Are the courts working?

If the courts are working, Churchill had said, nothing can go wrong

Are the courts working?
When the Germans were bombing London, Prime Minister Winston Churchill was briefed on the casualties and economic collapse. He asked, “Are the courts functioning?” When told that the judges were dispensing justice as normal, Churchill replied, “Thank God. If the courts are working, nothing can go wrong.”

If the same question is posed to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as militants kill our children, he would say: “Thank God. The military courts are now working.”

Post Peshawar massacre, the political elite has churned out a jargonized National Action Plan (NAP). Unfortunately, it would require another Alan Turing to decipher what exactly the decision makers wanted to say and achieve. Where is the clarity?

What they happily agreed to do was to establish the military courts. “We have swallowed the bitter pill,” is the best defense the politicians are offering these days.

Senator Raza Rabbani shed crocodile tears. Debating on 21st constitutional amendment in the Senate, he literally wept. He was the man who refused to take oath by General Pervez Musharraf, in 2008. Critics are questioning why didn’t he resign instead of voting in favour of the controversial amendment that blotted his otherwise unblemished political career.

Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf Chairman Imran Khan could only resist for half an hour.

The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz was more than willing to transfer its burden to the military establishment. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seemed to have some sort of infatuation with the military courts just like some incomprehensible projects of motorways, sasti roti, and metro bus. It was he who first executed that idea, in 1998, in Karachi, which could not sustain after the Supreme Court struck it down.

Meanwhile, the legal fraternity and the honorable judges took it as a no-confidence in judiciary – the third pillar of state. While the lawyers went berserk, the judges expressed their annoyance through observations.

In a case relating to the inefficiency of the police, an honourable judge of the apex court questioned whether the judges of the military courts would be more competent than the judges in already established benches. Very soon the Supreme Court will hear a case against the formation of military courts. It is to be seen what would transpire in those hearings and at the conclusion.

Meanwhile, the politicians have lost the space that they had been claiming to have regained over the last few years. Cynics have already called it the “mother of all surrenders.”

In a recent interview, former military spokesman Maj Gen (r) Athar Abbas gave an insight of personality differences among military’s top brass. Referring to Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and his predecessor Gen (r) Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the former military spokesman observed: “One of them (Gen Kiyani) used to think a lot and act little; the other (Gen Sharif) acts a lot and thinks little.”

General Abbas’ description of the former army chief as a ‘procrastinating’ general corroborated some interesting accounts by the international press.

In his most recent book, The Way of the Knife, Mark Mazzetti, a New York Times journalist, captured Gen Kayani’s pensive mood in these words: “During meetings, he will often spend several minutes carefully hand-rolling a cigarette. Then, after taking one puff, he stubs it out.”

The same newspaper also described Gen Kiyani as “the spy who rolled his own smoke.”

However, his successor, General Sharif, who is now thought to be playing a significant role in his country’s security and diplomatic matters, was always more inclined to act, according to General Abbas.

Despite the unceremonial ouster of Gen Pervez Musharraf, the military establishment dominated the policy decisions. Whenever it faced slightest resistance from the political governments, it reacted.

For instance, both the People’s Party and PML-Nawaz governments tried to reign in the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Each time the moves backfired.

The initiation of Operation Zarb-e-Azb skyrocketed the popularity of the armed forces. If an independent survey is conducted today, Gen Raheel Sharif is most likely to defeat all politicians in terms of popularity.

The masses at large extolled the way he reacted after the horrendous massacre of school kids in Peshawar on December 16. It was he who spearheaded the policy formulation against terrorism.

When the APS was reopened on January 12, people saw him standing with the parents hugging the little pupils. Whatever the reasons, the fact was the elected representatives were missing from that symbolically important occasion.

The PTI chairman even tweeted that he wanted to visit the APS on its reopening, but was advised to stay away because of security reasons. And, therefore, when he visited the school next day, parents of the martyred students raised Go-Imran-Go slogans.

Might one ask who stopped Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to welcome the kids on the reopening of the APS? Wasn’t he the chief executive of the country? Perhaps he did not want to repeat the acrimonious saga that erupted between him and Gen Musharraf in late 1990s.

When the political elite and the top military brass was finalizing the NAP, it was proposed the military courts should cease to exist after six months.

Sources said the army rejected the idea saying the complexity of the problem required much more time. It did not budge an inch from its decision that the military courts would work for, at least, two full years.

The decision makers in Washington have started believing that Gen Sharif (unlike Gen Kiyani) is the man whom they can work with. Washington seems to think that Gen Sharif may be the best person to follow their “do-more” mantra.

A recent visit of the army chief to London along with his entourage also gave an impression that the GHQ has taken over foreign policy matters.

While the politicians are wrestling over petty differences, the strategic decisions are being made at the general headquarters. This is not something new, but the space the politicians were proud to have reclaimed is fast slipping away.

The image of the armed forces, tarnished during the entire dictatorial regime of Gen Musharraf, has been rapidly repaired under Gen Raheel Sharif.

Some analysts call it a soft coup, primarily because of the inefficiency and spinelessness of the politicians.

And why should the army do the dirty work by overthrowing the government, when the politicians have already volunteered to do the cleaning.

Shahzad Raza is an Islamabad-based journalist

Twitter: @shahzadrez