Shahbaz Sharif’s wrong call

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s recent statement about involving the army and the judiciary to “discuss a strategy to steer the country out of the current situation” has come in for a lot of criticism. Mr Sharif had apparently suggested this to Prime Minister Gilani on PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif’s advice. Mr Shahbaz Sharif said, “The need for unity, solidarity and national harmony in the current situation is greater than ever before. Collective efforts are needed to resolve the problems faced by the country.” PPP members like federal Law Minister Babar Awan and Punjab Assembly’s Opposition leader Raja Riaz have said that Mr Sharif wants a judicial martial law in the country. As far as reports suggest, dubbing Mr Sharif’s remarks as asking for a judicial martial law is a non sequitur. After the military coup by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999 against the PML-N’s government, it is highly unlikely that the PML-N would want the khakis back in power. Mr Sharif might have been implying that since the crisis in Pakistan is so severe, all the stakeholders need to sit down and sort it out. What Mr Sharif did not take into cognizance is that neither the army nor the judiciary have any role whatsoever in a meeting of political parties. “There can be two sessions of (proposed) conference and the army chief and the chief justice could be asked to brief the political leadership in an in-camera session,” PML-N’s Siddiqul Farooque elaborated on the idea. Now this, too, is a questionable idea at the very least.

Mr Shahbaz Sharif’s ‘invitation’ may have been well-intentioned and may not be the same as the MQM chief’s call to ‘patriotic generals’, but his proposal is not constitutional. The army’s role is to safeguard our borders and protect the country from attacks. Constitutionally, it has no role whatsoever to meddle in the political domain. Our history shows us that our military has been anything but non-political. Thus to ‘invite’ it again, even at a political conference, is asking for trouble. As far as the security situation is concerned, what with the war on terror and the ever-increasing terrorist attacks, the executive is already discussing the security situation with the military on an ongoing basis. Such consultations are a norm given the circumstances but this does not mean that the military has any role to play at a political convention. As per our constitution, the judiciary is independent but its role is to dispense justice. The judiciary should remain unbiased and apolitical instead of being involved in politics. We have seen an executive-judiciary clash many a time and should not be advocating a role for the judiciary that is not within its constitutional purview. It is out of the judiciary’s writ to join politicians at a conference that is meant solely for the political class. Pakistan has a democratic government in place. At the proposed all-parties conference, the political parties should join hands and come up with solutions to address the crises our country is facing.

Given our history, if the judiciary and military are indeed invited to an all-parties conference, it would give out a wrong message. We need to avoid this at all costs. The democratic government and all political parties need to address the grievances of the nation. It is also imperative that civilian supremacy be asserted and established.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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