Pakistan has an unfortunate track record of hounding dissenters from Dr Fatima Ali Jinnahbhoy to Dr Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy. And the bullying has gone on with impunity and without shame. The recent slap-on-the-wrist verdict by the Supreme Court (SC) in the 16-year-old Asghar Khan case barely scratches the surface of how institutionalised and deep the rot is.
A hyperactive judiciary that has been adjudicating anything from samosa prices to the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) 2007 and had no hesitation in sending an elected prime minister packing for non-implementation of its orders in the NRO case, danced around the substance of the Asghar Khan case. The SC has recommended action ‘under the law’ against the former army chief, General (retired) Mirza Aslam Beg and the ISI boss at the time, General (retired) Asad Durrani, for their illegal actions. The court effectively turfed the matter to the government by ordering it to set off this process through the Federal Investigation Agency.
The lawyer for the petitioner, the outstanding Salman Akram Raja, is spot on when he says that proceedings against the culprits should be initiated under Article six of the constitution. What could serve as the touchstone here is the SC’s own judgment in the Asma Jilani vs Government of Punjab case 1972 that, “As soon as the first opportunity arises, when the coercive apparatus falls from the hands of the usurper, he should be tried for high treason and suitably punished. This alone will serve as a deterrent to the would-be adventurers.” It would have certainly helped the civilian leadership if the SC had provided at least some clarity as to what exactly it had in mind when it directed the government to punish the offenders. The verdict left the door open to proceed potentially against the political activity of the president, but it would neither touch the political beneficiaries of the Mehran Bank-army collusion or the army itself with a 10-foot pole. Nonetheless, the ruling provides the civilian leadership an opportunity to proceed against those who have directly or indirectly, as in the 1990 stolen elections, usurped the people’s mandate or refused to honour it when the Pakistani people have spoken despite their machinations.
That the 1988 and 1990 elections were rigged pre-polls was clear to most political workers who campaigned in that era and the current verdict adds little to that knowledge. What may have been worthwhile was to address why exactly the army goes about meddling in politics. The superior judiciary has historically not shied away from probing, trying and punishing politicians and political parties from the National Awami Party and Wali Khan to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. But in this instance, it did not wish to explore the mindset that has led to one military intervention after another and one plot after the other. The army’s role, after all, did not begin or end with Generals Aslam Beg, Hamid Gul and Asad Durrani. Did the army not rig the elections against Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah? Was General Sher Ali’s ‘formula’ not deployed in the 1970 elections and will it never be repeated again?
The former Pakistan ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani notes in his seminal book: “The Sher Ali formula required behind-the-scenes manipulation of the political process, to increase the number of political contenders, as well as identification of ‘patriotic’ factions against ‘unpatriotic’ ones.” It is this institutional desire to anoint itself as the sole arbiter of what is Pakistan’s national interest that has led the army to work against politicians like Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah and Benazir Bhutto. And the security establishment has not been content with keeping them out of power or sharing diluted power with them but actually declared them ‘threats’ to national security, which according to the Punjab-dominated army is a nebulous mix of Wahabiised Islam, anti-India jingoism and hyper-nationalism.
An integral accompaniment of this hounding of the politicians from Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy to Asif Ali Zardari has been the harassment of the dissenters in the intelligentsia. Anyone questioning any of the three components of the national security paradigm has been persecuted to the extreme. And who would know this better than Ambassador Haqqani himself. When they were unable to get him on the memo issue, they bullied his wife Farahnaz Ispahani; and when that did not work, a tirade was unleashed by a US-based Pakistani journalist about a house the couple had bought. Really, a one million dollar mortgage with 10 percent down payment is the best you had on him, one must ask. In a country where a decent job and an impeccable credit history can get one even better deals on housing, this is perhaps a new low in digging up ‘dirt’. But the establishment and its lackeys can stoop even lower.
The distinguished physicist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy recently found his contract as visiting faculty not renewed by the Lahore Institute of Management Sciences (LUMS). The litany of reasons apparently given by LUMS for not renewing/extending Dr Hoodbhoy’s contract include: “You (Pervez Hoodbhoy) have ‘too much on your plate’ and your primary mission ‘seems to be to fix the world’.” Never mind that Dr Hoodbhoy is the only Pakistani scientist named by the Foreign Policy magazine in its 100 most influential global thinkers list as he was also told that he is above 60 years of age. Interestingly, the man, whose personal and academic integrity is beyond reproach, was hired when he was already over 60 — an irony that an institution that claims to have restored the honour due the Nobel laureate Dr Abdus Salam decided to can the scientist whose book bears a foreword by none other than Dr Salam. The perception now is that Dr Hoodbhoy was terminated not because of any academic issues but for being an outspoken critic of the national security paradigm.
But given LUMS’ webpage (http://bit.ly/zjtWHy) about the Prof Abdus Salam Chair it had announced, asking for clarity may be a bit too much. The world knows that Dr Salam was persecuted in Pakistan for his Ahmadi Muslim religious beliefs. The webpage mentions Dr Salam not as the first Muslim scientist to receive the Nobel Prize but only as the first Pakistani. A matter of perspective perhaps but where scientists of Dr Salam and Dr Hoodbhoy’s calibre are hounded as a routine, LUMS certainly has to come clean in both matters.
PS: The harassment of veteran columnist, dearest friend and straight shooter Kamran Shafi by a land-grabbing mafia under official patronage in Lahore is another case in point.
Source: Daily Times