“The emperor Abul-Fath Jalaluddin Muhammad, king of kings, known since his childhood as Akbar, meaning “the great,” and latterly, in spite of the tautology of it, as Akbar the Great, the great great one, great in his greatness, doubly great, so great that the repetition in his title was not only appropriate but necessary in order to express the gloriousness of his glory — … absolute emperor, who seemed altogether too magnificent, too world-encompassing, and, in sum, too much to be a single human personage — this all-engulfing flood of a ruler, this swallower of worlds, this many-headed monster who referred to himself in the first person plural — had begun to meditate, during his long, tedious journey home, on which he was accompanied by the heads of his defeated enemies bobbing in their sealed earthen pickle-jars, about the disturbing possibilities of the first person singular — the “I”.” (The Enchantress of Florence — SR).
There are times when the distinction between the title and the individual ceases to exist, it is only the title. We have seen honourable judges refer to themselves as his Lordship, this does not come naturally to most of us, but then most of us are not their Lordships. The recent exchange between the two “Chiefs” is really about them being bigger than all of us, than the system itself.
The response to the statements is classic textbook ‘Stockholm syndrome’. The Army Chief has constantly been lauded for his commitment to democracy, which is a scared and polite way of saying that he has been kind enough not to impose martial law. This, of course, is perfect nonsense. The Army Chief is a government servant and is not supposed to impose martial law and take over governments. If he does so that is high treason. We do not have to thank everyone who has not committed a crime yet. He would have been fired in most other countries for speaking in this threatening tone of voice. The ISPR statement took more words to communicate to us the same message as a former intelligence chief said very concisely to a reporter on camera when he (the intelligence chief) said: “Shut up, idiot.” The subtext of the ISPR statement, which has also been voiced by many in the media and politicians is that taking too aggressive a stance on the conduct of retired army generals will somehow dampen the morale of the armed forces. I fail to see the force of this argument. All of us should and do dip our flags and salute our brave soldiers fighting the war of our survival and we remain indebted to them for their courage and sacrifices. However, it does not affect the resolve and intention to prosecute generals accused of financial corruption and rigging elections (which most probably is high treason). If anything, the “morale” of our troops will increase knowing that they have a leadership that is willing to uphold their oath and be loyal to the Constitution.
The Chief Justice constantly reminds us of the sacrifices that the present judiciary has made and how the road for all future martial law has forever been blocked. The doctrine of necessity has been buried, etc. A few obsolete maxims like, “judge only speaks through judgments”, etc. have to be disregarded in this courageous endeavour. Noble sentiments, and one has no reason to doubt the word of My Lord. However, it is too strenuous. The only appropriate time to display (or not to) courage is when the moment arrives, and unfortunately, sooner or later, that time will come. Some particularly cynical people may also object to the Chief Justice taking this slogan on tour, addressing district bar councils and rallying troops. The press conference held by the Registrar of the Supreme Court in the Asghar Khan case is unprecedented; it is not clear if that will be the standard practice for all judgments from now on or if it was a one-off thing. The courts should be free in making any decisions that they deem fit;press conferences, however, are highly debatable. In any event, the good registrar is the Court’s answer to ISPR. Like the Army, the Court is extremely sensitive to criticism, and like the intangible “morale” of the troops, the Court believes unwanted criticism affects the “independence” of judiciary.
Maybe the two Chiefs are more alike than what first impressions would suggest. Prosecuting generals Beg and Durrani is an attack on the entire army; similarly, allegations against Doctor Arsalan is a conspiracy against all of the judiciary. It is always “us”, always the first person “plural”. Another unifying bond between the two Chiefs is dislike for politicians. This, along with their commitment to the “rule of law”, led to a common ground in the Memo scandal. The contempt for politicians is ironic considering the desire of both the Chiefs to be popular. Perhaps, they do not hate the game, just the present players. The press statements of the ISPR and those of the Registrar are meant to garner public support. Their job descriptions do not allow that, the perks, privileges, immunity of being a Judge or a General means that the desire to be popular has to be deferred till retirement. Political and policy statements is a two-way street, we will take you seriously when we can talk back. So, with the utmost of deference, in my opinion, both the Army Chief and the Chief Justice of Pakistan have disregarded red lines in making political statements.
Yet, there still maybe a bright side to this. The Army and the Court have remained on the same page up till now. It is said when Roman generals entered the city after a triumph, there was a man on the chariot whose only job was to whisper in the ear of the general, “Remember, you are only human.” In our case now, there is not one chariot, and there is no whispering; unfortunately, there is no triumph either. Still, the two Chiefs seem to be on parallel chariots competing fiercely and it is more like shouting, however, the message remains the same, “Remember, you are only human.” One hopes amidst all the noise both of them hear and understand that.
Correction: This article earlier misspelt “noble” as “nobel”. The error is regretted.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 11th, 2012.