ISLAMABAD: It was as quick as it could be. They came, tabled the Bill, and adjourned the National Assembly till Monday.
Political parties showed a rare unanimity in tabling the 21st Amendment Bill that, in normal circumstances, should have been most controversial. Yet there was not a hiss, a protest or a cry. Not even the usual fuss created by the likes of Sheikh Rasheed and Jamshed Dasti.
We were told that there was no need for “unnecessary” discussion as everything had already been discussed at the All Parties Conference (APC). For what we know from media reports the whole discussion at the APC was well-orchestrated. The second-tier leaders of most political parties showed some guts in raising political and legal objections. But then top leaders quelled their rebellious voices in the name of larger national interests.
So this called for celebration. Smiles all around, we saw most members congratulating each other for a marvelous feat. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was swarmed by sycophants for his statesmanship. Everybody wanted to shake hands with him; others kissed his palm and what not. In the lobbies, a Treasury member described it as “a Bhutto moment” when he had gathered the opposing political forces to sign the 1973 Constitution. It could be a Bhutto moment in 1977 if things went awry, a colleague could not resist saying.
What was all this giggling about any way? One would have expected a more somber attitude. For all we know this seemed a celebration of the total deterioration of state structures. This was an admission that our civilian institutions can’t deliver justice and the basics of the rule of law, let alone provide security to the citizenry. And those who were largely responsible for rupturing our social and administrative fabric have been turned into our saviours overnight.
This begs several questions—even if the political lot is seen celebrating victory already. It is yet to be seen how the judiciary will react.
We know the judiciary is no longer the hyper active custodian of the national destiny as it was under the great Chaudhry. Also, it would not be easy to stand up against such unanimity shown by Parliament that remains the ultimate law-maker—not to forget the khaki backing. Yet the 21st constitutional amendment remains questionable in more ways than one. The Brits and the Yanks, not to mention India, may have enshrined extraordinary measures in extraordinary times but none of them handed civilian judicial matters over to military courts. One shudders to think what may happen if the judiciary chooses to see it as an infringement of its jurisdiction and a violation of the constitution or its spirit.
Further down the road, if all goes well, many more challenges wait in line. The military courts can be a one-time grand purge largely necessitated as the civilian judicial and administrative structures have crumbled over the period. We don’t have mechanics for investigation, prosecution and means for protecting judges and witnesses. The first tier of defense, the police is neither equipped nor trained to deliver under trying times. If the parallel judicial and administrative structures are not repaired simultaneously, the purge can become counter-productive. This is exactly what happened in Balochistan. When the Frontier Corps was handed over the entire power in the Raisani government the civil structures stopped functioning. This would be a virtual Martial Law if it’s already not one.
The second tier leaders may have succumbed to their top leadership in most political parties but many were found murmuring in protest. Many were not sure if the establishment would actually sort out the good Taliban along with the bad. The Lashkars and Jeshs will be the litmus test. So far, the ‘good assets’ have joined the bandwagon. They seem in the forefront to avenge the Peshawar massacre. As if they are the biggest champions of human rights and have no ties with the Taliban! The strategy seems successful. Maulana Fazlur Rehman is reported to have secured assurances that madrassah would not be touched during the purge. Only if the Maulana could assure us that no madrassah will provide suicide fodder to terrorists in future. So far, the ratio of suicide bombers from madrassahs is 100 per cent in the last decade.
And how will we fight the war against the subversive mentality in the streets if we are not going to reform madrassahs. We are told that the bill be passed as smoothly as it was tabled. And the exercised will be replicated in the Senate with the similar finesse. One just hopes that the so-called champions of civilian supremacy—the likes of Aitzaz Ahsan, Raza Rabbani, Afrasiab Khattak, Mahmood Khan Achakzai—will spare time for at least convincing us about their reasoning. The public has a right to know what made them acquiesced at the APC. Was it sound reasoning, some variant of pragmatism or a downright compromise to the likes of Asif Zardari? Or was it the splash of the Swagger Stick?
Whatever their reason, somebody need to set the official record straight as to how the Taliban monster was created; who nurtured it and protected it. And who does it even today. It’s amazing that first they create a situation and then become saviors to sort it out. Do it what you may but stop giggling-for God’s sake.
January 4, 2015