Ardeshir Cowasjee on Pakistani politicians, 4 June 2000:
Nawaz is now in jail, and the government appeal asking for the death sentence has been admitted by the Sindh High Court. Not fair. Justice must be evenhanded. Will the government hang Benazir and all the other delinquents?
Cowasjee, on Oct 3 1999:
The Americans seem not to realize that in this country, with the men of the calibre available to it, with their level of intelligence and integrity, there cannot be a democracy. No institution of the state supports its people, all work solely to support and maintain in power whichever man or woman happens to be on top.
The past is another country as the two excerpts above show. Even though you don’t come across many forceful defences of democracy in the media these days, it would be difficult to imagine a famous columnist – a famous liberal and secular columnist – saying what Cowasjee said in the above excerpts quite so openly anymore. And that’s a great thing. But one wonders why Cowasjee, who is famous for his respect for the law, could ever say such things. After all, here is Cowasjee on Oct 1 2001 in one of his many columns on the storming of the Supreme court by PML-N politicians in 1997:
(c) “At 0730 hours the same day, Lt General Nasim Rana, then heading the ISI, called on COAS General Jehangir Karamat to report that a large crowd of ruling party men had left Lahore the previous night and was now congregating in Islamabad preparing to storm the Supreme Court. General Karamat played by the book and asked Rana to warn the man whose orders he obeyed, Nawaz Sharif, prime and defence minister. Another general in Karamat’s place would have perhaps ordered a company of the 111 Brigade to conduct a ‘move’ exercise around the Supreme Court and the Parliament area that morning. The army is, after all, responsible for the security of the people and their institutions.”
Do you see a contradiction? How can someone who expresses the level of disregard for the sanctity of the elected parliament in the first two excerpts then feel any outrage at the violation of the sanctity of the Supreme Court? How can someone categorically rule out the legitimacy of the parliament based on the “level of intelligence” of the Pakistani people and then be expected to be taken seriously when he talks of lack of respect for the rule of law? In any case, it’s interesting to read Cowasjee’s suggestion to Gen. Karamat about ordering a “move” of the 111 brigade around the Supreme Court.
I have often wondered why the sanctity of Pakistan’s legislature has been so easily disregarded by individuals who otherwise have so much concern for the rule of law. If, as Cowasjee says, Pakistan is a country unfit for democracy then surely he must believe that it is a country unfit for an independent judiciary and a country unfit to have a 800,000 strong army and unfit to be a country at all. In which case why bother to write about anything at all? What exactly is it about the legislature that is so different?
In the Maulvi Tamizuddin case, the sole dissenting opinion against the majority decision to uphold the dismissal of the Constituent Assembly was Justice Cornelius’. He was of the opinion that “the Constituent Assembly’s sovereignty superseded that of the Governor-General’s whose functions were circumscribed by the Assembly’s power to amend the 1935 Act[…] He derived his concept of legislative supremacy first from the compelling task at hand – framing the constitution and thus making the state concrete – and second from the fact that the Assembly was an elected body, thus linking concepts of legislative powers and popular sovereignty”
But Justice Cornelius’ viewpoint has never been mainstream among the intellectuals of Pakistan. The idea of parliament as supreme, even before the parameters of the state have been defined, has never caught on in Pakistan. Part of the reason for this is obvious. The first sentence of the preamble to the 1972 constitution:
Whereas sovereignty over the entire Universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone, and the authority to be exercised by the people of Pakistan within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust;
Of course Cowasjee is clearly not a proponent of the ideological Islamic state as defined in the Objectives Resolution. In fact quite the opposite, he is motivated by ideology of another sort. In his writing, he has made multiple references to Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan and how far Pakistan has strayed from it. Like the Islamists, proponents of “Jinnah’s [secular] Pakistan” (the Jinnah of the Aug 11 1947 speech) too, are defined by a vague and poorly defined ideal that they feel that the people of Pakistan are unable to live up to if left to their own devices. This statement by Cowasjee mirrors the thinking of many people of his social class: “The army is, after all, responsible for the security of the people and their institutions.” The army in the hands of proponents of Jinnah’s Pakistan has been used – too often – to forcibly move Pakistan in an ideological direction which they believe that democracy would be unable to achieve.
It’s unlikely we’ll ever know what kind of Pakistan that Jinnah wanted. But the interesting thing is that both major camps fighting over Jinnah’s legacy have always given the least regard to the sovereignty of the parliament. In a way, they both believe in an utopian ideal and history has shown that utopian philosophies have had very little regard for the sovereignty of something as prosaic and fickle as an elected parliament.