Lawless Games

If the May 7 judgment of the Supreme Court bench laid out the legal parameters for the issue of the presidential reference against the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), on May 12 the government set out the political parameters within which it will fight back those it insists are politicising the issue of the judiciary. So what are these parameters that were conveyed through the many hours long reign of bloody anarchy in Karachi?

Essentially that when the rulers consider it justified, they will suspend the responsibility of the law enforcing agencies of the state to protect the life and property of the citizens. Instead, the law enforcing agencies will aid those who are running the government to use state power in which ever way they deem fit. The Sindh and the federal governments abdicated their primary constitutional responsibility of protecting the life and property of the citizens. They had claimed on May 10 that if the CJP went ahead with his Karachi rally there would be trouble. Then, unless this was being said to only stop the CJP from pulling off a replay of the incredibly successful May 6 Lahore rally, why did the two governments not ensure widespread presence of law enforcement agencies along the rally routes.

In Islamabad, the president’s show was unreal. And whatever his convictions about what the country needs, his claim of public support is not backed by solid evidence. Whatever the ‘reliable’ agencies and politicians claimed, the reality of the rally was completely different from the claim of ‘a sea of support’ for the president. The attendees were bussed and paid, the numbers were small, they hardly paid attention to the speeches, the bizarre festivities as Karachiites bled and were being terrorised, the head of the state said not a word about how outrageous it was that the law enforcing agencies were not there. In fact, away from the rally’s venue, many hundreds opted to picnic sitting next to their buses on Islamabad’s Margalla road rather than attend the rally.

By all the evidence, the tragic and criminal events of May 12 were about terrorising the public and the government’s political opponents. For the ordinary citizen of Karachi the state of Pakistan stood completely collapsed. Senior police officials let the Chief Justice (CJ) of the Sindh High Court (SHC) know that he could not provide any security to the lawyers keen to attend the CJP’s scheduled address and to congregate to leave together for the airport to receive the CJP. For an unreported reason, the Sindh CJ’s summon to the Corps Commander went unheeded. The Karachi public had woken up to incredible developments like the blockade of some key roads with trucks and tankers and for those who desperately needed to move around in the city, there was no one to help. The controlling mafia and subsequently the battling groups too were ignored by the law enforcing agencies.

Unless the federal and Sindh governments can prove otherwise, the only message the terrifying developments of May 12 conveyed is that they had decided to muzzle the peoples’ movement by hook or by crook. In Karachi, the federal government clearly demonstrated that it will muzzle what it insists is the politicisation of a legal issue, and for that it will use whatever means it believes will help it defeat those who are attempting to politicise it.

What else can explain the complete and total abdication of their responsibility towards the citizens? Reporters of various independent television channels quoted members of the rangers and the police force that they were asked to completely withdraw from the rally routes and to not get involved in any action. Policemen were seen lying around while rangers refused to come out of their headquarters in Malir.

May 12 also saw retaliatory violence by political groups. ANP men did hit back when attacked. But to try and establish parity between the ones hitting back in retaliation and between those who initiated violence is erroneous; as is trying to establish equal responsibility between the parties involved in Karachi, that is, the CJP, the Karachi bar , the Sindh government, and the federal government. The CJP’s decision to go to Karachi and the MQM holding the rally or the government abdicating its responsibility of ensuring law and order are not equal in their impact. In fact the CJP did not even hold his rally. The Karachi anarchy was a product of other players. The politicised CJP’s Lahore rally was the extent of ‘damage’ that he could have done. Why did the government not allow him to hold another rally like he did in Lahore?

Meanwhile, words are on the cheap, these too come easy to us; whether to espouse the cause of civilian rule or the independence of judiciary or the upholding of the constitution. Hear the speeches of the MQM and the PML-Q leaderships. Actions often don’t support our claims. And what are actions are conveying is a story of no-holds barred power struggle. For example, what the sub-themes at work on May 12. Leading the men ordered to attend the president’s rally the Punjab chief minister’s son was busy launching his political career. In Karachi, the ruling party seemed to be merrily thrashing its political opponents –” the PPP, the MMA and the ANP. In aiding Islamabad’s ‘black victory’ in the CJP issue, its allies promoted their personal political agendas.

Not only does the Karachi mayhem indict the two governments, federal and Sindh, it also brings the government in direct confrontation with the politicians. The politicians, who were until now following and in fact band-wagoning on the CJP issue now have a direct battle to fight. With their party workers killed the politicians can be a direct party to the struggle for rule of law in the country. While the CJP reference directly threatened the judiciary, May 12 directly attacked the politicians and very comprehensively, if not awfully, undermined rule of law in the country.

Essentially, what was a legal issue first turned into a popular public issue, then into a political issue and now anarchy in Karachi has the potential to turn it into an ethnic issue. Groups from different parts of the country and from Sindh itself have condemned the MQM; Sindh High Court Bar in Sukkur will be petitioning in the Supreme Court to declare MQM a terrorist organisation, the ANP is also accusing the MQM for the killings of its members.

The government’s handling of the CJP issue has led to the opening of fronts with crucial sections of society –” the lawyers, opposition politicians and even the media. Unless Musharraf backs off, enters into an immediate agreement with the PPP –” which includes holding of fair and free elections, he will likely have arrived at a point of no return politically. The fronts are too many and the wisdom within and around to close these fronts too little. And neither bravado and nor self-righteousness help provide solutions.

Karachi has again underscored that despite the larger thrust of the lawyers’ movement, that is seeking rule of law, the government is still confident in wielding unaccountable power. For the future of the people and the country these two irreconcilable paths must meet. And clearly the only path to be taken in our times is the path of rule of law where exercise of power at all levels must be accountable. The state-society contract needs to be written.

After May 12, the issue of the Chief Justice has become a secondary issue. The issue now is only one; how will this country be ruled? Under an ad-hoc unconstitutional system or according to the constitution of Pakistan in which the wielders of power will be held accountable under the country’s constitution and will be answerable to the people of Pakistan? Such a system can heavily contribute reducing the curse of intolerant and extremist state, politics and society in Pakistan.