Pakistani Judge Stands up to Islamic Radicals as Govt, Army Pussyfoot
PK Balachandran writes on the critical developments in Pakistan.
COLOMBO: While every other institution in Pakistan, including the government, the army and the opposition parties, caved in the face of a challenge from three small Islamic radical organizations, the Islamabad High Court Judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, stood up for the constitution and the rule of law.
When the case relating to the three-week blockade of Islamabad by three radical Islamic groups came up for hearing on Monday, Justice Siddiqui said that the government of Prime Minister Shahid Abbasi had erred by mortgaging executive power to the military.
He lambasted the army for usurping executive power by becoming a mediator to settle a political dispute between the government and the three Islamic organizations Tehreek-e-Khatm Nabuwwat, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, and Sunni Tehreek Pakistan.
Siddiqui said that his remarks against the army and the Islamic radicals could “cost him his life or add him to the list of missing persons”, but he would still make the remarks to defend the Rule of Law and the Constitution which assigns distinctive roles to each institution of governance.
Despite an instruction from the High Court, the government of Shahid Abbasi did not ( or could not, as it turned out) deploy the army to disperse the 2000 odd Islamic radicals blockading the road to Rawalpindi and the international airport for the past 20 days.
The crowd was dispersed by the paramilitary Rangers. There was no army deployment as the army had refused to come to the civilian government’s aid, insisting on a peaceful negotiated solution.
However, after the crowd was dispersed, the government bowed to the agitators’ wishes and the army’s demand, and got Law Minster Hamid to resign. He resigned on Monday. In return, the leader of the agitators Khadim Hussein Rizvi got his followers to withdraw the stir.
The agreement between Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and the leader of the agitators, Khadim Hussain Rizvi said: "We are thankful to him [Gen Bajwa] for saving the nation from a big catastrophe”. It praised the army chief and his representative, a Major General, for their "special efforts”.
Earlier, even as the court’s instruction went out to Home Minister Ahsan Iqbal to clear the blockade, Gen Bajwa advised Prime Minister Shahid Abbasi to "handle the dharna peacefully."
But the Home Minister was under pressure from the court to act. He chose the middle path, using the paramilitary under his control to disperse the crowd rather than the army.
When the operation met fierce resistance, the government asked for army help, but the army said that a "few points need deliberation".
Apparently, the army proposed capitulation to the radical groups by getting the Law Minister to resign. Committed to a “peaceful” solution the army did not come out.
Commenting on these machinations on Monday, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui asked: "Where is their (the army’s ) Radd-ul-Fasaad now? Did they not see any Fasaad (anarchy) in this protest?".
Radd-ul-Fasaad, launched by the army in February, is meant to root out terrorists and other elements who are creating anarchy in Pakistan.
"Who is the Army to adopt a mediator's role?" the judge said. "Where does the law assign this role to Major General? (who actually brokered the deal)"
“Soldiers who are inclined towards politics should turn in their weapons,” Justice Siddiqui said, and asked if the army would have allowed the protest if its headquarters were at the Faizabad Interchange.
Justice Siddiqui told Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal that the administration has the right to call in the Army to control an emergency situation and that the military is bound to comply.
"Iqbal sahab, you have embarrassed the police and the administration," Justice Siddiqui said. "You [the institutions] are destroying the state in your bid to make each other look bad."
"What role did the Rangers fulfill?" he asked. "You are supporting the impression that the Army is the cure for all illnesses."
Despite the withdrawal of the agitation in Islamabad, the Lahore-based Tehreek Sirat-e-Mustaqeem (TSM) has resolved to continue the sit in with a fresh list of demands.
Its leader, Dr Ahsraf Asif Jalali said that although the government had verbally accepted a few of their demands, no action was taken. The group’s demands include resignation of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah and appearance before the court of Sunni Ullema.
Jalali also called for disqualification of all parliamentarians involved in the proposal to amend the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause, urging the government to release the name of the ‘mastermind’ who hurt religious sentiments of Muslims.
The Islamic radicals had been protesting against the substitution of the term “oath” by “declaration” in the clause relating to the acceptance of the finality of Prophet Muhammad in Election Law 2017 by candidates who wish to fight an election as “Muslims”. Law Minister Hamid said that it was a “clerical” error and got the law amended in October to restore the term “oath”.
But despite the restitution, Islamic radical outfits like Tehreek-e-Khatm Nabuwwat, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, and Sunni Tehreek Pakistan, went on an agitation blockading the national capital, saying that the government cannot dismiss the change as a mere “clerical error” but has to investigate it to see if there was a “conspiracy” to degrade Islam.