The time to pause and think is a luxury that we do not have in Pakistan. And because the country’s internal, regional and international situation changes so rapidly, there never appears to be enough opportunity to formulate a thought-through and well-worked out response. As a result, we stumble from crisis to crisis. While there can be a number of explanations for such a state of affairs, there must be a consensus about the consequence:Pakistanis always in reactive mode vis-à-vis both internal problems and external challenges.
The outgoing month saw both the breakneck speed at which domestic and not-so-domestic incidents unfolded and knee-jerk reactions emanating from the state and from within society. Out of the myriad developments, these included Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s resignation from the National Assembly, followed by his subsequent entry into Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the Nato attack across the border killing 24 Pakistani soldiers and officers, the government’s review petition on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and the ongoing saga of corruption cases.
But let’s just stick to Husain Haqqani,Pakistan’s outgoing ambassador to the United States. Without a well-hewed institutional mechanism to deal with the problem that arose with his alleged involvement in writing and sending a memo to the United States to clip the Pakistan Army’s wings in the wake of bin Laden raid, what we have are calls for his immediate arrest and trial for treason. From declaring him guilty even before he could even utter a single word in his defence, to his unceremonious exit to the filing of petitions against him in the Supreme Court, nowhere did the media, the government, the opposition and the courts stop to think for a moment, about the due process, the rule of the law, and following rules and regulation.
Not that the Herald wants to defend Haqqani or argue for or against the authenticity, origin and the purpose of the memo — far from it. This is to highlight how we, as a state and society, flout the same rule of law and institutionalisation that we so hanker for. The media acts like a demolition squad, cutting loose and running away with whatever half-truth comes its way; the government ties itself in knots by trying to avoid rules and regulations as much as it can and as long as it possibly can; the opposition believes the superior judiciary holds the key to all national problems; and the superior judiciary believes it does.
What would have happened if we had abided by the law in this particular case? An American citizen wrote an opinion piece in a British newspaper claiming that he wrote and sent a memo to the American authorities on behalf of a senior Pakistani diplomat who in turn was acting on behalf of someone at a very high position in Pakistan. The writer also thought the entire memo was a wonderful idea because it purported to rein in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) which, according to him, should be declared a terrorist organisation. It is quite natural that the Pakistani media carried the story — but not as a slander campaign as it did but rather as a balanced piece that, more than anything else, highlighted the need for investigating the whole issue. The government, on its part, should not have limited its response to just denials: It should have promptly constituted an inquiry committee to probe into Haqqani’s role, asking him to resign and face the investigators without the protection of his office. The opposition should have raised the issue in the parliament before its members raised it at public meetings, television talk shows and subsequently in the court of law. After all, it does not take a lot of doing to requisition the parliament to discuss a particular issue. And finally the courts should have declined to accept the opposition’s petitions before all other options were exhausted. But the media knows no patience, the government understands no procedure, the opposition brooks no institutional limits and the courts — well, better left unsaid for fear of contempt of court.
In all this bypassing of procedures, laws and institutions, what has gone unnoticed is perhaps the greatest violation of the constitutional authority and legal processes – the ISI chief travelling to London, sitting with the writer of the memo article and receiving evidence from him against Haqqani. The ISI comes under the prime minister but there is no evidence if the ISI chief even so much as hinted about his London meeting in his interactions with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani – neither before the meeting took place or even after it had happened until somebody leaked it to the press weeks later.
Now logic demands that Haqqani be probed and tried because he allegedly acted without lawful authority and against Pakistan’s interests. But doesn’t the same logic demand that the ISI chief be probed and tried because he has reportedly acted without lawful authority, purportedly undermining the authority of the government of Pakistan? Here the media, the government, the opposition and even the courts display a deafening silence. To answer why this is allowed to happen would take us back to the same old issue of the military’s dominance over the polity in Pakistan— a subject debated unto death in these pages. But the sad truth is that no other institutional framework, legal process and official procedure will ever breathe freely and develop unless this fundamental flaw is somehow taken care of.