Mitchell Johnson’s outburst against former teammate and opener David Warner’s selection in what is deemed as the southpaw’s farewell series.
Two recent judgments in Pakistan have led to speculation. The first is the Supreme Court judgment which has placed the extension of the army chief in the hands of the senate and the second has been the death sentence awarded to Pervez Musharraf. While the army was silent on the first, it responded strongly against the second, conveying its displeasure. It is likely that the Pakistan senate would not hesitate to grant the desired extension under pressure from the army and the judgment would be just a scrap of paper a few months down the line. This is because despite everything, the army holds the power to make any politician toe its line.
However, the fact that the court questioned what has always been accepted as the normal is itself new for Pakistan. It opened fissures within the military establishment between incumbent General Bajwa and those who might miss the boat. In the case of Musharraf, the judgment would most likely be discarded and set aside by higher courts under pressure of the army and the current government, but it sets a precedent against future coups. The judges disregarded all attempts to stop them from delivering the judgment. The criticism even involved the Chief Justice who went on record to claim that rumours linking him to the judgment were wrong.
Imran Khan, as a politician, during the time of the coup, was asked by a news reporter on television on what his views were. He then termed Musharraf’s action as treason. Now being the PM, he would be compelled to fight the case on behalf of those who voted him to office. His government has claimed it would challenge the decision in higher courts. What do these two judgments convey on the changing scenario within Pakistan? There is a view that these judgments have been faked knowing that they would never be implemented. However simultaneously they would tell the world Pakistan has an independent judiciary and change perceptions about the country.
The other view is that the judiciary is seeking to regain its prominence. A third view is that this is the judiciary’s revenge against the army for its interference in judicial affairs. The way all top opposition politicians have been placed behind bars, without even a trial, indicates the power of the deep state. Nawaz Sharif was removed, solely because he challenged military might. Thus, the world view was that the army controlled the judiciary. These two judgments could reverse the view. The second view is that the judiciary has begun silently re-exerting itself and forcing the army onto the back foot. It has begun limiting the army’s powers.
However, in both judgments, it has left doors open for challenges and review. Yet, the fact that it questioned the army’s power is a message that it is attempting to change Pakistan for the better. The words of the two judgments could suggest the re-affirmation of the judiciary’s power. In Bajwa’s case, there were two comments. The first was: “In our peculiar historical context, the COAS holds a powerful position in ways more than one. Unbridled power position, like unstructured discretion, is dangerous.” The second was, “Howsoever high you may be, the law is above you.” In the Musharraf case, the judgment stated that if he dies prior to execution then his body be hung publicly for 3 days.
This could never have been stated against an army chief earlier. Finally, it could be an attempt by the judiciary to counter the reference filed by the President at the behest of the army against one of its own, Justice Isa, in the Supreme Judicial Council. Hearing on the same is in progress. It was Justice Isa who had in February implicated and reprimanded the army against manipulating politics, following the army’s support to the TLP protests of 2017. It was after this that the reference was filed. Fawad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s minister for science and technology, stated after the Musharraf judgment, “It has nothing to do with the constitution or justice, but is a result of a tug of war between institutions.”
The judgment on Musharraf led to panic within the deep state. A statement supporting Musharraf was released, which defended him and criticised the judgment. The army openly displayed that it backed its own and would challenge institutions which threatened its power. Lawyers called for a strike on the official army statement criticising the judgment. Battle lines are slowly being drawn. Musharraf will not be brought to Pakistan hence execution of the sentence is an impossibility. Politicians and judges may be hanged but an army chief can never be, no matter what his crime.
The judgment was issued to convey a message that Pakistan has suffered under army rule and its interference in politics, which would not be tolerated anymore. As stated by Zahid Hussain in the Dawn newspaper, “The verdict sends a strong message to potential adventurists.” Interestingly, Musharraf was tried for imposing a state of emergency and not for the coup. The reason was because the judiciary and the senate at that time had indemnified his coup. The judgment on Bajwa opens doors for a new debate on whether the extension needs a constitutional amendment or can be done by just changing the rules.
Another important petition presently being heard by the Supreme Court concerns powers granted to the army enabling them to detain suspects indefinitely without a trial while declaring them immune from enforced disappearances. This is applicable to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and could impact the army’s power. There is no doubt that both these judgments have impacted the power which the Pakistan army held over the state. It could also be the start of a new power struggle where the army would seek to control who occupies the higher judiciary, while the judiciary would fight for its independence and dominance.
While Imran Khan may attempt to steer away from the fight, he would perforce be dragged in. How it plays out in the days ahead would determine Pakistan’s future.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)