There has been so much of noise in public discourse over how Pakistan’s Supreme Court failed to maintain an equitable yardstick between assets cases of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and a combined case of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan and General Secretary Jahangir Tareen. Although there’s no obvious comparison between the two, the verdict reminds me of how last Mughal emperor was prosecuted at the hands of the British. In early 1858, the first war of independence in modern India, that the British dubbed as ‘Mutiny’ had been quelled successfully after almost a year of fighting in Northern India, the British tried Bahadur Shah Zafar in a military court.
The court found Zafar, who was a fragile man at the age of 83 years, guilty of being the force behind what it noted as ‘an international Islamic conspiracy’ to overthrow rule of East India Company in Delhi and kill its Christian population. He was sentenced to life long imprisonment in far off Rangoon where he died just four years later.
Much to the chagrin of Muslims in India, ignoring the fact that Hindus constituted bulk of the Bengal Army’s rebels, the prosecution claimed that Hinduism was nowhere either reflected or represented in what they called as the revolt. Their intention of course was to decimate the faintest semblance of Mughal claim over India and to drive a wedge between the local Hindu and Muslim masses. That’s why most probably the idea of ‘international Islamic conspiracy’ was invoked when there was no Muslim state that stood or supported Bahadur Shah Zafar; and Hindus were given a clean chit as a community.
But that was a court from hostile and invading colonist, which had to be a means of justifying the British in India. What our judiciary has done, in the context of assets cases, is that it has once again encroached upon and assumed a role where it wants to call the shots on matters best dealt in the realm of popular politics. So why then apex courts took upon themselves to direct the political system of this country? Perhaps one explanation may be found from our pre and post independent political history.
It is understandable that the most vocal pockets of the urban salaried class, from where the majority of the leadership for civil military bureaucracy and judiciary hail, are infatuated with Imran Khan, who has a similar background
British could not have ruled the subcontinent as a democratic power but as a colonist. Sure, the British introduced us with the idea of parliamentary democratic system towards the end of their rule in India, but the local governments thus formed had virtually played only second fiddle to Viceroy led military and civil bureaucracy and the judiciary. Muslims in these three institutions saw in MA Jinnah a real force who could establish a modern Islamic state in the Indian subcontinent. It’s important to note that never had the Indo-Pak region seen how an elected government works at a national level, except for a few months just before independence in 1947.
After Jinnah and his deputy Liaquat Ali Khan died within four years of the creation of Pakistan, the urbane and elitist bureaucracy in these three institutions thought it was their responsibility to lead the path that Jinnah had paved as they thought very little of the other political leaders. This is testified by the musical chair of power game from 1951-58, when apex courts played their due role in weakening the political system and politicians. The notorious doctrine of necessity to justify unconstitutional ouster of a lawful government was coined then, which has continuously dogged our political system decades later.
The mindset that had characterised the ‘appointed’ top brass of this country in its first decade after independence vis-à-vis the ‘elected’ and popular leaders has not died down yet. Talk to any government servant in civil, military, and judiciary and one can see with what level of contempt they would like to attribute all kinds of illnesses to politicians while conveniently ignoring how inept and graft-seeking their own office and department might be.
It is understandable that the most vocal pockets of urban middle and salaried class, from where the majority of the leadership for civil military bureaucracy and judiciary hail, are infatuated with Imran Khan who has a similar background. And that they would like him to be at the helm through whatever favourable situations they can create for him. The issue is that a vast majority of our population, thanks to proliferation of media, are cognizant of how in their desire to see a modern Jinnah in Imran Khan some in the state institutions are conducting matters unfairly, which will only erode the honour of these institutions.
More important than the honour of the institutions, the country will have to pay for such political engineering in the form of socio-economic and political instability. These things have neither helped Pakistan in past nor will they do in future.
The writer is a sociologist with interest in history and politics. He tweets @ZulfiRao and can be reached at Zulfirao@yahoo.com
Published in Daily Times, December 21st 2017.