While every other institution in Pakistan, including the government, the opposition parties and the army caved in the face of the challenge posed by three small Islamic radical organizations to law and order constitutionalism, the Islamabad High Court Judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, has stood up for the constitution and the rule of law, writes P.K.Balachandran in South Asian Monitor.
Justice Siddiqui on Monday lashed out at the Pakistan government and the army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa for making the military ” the mediator” to bring about an agreement to end the 20-day sit-in at Islamabad’s Faizabad Interchange by three radical Islamic groups.
The agreement resulted in the government’s accepting the demand of the agitators that Law Minister Zahid Hamid should either quit or be sacked for a religious lapse in drafting an amendment to “Election Law 2017”. Hamid resigned on Monday and the leader of the agitation, Khadim Hussein Rizvi, appealed to his followers to call off the stir which had spread to all parts of Pakistan resulting in seven deaths.
But the Islamabad High Court’s view, voiced by Justice Siddiqui, is that the government of Prime Minister Shahid Abbasi had erred by mortgaging executive power to the military. The court lambasted the army for usurping executive power by becoming a mediator to settle a political dispute.
Despite an instruction from the 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.
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 which he did on Monday. In return, the leader of the agitators Khadim Hussein Rizvi got his followers to withdraw the stir.
Justice Siddiqui’s Darts
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 had 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. He used the paramlitary under his control to disperse the crowd and not the army.
However, because the operation met fierce resistance, the government asked for army help, but the army said that while it was “fully ready” to take action, 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 would not come out.
Commenting on these machinations s 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 judge. “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.”
Realizing that criticizing the army is playing with fire, judge Siddiqui said that his remarks could cost him his life or add him to the list of missing persons.
Dissidents Among Radicals
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 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.
(The featured image at the top shows Islamabad High Court judge Shaukat Ali Siddiqui)