Tag Archives: Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani

Questions Surround New Supreme Court Order Disqualifying Prime Minister

Yousuf Raza Gilani

The Supreme Court of Pakistan removed the Prime Minister in what is known as a “short order” – essentially a court order lacking a full explanation. These orders often begin, “For reasons to be recorded later…” – a practice that seems the beg for abuse and controversy – and then proceed directly to ordering some specific action on the part of an individual or institution. In this case, though, the specific action was not given until almost two months later – and made retroactive.

On April 26, the Supreme Court issued an order “for the reasons to be recorded later” that found then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani “guilty of and convicted for contempt of court.” The Supreme Court did not declare the Prime Minister disqualified from office and sentenced him to a symbolic detention of about 30 seconds.

The Supreme Court having chosen not to disqualify the Prime Minister, the issue was then taken up by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Fehmida Mirza, who ruled that Mr. Gilani was not disqualified. That was last month.

Today, nearly two months after the Supreme Court issued its controversial conviction, a new short order, “for reasons to be recorded later,” was issued by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry – this time declaring that “Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani has become disqualified from being a Member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)…on and from the date and time of pronouncement of the judgement of this Court dated 26.4.2012…”

This raises several very interesting questions. If the Prime Minister was disqualified pursuant to the Supreme Court’s order on April 26, why did they wait until June 19 to say so? Some have suggested that the Supreme Court was giving the Prime Minister the opportunity for appeal, but this is doubtful for a number of reasons: One, the Supreme Court could have declared the Prime Minister disqualified and then stayed the order pending appeal. But more to the point, to whom would the Prime Minister have appealed? The original order was given by a 7 member bench of the Supreme Court – there was no higher authority to appeal to.

Then there is the matter of the ruling by the Speaker of the National Assembly. If the Supreme Court had determined that Mr. Gilani was disqualified as of April 26, why did they allow Dr. Mirza to proceed with deliberations and a ruling on Mr. Gilani’s status as parliamentarian? If the Supreme Court believed that Dr. Mirza did not have the authority as Speaker of the National Assembly to issue such a ruling, why did they not issue an injunction stopping the Speaker from carrying out the act?

While these questions remain unanswered, at least until the Supreme Court delivers more than the two pages made available today, they suggest very troubling possibilities. By allowing Mr. Gilani to continue serving as Prime Minister for months, the Supreme Court has created a policy nightmare for Pakistan. Making the disqualification retroactive to April 26 means that any decisions made by the government since are effectively nullified. Pakistan has, essentially, been operating without a government for over 8 weeks.

Moreover, by allowing the Speaker of the National Assembly to deliberate and issue a ruling without comment, only to nullify that decision weeks later, the Supreme Court has undermined the authority of parliament and created confusion about fundamental issues of separation of powers and constitutional authority. What government official can now carry out their duties without the fear of Supreme Court action if the Chief Justice does not like the outcome.

This gets to what is perhaps the most troubling question of all – would the Supreme have issued this new order had the Speaker of the National Assembly herself disqualified Mr. Gilani? In other words, is Pakistan’s Supreme Court acting pursuant to due process or desired outcomes?

Adm. Mullen’s Pakistan Red Herring

Admiral Mullen

Admiral Mullen made headlines yesterday when he told reporters at a Pentagon briefing that, the murder of a Pakistani journalist “was sanctioned by the government.” For those suspicious of Pakistan, these words reinforced previously held beliefs. Ironically, however, the institution that most gained from Adm. Mullen’s statement was the one suspected of responsibility for the journalists death – Pakistan’s ISI.

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that the White House has obtained classified information implicating Pakistan’s spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in the murder.

New classified intelligence obtained before the May 29 disappearance of the journalist, Saleem Shahzad, 40, from the capital, Islamabad, and after the discovery of his mortally wounded body, showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism, two senior administration officials said.

The involvement of the ISI has been suspected ever since Saleem Shahzad’s body was discovered. Human Rights Watch released copies of emails sent from the murdered journalist prior to his death. Shahzad sent the emails, “in case something happens to me or my family in future.” These emails detail conversations between Shahzad and ISI officials unhappy with his reporting on extremist infiltration in Pakistan’s military.

But rather than mention the ISI in his remarks, Admiral Mullen laid the blame on “the government,” leaving many Americans to incorrectly assume that the murder of Saleem Shahzad was carried out under the direction of the civilian leadership.

“It was sanctioned by the government,” Admiral Mullen told journalists during a Pentagon briefing. “I have not seen anything to disabuse the report that the government knew about this.”

Americans tend to think of intelligence agencies as working at the behest and under the oversight of their respective governments, as if all nations operate in a post-Church Committee environment. But the relationship between Pakistan’s civilian government and its ISI is quite different. In fact, in many ways the ISI operates not just independently of civilian oversight, but often in opposition to it.

Shortly after Pakistan’s civilian government took power in 2008, Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani announced that control of the ISI would be shifted to the portfolio of the civilian Interior Ministry. It was only a matter of hours before Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told the media that no such change would occur. The civilians promptly retracted the announcement.

The government’s backtracking has prompted plenty of comment among politicians and in the Pakistan media.

An ex-army officer and defence analyst, Ikram Sehgal, told the Dawn News TV channel that the government retracted its decision when the army “showed its teeth”.

Formally, the ISI currently reports to the prime minister. But many observers believe it is answerable to no one.

This split between the democratically-elected civilian government and Pakistan’s spy agency was shown in stark relief during the Raymond Davis fiasco. Writing for the English-language newspaper Dawn, Pakistani analyst Cyril Almeida noted that when push comes to shove, it’s not the civilians who hold the upper hand in matters that concern the ISI.

When the interior minister, the ex-foreign minister and the all-powerful spy chief met to decide the fate of Raymond Davis, two of those gents were of the opinion that Davis doesn’t enjoy ‘full immunity’.

One of those two has now been fired by Zardari. The other, well, if Zardari tried to fire him, the president might find himself out of a job first.

It may seem counterintuitive to speak of Pakistan’s government and intelligence agencies as separate institutions, but the distinction matters. Pakistan’s civilian leadership – though weak – is trying to implement democratic reforms; and those efforts are often held back by unaccountable military and intelligence officials who are loath to cede their power to civilians. Rather than paint all institutions with the same broad brush, US officials should seek to strengthen civilian democratic institutions so that they can effectively reign in those parts of the military and intelligence services that are acting outside of civilian oversight.

Saleem Shahzad died trying to expose extremist influence in Pakistan’s security services. His death does not have to be in vain. At present, a Pakistani judicial commission is investigating the circumstances of Mr. Shahzad’s death; the next meeting is scheduled to be held in Islamabad on July 9th.

“The government” of Pakistan is a red herring in Shahzad’s murder. Though likely unintended, Adm. Mullen’s statement yesterday shifts focus away from those responsible. Rather than issue statements that can undermine the authority of the civilian government, US officials should present any evidence about the circumstances of Shahzad’s death to the commission and publicly support efforts by the civilian government to bring the ISI under the oversight of publicly accountable civilian leaders.

Is the WSJ being used as a proxy in internal Afghan debates?

Hamid Karzai, Barack Obama, and Asif Zardari

Matthew Rosenberg’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal claims that Pakistan is secretly urging the Karzai government in Afghanistan to sever ties with the US and change to a Chinese-Pakistani led alliance to secure the country. But reading the article, it quickly becomes apparent that the article more likely reflects a divide among Afghan officials who are using Pakistan as a foil and the US media as a proxy in internal debates.

According to Rosenberg, the source for this revelation is “Afghan officials.” If you read further, however, you’ll learn that Afghan officials have split into “pro- and anti-American factions at the presidential palace trying to sway” President Karzai. In fact, despite the claims of anonymous “Afghan officials,” Matthew Rosenberg quotes presidential spokesman Waheed Omar saying, “Pakistan would not make such demands.”

So what was said at the April 16th meeting between Pakistan and Afghan leaders? According to US officials, it was likely a discussion about how to proceed should the US pull out of the region – a legitimate security concern with target drawdown dates looming.

Some U.S. officials said they had heard details of the Kabul meeting, and presumed they were informed about Mr. Gilani’s entreaties in part, as one official put it, to “raise Afghanistan’s asking price” in the partnership talks. That asking price could include high levels of U.S. aid after 2014. The U.S. officials sought to play down the significance of the Pakistani proposal. Such overtures were to be expected at the start of any negotiations, they said; the idea of China taking a leading role in Afghanistan was fanciful at best, they noted.

Evaluated in the context of existing cooperation in the region, this read by US officials makes more sense than any suggestion that Pakistan is attempting to freeze the US out of Afghanistan. Reason notwithstanding, Wall Street Journal readers are likely to walk away with an unnecessarily sour feeling about the intentions of the Pakistani government. But is this fair?

Mr. Rosenberg’s sources – unnamed “Afghan officials” – are not even described as having been present for the conversations but simply “familiar with the meeting.” A spokesman for the president denies that Pakistan is pressuring Karzai to “to dump [the] U.S.” as the Wall Street Journal headline screams. And despite the Journal reporter’s rather hyperbolic claim that “no other party has been as direct, and as actively hostile to the planned U.S.-Afghan pact, as the Pakistanis,” such a characterization is belied by ongoing security cooperation between the two countries.

This is not to say that the US and Pakistan see eye-to-eye on everything. Each country has its own priorities for the region, and cooperation comes where those priorities overlap. Relations between Pakistan and the US have been described as tense over the past few months due to negotiations over the use of armed drones and interagency coordination on counterinsurgency operations. But negotiations over such operational details are standard in coalition forces, and Pakistan and the US continue to work together to protect shared security interests.

As an experienced South Asian correspondent, Matthew Rosenberg should recognize efforts to use his work as a proxy in internal government debates. Speaker John Boehner recently recognized Pakistan’s great sacrifice in the fight against militant extremists, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen praised cooperation between US and Pakistani troops working jointly against terrorist groups. The Wall Street Journal should not distort Pakistan’s record.

Speaker Boehner Issues Statement on Pakistan

Speaker John Boehner“A strong U.S.-Pakistan relationship is vital to the interests of both of our countries. We had frank and productive discussions with Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders. While the relationship between our two countries has seen its challenges, we discussed the importance of working through these issues and renewing our partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

“We recognize that the Pakistani military and the Pakistani people have made great sacrifices in recent years in the struggle against extremism and terrorism. Al Qaeda and its extremist allies have made Pakistan a target, and the Pakistani nation has suffered deeply as a result. We appreciate the efforts of the Pakistani military and the sacrifices of those troops and the Pakistani people. We also appreciated the hospitality of Prime Minister Gillani and pledge to continue working together on behalf of our countries.”

 

Educating Pakistan

Earlier this year, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani declared 2011 ‘the year of education’ in Pakistan. President Asif Ali Zardari called for “structural improvements in the funding, management and oversight of educational institutions.” As the US looks for ways to strengthen ties between our two countries, helping Pakistan improve its education system should be a top priority.

At the post-secondary level, Pakistan is currently faced with the task of exploring new ways to coordinate higher education policy. As a result of devolution requirements in the 18th Amendment passed unanimously by Pakistan’s National Assembly last year, the nation’s Higher Education Commission (HEC) is set to be dissolved.

Pakistani Senator Raza Rabbani (PPP) stated on Friday that the HEC would be replaced by a new federal agency, the Commission for Standard Higher Education that will continue funding universities and scholarships. As Pakistan’s higher education policy advances, the US Department of Education should provide important technical assistance through the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE) as it has successfully done in Europe and Brazil. As Pakistan shifts from a federally managed higher education system to one funded and managed by the provinces, American experience with successful state-run public colleges and universities.

But higher education is only a part of Pakistan’s education emergency. Over 60 percent of Pakistan’s population is under 25 years of age, and the youth literacy rate hovers at just over 50 percent for boys and just over 40 percent for girls. While Pakistan’s higher education policy is in flux, Pakistan’s primary education needs serious help.

Thankfully, there is good news. The US is investing $20 million to remake the classic children’s education program, Sesame Street.

“The idea is to prepare and inspire a child to go on the path of learning, and inspire the parents of the child to think that the child must be educated,” said Faizaan Peerzada, the chief operating officer at the Lahore-based Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, which was awarded the commission for the project in collaboration with Sesame Workshop, the creator of the American show. “This is a very serious business, the education of the children of Pakistan at a critical time.”

Similar projects been hugely successful in over 100 countries where the Sesame Street Workshop has worked with local media to develop and produce culturally relevant programs that concentrate on literacy and early childhood development.

Alam Simim (Egypt)

Sisimpur (Bangladesh)

This type of early childhood educational programming can have a huge impact on the lives and educations of Pakistan’s children. But we should not stop there. The US has the experience and expertise to help Pakistan modernize it’s educational system. Doing so would help ensure that Pakistan’s young population is able to meet the demands of tomorrow’s economy, and that Pakistan has the skills and expertise necessary to ensure its success in the future.

American decision makers often talk about winning the hearts and minds of our friends in Pakistan. But we’ll never win hearts if we ignore education.

Vice President Biden’s Message to Pakistan: Our Interest Is Your Success

Vice President Joe Biden and Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani

Vice President Biden traveled to Pakistan this week where he met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani and Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Kayani. While the meetings were closed to reporters, sources privy to the private conversations said Biden assured the Pakistanis that the US recognizes as legitimate their concerns about security along the Western border with Afghanistan, and ensured the Pakistani leaders that the US will not put American “boots on the ground” in Pakistan.

Following their meeting, the Pakistani Prime Minister and Vice President Biden made public statements to reporters in which Biden sought to correct misconceptions about American intentions in Pakistan. The Vice President spoke at length about America’s respect for Islam noting that it is the fastest growing religion in the United States, a fact that is made possible by protections for religious freedom, and discussed US investment in Pakistan’s civilian infrastructure and democratic process.

Pakistan’s Express 24/7 News channel filmed Biden’s speech.

Pakistan’s Coalition Government Remains Resiliant

Prime Minister Gilani and MQM

MQM, the political party that announced it would sit on opposition benches earlier this week announced today that it is returning to the government coalition following an agreement to defer economic reforms.

As we wrote last month, MQM’s move wasn’t a sign of a political ‘crisis’, but a natural part of coalition politics, especially in an emerging democracy where all parties are experimenting with strategies to maximize their influence.

It was notable, though rarely noted at the time, that even the PML-N – the largest opposition party – denied that the government was threatened. Unfortunately, this did not stop opportunistic headline writers from announcing the government’s imminent ‘collapse’ – predictions that a resilient government coalition continues to defy.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani announced that certain economic reforms would be deferred until consensus can be reached among the parties. While this has caused some concern among IMF economists, the decision must be considered in light of Pakistan’s political situation.

The largest opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz faction (PML-N), continues to be a vocal opponent to the reforms. If MQM and other smaller parties were to abandon the PPP in a vote of no confidence and a PML-N led coalition were to win off-year elections, the reforms would not only not pass, they would not even be taken up for consideration.

The fact that the PPP government has had to defer the proposed package of economic reforms demonstrates that the political will is simply not there to move forward with these changes at this time. That said, the PPP’s willingness to support the reforms until it threatened to upend the government demonstrates that they are serious about getting Pakistan’s tax-to-GDP ratio under control.

Pakistan is not unique in its populist (and pseudo-populist) opposition to measures intended to repair revenue gaps. People enjoy government services such as Pakistan’s subsidized fuel prices, but are not eager to part with the taxes necessary to fund them. We see the same disconnect here in the United States as Republicans and Democrats spar over how to pay for popular government programs without unpopular taxes and fees.

Unlike the United States, though, Pakistan does not enjoy the relative peace and prosperity that allows our own Congress to put off reforms. While the announcement that reforms will be deferred is a setback, it’s not a repudiation of the policy. Rather, it’s a acknowledgment that more needs to be done to bring Pakistan’s other parties on board. To this end, bringing the MQM back into the fold is the first step towards economic recovery.

Judicial Restraint and Pakistan's Media-Judiciary Nexus

We have already commented on Pakistan’s activist media and its increasingly activist judiciary, and the potential of these two institutions to destabilize Pakistan’s fragile democracy just as it is getting its footing. The recent situation in which Pakistan’s Supreme Court called emergency hearings about a rumor reported on TV channels emphasizes not only the extent of the problem, but the nexus between media and judicial efforts in an ongoing power struggle, and the need for judicial restraint to ensure the democratic process is able to function.

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Greater Threat Than Floods: Pakistan's Judiciary?

The historic flooding that has ravaged Pakistan was considered for a brief period to be a grave threat to the country’s stability. Analysts were unsure if the young democratic government would be able to provide relief and reconstruction services enough to satisfy a panicking public. As the waters subsided, though, the civilian government demonstrated that it could work with the military and the international community to provide services to the people. Today, however, the government faces a possibly greater challenge: continued attacks from the nation’s judiciary.

Pakistan’s judiciary has been threatening to topple the democratically elected government in what many are calling a “coup by other means”. While unprecedented challenges to elected officials have been going on for some time, the courts appear to be determined to continue their attacks.

Since its December judgment striking down an amnesty that shielded President Asif Ali Zardari and other officials from old criminal allegations, the top court has pressed the government on corruption, in particular a dated money-laundering case against Zardari. The stakes have risen as repeated government delays have stoked frustration within the army and the political opposition. Another showdown is scheduled for Wednesday, when the court could hold the prime minister in contempt or indicate that it will reconsider Zardari’s presidential immunity from prosecution.

The standoff has cemented the Supreme Court’s position as a central player in Pakistan’s nascent democracy. But it has also highlighted questions about the solidity of that system.

The Army has largely stayed out of the affair, though as Ahmed Rashid writes for BBC, they would stand to gain the most should the courts succeed in overthrowing the government.

It would be a constitutional rather than a military coup, so that Western donors helping Pakistan with flood relief would not be unduly put off, but the army would gain even more influence if it were to happen.

The courts, for their part, are attacking the government from two flanks – the Supreme Court is threatening to disqualify President Asif Zardari more than two years since his election, and the Lahore High Court – headed by Chief Justice Khawaja Sharif, an ardent supporter of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) – has reinstated an old corruption conviction against Interior Minister Rehman Malik, despite his having been pardoned in May.

According to a growing number of voices in the legal community, the politicization of Pakistan’s courts is a growing problem that threatens the stability of the government and the legitimacy of the nation’s judiciary.

“This judge and the court have embarked upon politics,” said lawyer Khurram Latif Khosa, whose father, also a lawyer, advises Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. “The lawyers who were chanting slogans in their favor are now burning effigies of their idols.”

Mr. Khosa is not alone in his analysis. His statement echoes the sentiments of Supreme Court advocate and human rights activist Asma Jahangir who wrote in December of last year:

While, the NRO can never be defended even on the plea of keeping the system intact, the Supreme Court judgment has wider political implications. It may not, in the long run, uproot corruption from Pakistan but will make the apex court highly controversial.

Witch-hunts, rather than the impartial administration of justice, will keep the public amused. The norms of justice will be judged by the level of humiliation meted out to the wrongdoers, rather than strengthening institutions capable of protecting the rights of the people.

There is no doubt that impunity for corruption and violence under the cover of politics and religion has demoralised the people, fragmented society and taken several lives. It needs to be addressed but through consistency, without applying different standards, and by scrupulously respecting the dichotomy of powers within statecraft. In this respect the fine lines of the judgment do not bode well.

The lawyers’ movement and indeed the judiciary itself has often lamented that the theory of separation of powers between the judiciary, the legislature and the executive has not been respected. The NRO judgment has disturbed the equilibrium by creating an imbalance in favour of the judiciary.

A few months later, Ms. Jahangir’s tone turned decidedly more dire.

People will soon witness a judicial dictatorship in the country if the judiciary continuously moves ahead in its present direction and then we would forget military and political dictatorships, HRCP chairperson Asma Jahangir said on Wednesday.

By April, even opposition politicians the PML-N were raising concerns that the courts were over-stepping their constitutional role to topple the government.

Raising concerns about the conspiracy, PML-N spokesman and senior leader Ahsan Iqbal has said that a third force wants a clash between the judiciary and parliament.

Iqbal did not name the third force precisely in the same fashion, as Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has repeatedly done in recent months, The News reports.

According to another PML-N leader, the Army is trying to pitch the judiciary against parliament and for this purpose it is using certain elements in the media.

Recently, Pakistan’s Chief Justice issued a statement condemning those who are speaking out against perceived judicial overreach.

Ironically, the Chief Justice who is leading this assault on the government, Iftikhar Chaudhry, was himself the victim of extra-constitutional removal by then President and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Justice Chaudhry was released from detention by Pakistan’s newly elected government in 2008, and reinstated to the Supreme Court in 2009.

Some believe that during the year between Justice Chaudhry’s release from detention and his reinstatement, the judge grew to resent the new government and has taken it upon himself to bring a myriad of legal challenges to its authority. In fact, many of the cases before the court were not brought by any individual or official agency, but were taken up “suo moto” – by the choosing of the Chief Justice, himself.

Regardless of what is motivating the incessant attacks by members of Pakistan’s judiciary, the right to decide the nation’s leadership rests solely with the people of Pakistan. Military generals, religious clerics, and judicial appointees all have a role to play in the success of the nation. But each must work within the bounds of the constitution and the democratic process. Whether led by the military, the Taliban, or an army in black robes, a coup is a coup – and any coup will be devastating to Pakistan’s future.

What's Really Going On In Pakistan?

The headlines about Pakistan lately have been unpleasant. Between tensions over a botched air strike, Bob Woodward’s new book, and Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s announcement that he’s returning to the country – a lot of people are wondering if change is afoot. But media headlines notwithstanding, there’s a lot of reason to believe that Pakistan will not undergo another sudden extra-constitutional change.

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