Miltablishment's 'Position On Elections' Conveyed To CJP Bandial

Miltablishment's 'Position On Elections' Conveyed To CJP Bandial
The director general of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt General Nadeem Anjum, paid a 'courtesy call' on Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Umar Ata Bandial at the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday April 17, 2023. The ISI chief was accompanied by director general military intelligence (DGMI) Maj General Wajid Aziz, and secretary defence Lt General (retired) Hamood-uz-Zaman Khan. The meeting also included Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar, according to well-placed sources who say that the purpose was to relay the view of the establishment on Punjab elections ordered by the SC.

In the meeting, the directors-general of ISI and MI reportedly presented a detailed assessment of the security threats facing the country in general, and to the elections process in particular. Sources claim the judges were briefed on the ongoing and future deployment of military personnel because of which they "would not be available" for election security duties.

Analysts purport that the 2-3 hours long meeting was held to inform the superior judiciary that the current miltablishment feels elections in the Punjab on May 14 are not feasible. Moreover, if the CJP is intent on elections, then the establishment would want both federal and provincial elections be held simultaneously.

The visit of the country's top spymaster, who runs the vaunted but feared ISI agency, to the apex court comes at the heels of a formal visit by army chief Gen Asim Munir to the National Assembly, where he addressed an in-camera session of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security. Sources had previously reported that the PDM government was suspicious of continued relief being given to former premier and PTI chairman Imran Khan, but the miltablishment assured PDM ministers that Khan's "support base" in the military and intelligence apparatus had been "wiped out". However, the PDM government feels that Khan is getting extraordinary relief from the superior courts, for which a bill to regulate the CJP's arbitrary powers has been passed by Parliament, but was not signed by the president and has now been pre-emptively suspended by a SC short order.

Divisions on the apex court have become painfully obvious, as rumours of near-physical altercations between SC judges have been doing the rounds over the past few days. Court reporters have alleged that judges argued and cursed at each other in the CJP's chambers, and later another 'confrontation' occurred in the Judicial Colony where all the apex court judges have official, state-sponsored residences.

Sources are so far mum on what transpired or was agreed to at the meeting, given the extreme sensitivity of the matter. In case there is still a 'deadlock' between the government and the judiciary, it is possible that the coalition government would consider taking up additional legislation in a joint session of Parliament today (April 18). Bills refused assent by the president of Pakistan become law if passed by a joint sitting within a constitutionally stipulated timeframe. Some sources postulate that the PDM government may also table "emergency legislation" at the joint session, but so far there is no clarity on whether this relates to emergency provisions in the Constitution or not.

But according to seasoned journalist Kamran Yousaf, it is clear that the military establishment is backing the government. in this light, the establishment has made its position and posture clear to the judiciary directly, by none other than DG ISI Lt Gen Anjum. As another ISI chief interfaces with the country's top judiciary, the signaling is eerily reminiscent of the "hybrid regime" of former SC chief justices and a former ISI chief who engineered Pakistan's political landscape to suit a 'selected' candidate.

The Constitution of Pakistan prohibits any speech that impugns the integrity of the judicature, but the country's courts have long been accused of many injustices, up to and including 'judicial murder'. More recently, the impartiality and judiciousness of the incumbent CJP has been questioned in contexts such as "bench fixing", "inconsistency in application of law", and "judicial overreach into political and democratic affairs".

CJP Bandial is not only under scrutiny from the government, which currently holds the majority in Parliament, or from certain segments of society, but his powers have also been questioned in formal verdicts issued by his learned "brother judges" Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Athar Minallah, and Justice Qazi Faez Isa who is slated to succeed Justice Bandial as CJP in September this year. Justice Isa has not only called for the SC's suo motu powers - alleged to be arbitrarily exercised by the CJP - to be reviewed and restructured, but has also insinuated that a "shadow of autocracy" hung over the CJP's court.

Many are calling into question the leadership of CJP Bandial, under whose stewardship the country's apex court has become the scene of controversy, divisions and factionalism which now play out in the public eye. There are accusations that some judges on the SC want elections more than the political party that is clamouring for them. Official rebuttals in SC press releases have only fueled the fire of rumour-mongering and conspiracy theories, and statements from bar councils and bar associations are also feeding into the divisions that have fractured Pakistan's social fabric. The superior courts are also perceived to be acting under public and political pressure.

Previously, the country's powerful military establishment did not want to appear as entering the fray, but the events of the past few weeks have indicated that the PDM government has received a lifeline from the military top brass, as the CJP and his faction of 'chosen' judges continue to press for elections to the Punjab provincial assembly. However, Pakistan continues to be deeply polarised as its core institutions are battling it out, while its most popular political party is agitating outside the system, in order to force elections that it believes it will win.