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Accountability for all

14 April, 2011

By Ikram Sehgal


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Speaking at the National School of Public Policy in Lahore, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said that “bureaucrats were not obliged to follow illegal orders of their superiors. They have to take all decisions according to their conscience and in accordance with the rules and the law, knowing well that they might have to suffer in the process.” The Manual of Pakistan Military Law about not obeying “unlawful commands” is more explicit. Unfortunately, the bottom line is the operative phrase in the admonition by the chief justice about disobeying, “knowing well that they might have to suffer in the process.”

Unlike common public perceptions, there are instances of civil bureaucrats and army officers having their careers cut short because they refused to obey an “unlawful command.” Yahya Khan may have been declared a usurper post facto, but everyone slavishly followed his orders and fawned on him till the very moment he left power. The only honourable exception was Lt Gen Sahibzada Yaqub Khan in 1971. The brilliant army career of the commander of the Eastern Command came to a dead stop because of his reservations about the proposed army operation in East Pakistan. Even among those retired, Air Marshal Asghar Khan was at that time the only brave and conscientious voice of dissent. Not very popular then, the air marshal always upheld the right position, against all odds. That they were right is no consolation to the many who died because of political bankruptcy and military madness.

Nobody dares become a “conscientious objector.” Our civil servants and uniformed officers invariably chose discretion to be the better part of valour in the face of official retribution. Hopefully the chief justice and his justices will take up the cudgels on an issue considered heretical by the establishment. People do have a conscience and the will to go with it. What is the guarantee that they will survive their commitment to principles?

Does bogus votes allow “elected” MNAs or MPAs legality in office? Are they entitled to give any command, lawful or unlawful? Doubts about the credibility of office make every command unlawful. Consequently, can those “selected,” both civil and military, enforce orders given by those “elected” as the “laws of the land”? Where is the moral right of those fraudulently elected to preside over the promotion and postings of civil and military servants of the state? One has great respect for the superior judiciary but the prevaricating on implementing their judgments over the past year has allowed criminals to function in the name of justice. Justice has now become a crime. Imran Khan has petitioned the Supreme Court about massive fraud in the electoral rolls. Indeed, why is the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in danger of extinction except for being a threat to those with fake degrees who are now legislating on the destiny of Pakistan? Including the Supreme Court, every institution in the state is being targeted, the NAB has been brought to its knees by the simple expedient of appointment of controversial people.

Those disqualified by the Supreme Court are reappointed time and again, and this does not constitute contempt? The fact remains that the status quo is continuing under the “doctrine of necessity.” The major changes in the electoral process required are: (1) elimination of the “first past the post” system and its replacement by a “run-off” election if anyone does not get an absolute majority of the vote. Any candidate not obtaining 50 percent plus one vote should trigger a subsequent direct contest between the two getting the largest numbers of votes to obtain an absolute majority; and (2) by bringing in “proportional representation” to engage the “great silent majority” of the populace contemptuously ignored in the present democratic system.

Asif Ali Zardari’s political and personal reasons notwithstanding, he must be commended for trying to right the legal wrong done against his children’s grandfather and the party that he now controls by default. Murder most foul was committed by a hit squad of the Federal Security Force (FSF). Except for the one person who directly ordered the atrocity, all went to the gallows. Whether Z A Bhutto gave the orders to Masood Mahmood or the FSF chief invented such orders to turn approver and escape the gallows is a moot point. The split 4-3 making the Supreme Court judgment controversial, Bhutto’s execution became a travesty of justice.

On Feb 21, 1952, students from across Dhaka gathered outside Dhaka Medical College Hospital in Dhaka University campus determined to violate Section 144 in support of their rightful demand for Bengali being declared one of the country’s national languages. When the students came out of the gate, four young men, Rafiquddin Ahmad, Abdul Jabbar, Abdul Barkat and Abdus Salam, were killed in police firing on Masood Mahmood’s direct orders, the superintendent of police. This atrocity was meant to “teach the Bengalis a lesson.” “Ekushay” (as Feb 21 is known in Bangladesh) led directly to Dec 16, 1971.

Is it coincidence that this unscrupulous and immoral person tried to be “more loyal than the king” in Lahore as he had done in Dhaka 22 years earlier? Caught out and facing extreme punishment, Masood Mahmood conveniently passed the blame onto Bhutto to escape the gallows. Why was the actual perpetuator of the crime allowed to become an approver?

The Supreme Court has a unique chance to correct this egregious legal wrong. The removal of this blot from our legal history will certainly not only endear it to the PPP rank and file and a great majority of Pakistanis but restore our judiciary’s credibility in international circles.

The Supreme Court can than eliminate the blackest of black laws, the NRO, from the statute books of Pakistan, and settle many other legal issues in contention without having to contend with the “Sindh Card” bogey. President Zardari has displayed tremendous courage in voluntarily resolving another controversial issue of consequence, the question of immunity for the president. In his affidavit to the Supreme Court on Bhutto’s execution, he has invoked Islamic injunctions in unequivocally stating that “everyone is accountable before the law.” Charges of corruption and misuse of authority can no longer be considered off limits because of presidential immunity.

As one of the pillars of democracy, the media holds the organs of the state accountable on behalf of public interest. The guerrilla campaign by the government against Geo TV’s various channels must be unequivocally condemned. Freedom of speech must be defended and cannot be allowed to be curtailed. The Supreme Court can start addressing our woes by ensuring that justice about the “freedom of speech” is not delayed. Justice delayed will be justice denied.

Courtesy: The News

http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=41577&Cat=9&dt=4/14/2011

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