Why the courts won't do the expected, or the logical

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Pakistani politics is an endless procession of surprises. The expected never occurs and hardly ever in the expected manner. So, those of us who thought Nawaz, the judges and the khakis combined would pull a genie out of a BlackBerry and Husain Haqqani would be hanged are, well, a tad disappointed. But don’t bow your heads in despair just yet. Because that would mean underestimating the power of our guardians of national interest to act out their massive fantasies one way or the other. The game’s not over till it’s over.

With the memo-genie rudely stuffed back into the scruffy lamp from which it had emerged, tensions between the executive and the judiciary appeared to be calming down. But not so soon. What about the rumour that the prime minister was planning to scalp both the army chief and DG ISI?

The memo may have passed the zenith of its faux splendor now but how can we let the chief executive off the hook so easily for daring to even imagine something as profanatory as sacking our good boys? Forget that the prime minister came on record saying he had no intention of making Nargis Sethi sign the marching orders for Generals K and P. Forget that the attorney general also told the Supreme Court that the government had no intention of removing the boys-in-chiefs. Forget also that rumours are often just a projection of the suspicions and anxieties of their tellers. The court still wanted the AG to submit the government’s formal response, in writing, within a fortnight. This the government didn’t do because, well, maybe it assumed a duly elected government should’t have to submit written explanations to negate every silly rumour. Or maybe the government is just wild enough to think it doesn’t have to give assurances before any court about its rightful prerogative to appoint or remove individuals in the positions in question.

In any case, this leap of faith isn’t without its consequences: the Supreme Court has accepted for preliminary hearing a petition seeking blocking of any attempts by the government to sack the military and intelligence leadership. The game’s not over till it’s over.

Of course, it’s unclear to most, including some of our best legal minds, why it was necessary to entertain this petition. Here’s another thought: why doesn’t the court make a similar demand of the generals: a no-coup promise, submitted before the lordships, in writing — doesn’t sound like a bad idea, does it?

But remember that this is Pakistan: the land where the expected never occurs and hardly ever in the expected manner.

Obama last month explicitly acknowledged that the US administration used unmanned drones in Pakistan’s tribal areas while November’s Nato attack finally helped confirm the US was using our Shamsi airbase. Combine with this sundry reports that drones have killed between 282 and 535 civilians since Obama took office three years ago and secret US government cables that confirmed that as long ago as January 2008, the army chief had himself requested “continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area” in South Waziristan.

What does all this add up to? That those who decide on little matters such as security and strategic policy in Pakistan have consented to drones being used to kill militants or civilians or whoever it is that the strikes end up killing? Or that the US administration is really carrying out these attacks without the approval of Pakistan?

Anyone who thinks the civilians know what’s going on here would be willfully blinding themselves to the pernicious truth that the civilians have almost entirely surrendered security policy to the generals and also that the bad boys are letting the plain-clothed have their democratic circus – only as long as they steer absolutely clear of the folly of thinking they have a role to play in defining the ‘national interest.’

So how do we get to the bottom of things? Can the court help? Instead of hearing petitions spurned by suspicion and rumors, perhaps it can meaningfully nudge the powers that be to finally answer possibly the most settled-unsettled question in Pakistan: who has allowed the drone programme and who do drones kill? After all, while we may not be sure what treasonous thoughts roam the prime minister’s dark mind, we do know for sure that drones kill.

So, since this be the season for treason, let the court help us understand who has committed the ‘treasonous’ act of handing over an airbase to the Americans and in the process compromised national security, fundamental rights, and all those other precious things that the bloody civilians are constantly undermining at the drop of a beret. Under what secret pacts have militants or civilians or children been killed in Fata for years now? Who decided that these secret pacts didn’t constitute treason? What exactly about the national interest was harmed by Dr Shakil Afridi in helping locate the world’s most wanted terrorist? Is treason only for civilians? Is it only misconduct if the non-uniformed commit it?

If the answer is no, let the court prove so as the Asghar Khan case reopens. Let the court prove so by stopping the missing persons’ saga from turning bloodier and grimier. Let’s not let this deceit run along quiet and monotonous anymore; let’s not abet it unawares or through cowardice.

Should we expect things to change? Why not? This is Pakistan, after all: the land where the expected never occurs and hardly ever in the expected manner.

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