Pakistanis will comntinue to find itself between a rock and a hard place.

    I believe that the dilution of disproportionate amount of power which has gotten vested in the SC came to it through force of circumstance, not design, which will be recaliberated as we mature as a democracy, a prospect that does not necessarily seem promising at this time but one that we are quite capable of learning to embrace.

    That said we, must not lose sight of the fact that despite remarkable odds, Pakistan has overcome untold trials and tribulations that have upended our survival skills in no small measure.

    A ruptured political past, indeed, haunts us but as a young nation trying to learn to walk, Pakistan, in my opinion, hasn’t done too badly in its quest to be able to trot in a straight line. Yes, there are a myriad developmental challenges but we can fix them since ours is a very rich country with a lot of poor people in it.


  • You Said It
    Dec 11, 2011 - 12:42PM

    I am unfortunately not surprised by the current Supreme Court’s “unholy haste” in jettisoning the constraints placed on the Judicial branch by the Constitution in order to maintain the Balance of Power between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Two recent rulings of the SC have precipitously tilted the balance — the order on the NRO and the institution of a commission of inquiry into the Memogate affair.

    The judiciary derives its sense of respect and ethical power by not just being “fair”, but above all maintaining the “perception of fairness”. If the perception is lost, so will be the trust of the people in the judgments rendered.Recommend

  • Shahid
    Dec 11, 2011 - 1:49PM

    @Waqar Zaka:
    Waqar, ‘Khuda ka khaof karo, the mess of intolerance and sectarianism prevailing today is the result of said ‘Mrad-e-Haq’. Even his son Ejazul Haq do not say that era of his father should be back in Pakistan. Brother, today Islamic world’s suffering are result of Zia services provided to America and making it world only superpower by acting so vigorously against USSR.


  • Shahid
    Dec 11, 2011 - 2:00PM

    Dear Waqar, “Allah hamarey gunah muaf karey and mazeed kissi Zia se mahfooz Rakhey”. My most of all Intolerance and sectarianism is the result of That your Messiah. I would say that Today suffering of all Islamic world are result of his (Zia’s) services for America.


  • Ishrat Salim
    Dec 11, 2011 - 4:21PM

    After 64 yrs we cannot claim to be a new born nation….there are many nation…China…S Korea & Singapore….all of them came after us…where are they today & where are we today….only one reason….we are a fuedal society & our political system & institutions are besieged by these same elements…who hv ensured to destroy the system for their own self- survival & interest through corruption, nepotism & favortism….consequently, we are hv turned into ” CROOKS “…we all are looking for short-cuts to any problems facing us….in any institution – whether it is School, banks & name any organisations…we all try to find shortcuts by offering monetary benefits to ” Peons upto the boss ” depending on the size of the problem…so are we not equally responsible of the mess ??….why only blame the politicians etc;Recommend

  • Zia Banday
    Dec 11, 2011 - 6:51PM

    Mr. Saroop, I could not agree more with you. We can take the Turkish example in this regard, where the last direct military coup took place in 1980. Military regime hold the election in 1983. Thereafter, regular elections were held for national parliament & local bodies. Political restrictions on leftist, ethnic & Islamist parties remained there, however elections were conducted quite fairly.

    After 19 years of regular elections, we witnessed the emergence of AKP as the credible outcome of grassroot struggle. Please don’t forget, Mr. Erdogan, leader of AKP, has earned his reputation as competent administrator, in his tenure as elected mayor of Istanbul in nineties.

    So all these tormentors of elected politicians, please hold your guns. And give some years to this incompetent democracy process. You’ll find your Erdogan through the same process. There is indeed no shortcut…


  • Maulana Diesel
    Dec 11, 2011 - 7:12PM

    @Waqar Zaka:
    I am sure many proponents of democracy will not agree with you. But you have hit the nail aright. Democracy cannot flourish in Pakistan or any other muslim state. Its a western idea of governance enforced on everyone and only people who have actually been students of political sciences know what is Islamic system of governance for a state. Though we do not need exactly Zia who had his own interests to avoid the ire of Bhutto and extended his false rule through Islamization, but we definitely need some one who can steer the nation on the right path. Allah be with you.


  • G. Din
    Dec 11, 2011 - 8:20PM

    @Ishrat Salim:
    “….there are many nation…China…S Korea & Singapore….all of them came after us…”
    India, too. Theoretically, perhaps but Pakistan chose its hour of Independence on purpose to be before India attained its independence.


  • Anonymous
    Dec 11, 2011 - 9:01PM

    I feel sorry for children of zia that circuits of their brain still woRk same way,democracy versus army. We should stop that and grow up. Answer to bad democracy is good democracy not army or mullaism.
    Saroop you are great.


  • Mirza
    Dec 12, 2011 - 8:23AM

    Great Op Ed SI. Just wanted to say that when the history of democratic Pakistan would be written, your name must be included! Can you please tell us if the same case (memo) can be tried both in LHC and SC at the same time? Is that legal and happens in other countries with a constitution?

  • faheem khuhro
    Dec 14, 2011 - 12:41AM

    saroop,,, great job… nice analysis


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