Ms Amina Jilani in her article “Suffering fools gladly” (January 12) has made sweeping remarks about the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that have no relevance to facts. In the face of allegations like “Neither party has the slightest commitment to democracy or to an independent judiciary”, it becomes necessary to set the record straight.
The historic martyrdoms, imprisonments and brutal torture suffered by the PPP’s leadership and workers at the hands of military dictators, ever since the PPP’s creation, are universally acknowledged. Our support for the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments — while we were in opposition, facing large-scale persecution and, following the insistence of President Asif Ali Zardari, empowering the office of the prime minister and parliament whilst reducing the powers of the president through the Eighteenth Amendment — are testimony to our continued commitment to democracy. The consensual appointment of the chief election commissioner and the efforts being made to hold free and fair elections speak for themselves. However, a lot of confusion has been created about our firm commitment towards an independent judiciary.
During military regimes, the PPP has suffered greatly at the hands of a subservient and highly politicised judiciary that was always more than willing to provide legal validation to violations of the Constitution by dictators. The existence of a free and politically impartial judiciary was, therefore, besides being a moral priority, also a political necessity. This concern was brought forth while we were negotiating the signing of the charter of democracy with the PML-N.
It is a matter of record that the PPP remained in the forefront in the struggle for restoration of judiciary during General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s regime. After coming into power, the PPP circulated a draft proposal of the Eighteenth Amendment. Paragraph 75 of this draft clearly stated that all judges, including the chief justice, would be restored to the positions they held on November 3, 2007. Unfortunately, this was conveniently ignored, both by the right wing parties and the media.
In the absence of a constitutional amendment, the government finally found a legal way to restore judges to their earlier positions. This was to be done by taking fresh oaths. Fifty-eight out of 64 judges opted for this provision. It is surprising that in our country, where a prime minister was hanged with a single-vote majority, a method approved by 58 out of 64 judges was considered illegal. Judges were being restored and assuming responsibilities of their high offices on the one hand, while on the other, the right wing political parties and a large section of the media was questioning our integrity and sincerity. It was argued that it only took an executive order to restore Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to his former position. Even if this argument was right, we did not have the power to sack or demote the incumbent chief justice, Abdul Hameed Dogar, through an executive order. Also, the country could not have two chief justices of the Supreme Court working simultaneously. We could only bring in Chief Justice Chaudhry without a fresh oath when the term of office of Justice Dogar had ended. This position was communicated and assurances were given to the PML-N through a committee of most senior leaders of other parties, who wanted an end to the needless confrontation.
The unfortunate perception about a politicised judiciary has been strengthened in the public mind. It hurts when senior lawyers who had always been at the forefront of the struggle for the independence of judiciary publicly criticise it and even go to the extent of accusing it of trying to bring about judicial dictatorship. Pakistan deserves courts that are genuinely respected and no far-sighted politician or citizen would opt for a course that runs contrary to this objective. In context of the aforementioned, Ms Jilani’s sweeping remark that we do not have the slightest commitment to democracy or to an independent judiciary, is surprising.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2013.