Pakistan: Accountability Across the Board

In Pakistan judicial accountability has largely been limited to the subordinate judiciary. An independent and incorruptible judiciary can convincingly dispense justice and hold persons accountable only if it carries out self-accountability.

Posted on 08/19/17
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
Former Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif is being accused of using street power to influence the Pakistan's Supreme Court decision that disqualified him and sent him packing.
Former Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif is being accused of using street power to influence the Pakistan’s Supreme Court decision that disqualified him and sent him packing.

Sharif’s utter contempt of the Supreme Court’s (SC) recent ruling, and by default the rule of law, was exposed blatantly for public viewing during his YATRA along the GT Road. This confirmed that the 1998 PML(N) mob attack on the SC was not a one-off aberration, it seems to be a Sharif genetic disorder. Until they disqualified him, the SC judges were great, thereafter they became an unspeakable form of “low life”, or at least that’s what he has been insinuating. God help the Honorable SC Judges if his review petition is rejected, (with apologies for the crude paraphrasing) “Hell hath no fury like a politician disqualified”. Maxim had it just right with his cartoon in THE NATION on April 10, 2001, caricaturing the late Ms Benazir as saying, “When a court convicts me it is a kangaroo court and if it acquits me it upholds the dignity of the judiciary”.


Those most guilty of excess as holders of public office assiduously fan the perception of their being the primary targets of a witch-hunt and/or politically tainted proceedings, etc.  Morality and ethics are not synonymous in the version of politics of those artificially “created” by “military means”. One can understand Nawaz Sharif’s complex in hating the Army, he wants to hide the fact of Zia’s Martial Law transforming him from a potential dilettante with no place in the Sharif clan businesses and lacking any political constituency into a formidable politician.


By force of geo-political circumstances and internal politics the military’s position in Pakistan remains strong, being responsible not only for defending us against our external enemies but also helping the country survive the avarice of a blatantly greedy political class. Not without successes in development and in the economic field, the Army suffers immeasurable damage getting involved in governance, morphing subsequently into blatant corruption is a short step for those without character and integrity. Notwithstanding strict accountability within the Armed Forces, for reasons of national security, morale, etc this hardly ever gets publicized. Not allowing interference and/or transparency in their accountability process fuels perceptions that the men in uniform are never punished and that slogans of honesty and accountability are meant only for politicians and civilians.


The Army should ensure holding the senior military hierarchy accountable, to quote my article, “The Doctrine of Necessity” in Aug 2015, “The vast real estate holdings and other assets of a few scoundrels giving a bad name to the uniform is no secret; did they accumulate their enormous wealth commuting their pensions and ‘kitchen money’ saved by their wives? A crook is a crook whatever his rank and whatever his appointment.  To wipe the stain from the uniform our brave soldiers wear, and are frequently dying in, they must be made examples of.” Unquote.   The misplaced loyalties of some to an individual, rather than to their oath of allegiance to the uniform and the country, may see people like Kayani not only being rehabilitated but the corruption cases against his two brothers likely to be dropped.  What message are we sending to our children in schools and colleges by parading this symbol of corruption before them, that crime pays?


The discipline holding the Army together as one entity is accountability, the paradox is that discipline is based on hierarchical respect for those seniors and trust in their reliability. The apprehension within the military is that by conducting the trial of a senior officer publicly (1) would compromise the trust and respect for rank and appointment (2) the morale of the troops suffer and (3) discipline would break down.  The Sharif govt wanted to humiliate Musharraf by making his arrest a public spectacle.  While the military hierarchy would not be averse to accountability, no soldier would ever allow their former Chief to be publicly humiliated. One of the more vocal of Raheel Sharif’s senior military hierarchy recommended that to fend off the Sharif obsession Musharraf be arrested when he returned to Pakistan and trial under Article 6 by the Army itself.  This would have allowed the Army to have held their former Chief accountable, giving him a fair trial (and possible punishment) but not allowing him to be humiliated.


The higher the position the greater the responsibility of the person to live and act according to the law. Doing nothing about seniors involved in corruption is an open invitation for others to do the same.  To really honor the Shahadat (martyrdom) of thousands of our soldiers we should not allow any crooks serving or otherwise to continue living a life of tax-free luxury. Not prosecuting them would compromise the loyalty to the State and the institution. Truthfulness, justice and respect for the law are ethical questions that have to be approached from that angle. Religion provides for ethical guidelines of men and one cannot separate the legal and the moral obligations. Law can be interpreted in several ways but the ethics of Islam must decide which way is legally tenable.


In Pakistan judicial accountability has largely been limited to the subordinate judiciary. An independent and incorruptible judiciary can convincingly dispense justice and hold persons accountable only if it carries out self-accountability. Pakistan’s Constitution under Article 209 stipulates a Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) should be responsible for holding judges of the High Courts and Supreme Court accountable. With almost a dozen references pending presently, the SJC has not only been inactive for many years, its working is neither transparent nor effective.  Good governance is only possible if judges do not tolerate corruption from their own colleagues.


The ethical norms underlying the legal system in an Islamic society are defined by Islam. Hazrat Ali (RA) laid down the following requirements in his letter to Malik al Ashtar: “Chose as judges those whom you consider the most excellent of your subjects – those who are not confused by complex matters, not angered by disputants, who do not persist in error, and are not reticent about turning to the truth when they perceive it; whose souls are not perceptible to avarice, who dissatisfied with a superficial understanding will probe deeply, who are more circumspect in the face of ambiguities, most consequent in argumentation”.


It is amazing how in the seventh century in a tribal society Islam produced ethical and institutional rules that are deemed valid for the 21st century and beyond. We have in our hands the revelation of God who is al Haqq and the wisdom of his Khalifa; it is high time we hold ourselves to it.

Part-I of a two part article by the writer, a security and defense analyst.

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