I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that yesterday’s decision by the Supreme Court to – for the time being – not examine evidence against the role of the intelligence agencies in the missing persons case is going to be the Court’s mini version of Lal Masjid.
Like almost every Pakistani politician, the Chief Justice and his fellow-judges used Islam as a rallying cry to a) ascend to power and b) defeat their political opponents. Riding on the support of people like Khalid Khwaja (of the Defence of Human Rights and also an admirer of Osama bin Laden), the Chief Justice took up the issue of missing people and we can argue for a long time about the issue of missing people. Now we can argue that the case of missing persons is a secular issue of human rights and I firmly believe that it is. However the question is who and what brought this issue to the forefront of public opinion? How many mentions of Aafia Siddiqui in the media are there compared to Baloch missing persons? How many people on this list are a household name? I don’t think it says anything good about the Pakistani media that the issue of missing persons only became an emotional issue for the vast majority of Pakistanis when the missing persons involved were individuals picked up in the cities of Punjab and Sindh for terrorism. And the truth is that to many, many, people who have an emotional stake in the missing persons issue, the issue is intrinsically tied up with the issue of religion.
The Supreme Court’s use of Islam continued with its detailed NRO verdict. However one of the interesting aspects of this verdict was that despite the multiple references to Islam and the weird toying with Islamic constitutional articles 227, 62 (f) etc, the verdict contained caveats and warnings about the use of these articles. Article 62(f), the verdict warned, is not self-executing. Of article 227 and the invocation of Islamic principles to strike down the NRO the verdict said:
These cannot be invoked as a matter of course, and certainly not to strike down formal legislation or executive action which is otherwise found to be within the scope of the Constitution and the law. The Constitution remains supreme and the primary reason for striking down the NRO, 2007 has been its being ultra vires the express and stated provisions of the Constitution.
These caveats led many opinion-makers and journalists to believe that the verdict was a wise one and not a cause for alarm. Some even argued that contrary to alarmist opinion, the verdict, by providing these caveats on the use of the Islamic articles actually put to rest any future misuse of these articles.
The question is, though, why flirt with these Islamic articles just to wave them away in the verdict? Justice Ijaz Ahmed in his supporting note spends pages praising the Objectives Resolution and calling it the “key to understand the constitution” but then suddenly added the warning:
There is no doubt that no provision of the Constitution or law be struck down in case it is framed in violation of preamble of the Constitution
Just like other brilliant politicians in the past, the Justices were experimenting with their power to use Islam to put to rest any sort of opposition to their verdict. But just like other brilliant politicians, these judges have quite a bit of affection for the status quo. After all, the status quo has landed them with these cushy jobs and they wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize their own secular legal careers!
An interesting parallel development was the verdict on the case of the restoration of the Chief Justice of Pakistan which reflected the judiciary’s increasingly friendly relationship with the army. In this, Justice Ramday noted with displeasure Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s comment that the dismissal of the judges was “was a matter between army and judiciary”. According to justice Ramday:
This, in our opinion, was a naive attempt to create a wedge between two important and indispensable arms of the State and to put them on a war-path. What was in question before us was an act of the President and it was just an accident or a coincidence that the said President also happened to be the Chief of Army Staff. The matter had obviously nothing to do with the Army as an institution. Needless to add that the Army was an invaluable organ and instrument of the State and was as precious to us all as any other institution of our homeland. We, therefore, take this opportunity to express our disapproval and displeasure about the said statement.”
We love you army! We love you status quo!
And you know, that’s really the bottom line. Politicians (and politicized judges) use religion to establish their positions of power and to wipe out their political rivals and then when they reach the top of the hill they realize how much they like the status quo and turn to pragmatism. Which is why we get the decision today to indefinitely postpone the role of the agencies in the missing persons case. According to Justice Javed Iqbal, head of the 3-member bench for this case, the issue of the involvement of the agencies is already decided!:
Justice Iqbal observed that the court would not like to create the impression that it was out to destroy or tarnish the image of intelligence agencies as it was not against security agencies.
The judge recalled that the court had also not found massive involvement of intelligence agencies in a majority of case
Now I don’t know how this is all going to go down with people like Khalid Khwaja who until recently was happily filing petition after petition against article presidential immunity on the grounds that it was unislamic (just like the NRO). Maybe Khalid Khwaja will consider the Supreme Court’s backing down with respect to the military to be a necessary evil since the military is once again doing Allah’s work in cleverly defeating the Kuffar in Afghanistan. Who knows. But one can be sure that sooner or later the Justices’ love for the status quo is going to come in the way of their supporters’ support for Islamization and they’ll find another group to support in toppling the existing status quo. Sadly for the justices, that’ll mean the end for them. But by then who knows what will be left of our country!