The Sinews of Democracy

(Askari Raza Malik, Peshawar)

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. It might have become a fancy idiom in other societies. In Pakistan, we are forced to swallow its bitter truth and live with it.

We blame ignorance and poverty that compels the majority to look towards the local strongman against police highhandedness, to get a school admission, a job or a better deal in the government hospitals. In turn he demands a legion on our loyalties and our vote. He thus decides our political fate. Our democratic force is composed of these knights who are the architects, custodians and champions of our democracy.

They are also known as the electable. Zardaris and Sharifs have them in abundance. In democracy, they all flourish as they work the system at will. Sharifs and Bhuttos have even created a brilliant document known as the Charter of Democracy. Between the lines, it is a solemn agreement that ‘you scratch my back and I will scratch yours’. Both the parties have religiously adhered to the agreement. According to Gordon Bowker, ‘they proclaim alternate facts and deny objective truths’. The acolytes faithfully follow the master’s voice, “Black is White, 2+2=5, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength”, calling a thief a thief is treachery. Rhetoric, no action! Like the National Action Plan is the biggest joke of Sharif era.

Poverty and ignorance are only the symptoms. The malaise lies in lack of Justice and Balance. Judiciary is diffident and the system of justice lethargic, heartbreaking. The Constitution has failed to project a clear balance between various branches of the government, the executive, the legislation and the judiciary. Whichever becomes powerful becomes the superior most, the Supreme Court led by Ch Iftikhar and the executive fashioned by Shabaz Sharif. That is parliamentary anarchy. The civilized call it ‘dystopian terror’. On the other end of the spectrum shines the American constitution like the polestar, a beacon of hope for the deprived.

Trump has shouted himself hoarse. He has cried wolf umpteen times, chided the press and blamed the court. The judges are least impressed. They will take their own time to see what is in the interest of justice. The spirit of the constitution, the notions of freedom and liberty are inviolable. The media is unrelenting.

The American constitution skillfully ensures that balance. Those who framed this constitution were no angels, saints or even geniuses. They were a totally dedicated team of men motivated by a single point agenda, the best interest of the people of the United States. In Pakistan, it is the politicians’ welfare that reigns supreme. Democracy is the cart for their greed.

The triangle of power formed by the Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary hinges on the constitutional balance. It clearly spells out the powers and more importantly the limitations of each organ of the state. A free media is a lateral entry that claims to voice the public sentiment. The constitution guarantees its freedom inbuilt in human rights and liberty. Equally powerful, these arms of the triangle support and at the same time offset each other. There is no runaway superiority for anyone.

The executive constitutes the President and his cabinet. The legislative Congress is composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Supreme Court has under it 94 District and 13 Appellate Courts. The president appoints judges after approval from the Senate. These judges serve until they chose to retire or until death.

The Supreme Court is involved in matters of prime importance, like the constitutionality of laws, laws and treaties of the US and any disputes with a foreign country, ambassadors, public ministers, disputes between states, a state and an individual, etc.

The President cannot remove a judge. The Congress can. The procedure is as hectic as impeaching a president. Only 8 judges have been impeached in the entire history of the United States. ‘The so-called judge’, accused by Mr. Trump for endangering the safety of the US was appointed by Mr Bush. So, no party affiliations.

The Congress passes laws. The court can declare a law unconstitutional. The President can veto the laws. The Congress can pass laws over President’s veto. The Congress also controls the budget. The courts can also declare the acts of president as unconstitutional.

The founding fathers made sure that the judiciary remained independent of the executive. A judge has no fears while he serves as no one can remove him as long as he is not found guilty of moral turpitude. He does not depend on the executive in any way. That ensures justice.

The American President is known to be the most powerful constitutional chief executive in the world. Mr. Trump perhaps thought ‘all powerful’. He must have found to his dismay that he is not. In his dispute with the court the Congress will have to play its role. Though the Congress is Republican majority, it cannot take an arbitrary decision as it might lead to a constitutional crisis. The President might have to swallow his words as many before him had backtracked instead of landing themselves in an impossible situation.

The police are independent. Justice is visible. Every organ of the state over the years has learnt to operate within its own boundaries and respect the rights of others. This culture of equality and justice travels down to the common man who learns to respect the law and the rights of his fellow citizen. The popular uproar against the controversial presidential ban is merely a reflection of people’s resolve to fight injustice at all levels.

In Pakistan, the courts are theoretically free. The system of justice remains in the stranglehold of the executive. Investigation and production of evidence are the police domain. The police have been effectively enslaved. Gullu Butt got punishment but the police officer who was seen giving him gleeful hugs and pat on the back and the executive who ordered the killing have gone scot free, the king of Punjab and his slave police.

The military interventions have done no good to Pakistan and changed nothing. The politicians cannot be allowed to perpetuate atrocities on the people of Pakistan. The Judiciary is the only institution which can and must intervene. It must first unshackle the system of justice by separating police from the executive, and as the suggestions are afloat in the social media, if need be, muster the military’s assistance to execute its plan.

(The author served the Pakistan Army as Major General)

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