Dawn Editorial 29 November 2019

Court’s decision

AFTER three days of high drama, the system found a solution and a potential impasse was averted. On Thursday, the Supreme Court, rejecting all notifications and summaries on the matter, issued a short order granting a six-month extension to Gen Qamar Bajwa’s tenure as army chief.
The order said the government and parliament should specify the terms and conditions of the service of the COAS through an act of parliament and clarify the scope of Article 243 of the Constitution. Parliament, as per the order, should enact the said legislation within six months. Such a law would be expected to determine the length of the army chief’s tenure — and the question of its extension.
The court order has helped the government come out of the corner it had painted itself into by its inept handling of the issue. The government is chiefly to blame for this needless confusion and controversy over a sensitive matter. It is therefore disappointing to note the prime minister’s tweets blaming foreign enemies and domestic “mafia” whereas the real culprit is the government’s own legal team that was unable to write a notification that could withstand judicial scrutiny.
The ball is now in parliament’s court. The people’s elected representatives have been provided an opportunity by the apex court to frame the legal process pertaining to appointments of army chiefs and the length of their tenure in office.
Given the central role played by army chiefs in Pakistan, and their crucial position within the state structure, parliament must come up with legislation that stands the test of time. This would entail deep deliberation and consultation between the government and the opposition so that all aspects of the issue are debated before the final legislation is drafted.
The process should not be rushed, and parliamentarians should take as much time as they require, within the stipulated period, to produce a law that strengthens all institutions and the system as a whole. In the course of their deliberations, they would also do well to remember that once parliamentary sanction is given to such extensions, it would be difficult to reverse course later.
The opposition has a key role. An issue as important as this must not be politicised. If and when the government reaches out to the opposition, the response should be positive despite the strained relationship. Without a constructive working relationship inside parliament, it would be very difficult to have the kind of debate that is required for the task at hand.
Finally, this paper believes in the strength of institutions. Although the court may have felt it necessary to prevent a sudden vacuum in the army leadership, Gen Bajwa has been given a face-saving opportunity to decide on a course of action that will serve the interests of his institution and the system as a whole — and not that of a single individual.


Students’ march

THOUSANDS of students will be taking to the streets today to demand their rights. The Student Solidarity March will see rallies being held in 50 cities across the country, under the aegis of the Student Action Committee, a national-level representative of smaller students’ organisations. They will demand the restoration of student unions, the reversal of budgets cuts, the formation of sexual harassment committees and an end to ethnic, gender and religious discrimination on university campuses. The march is intended to be peaceful. However, the HRCP has expressed alarm over the government’s attitude towards the marchers, which shows that participants might have to face hostility from the authorities. The HRCP has voiced its concern over reports of harassment and rustication of students. The human rights body has condemned the authorities’ attempt to prevent youth from participating in a peaceful assembly, thus violating their constitutional rights, and has also drawn attention to a notification issued by the governor of Balochistan banning any ‘political’ activity on the University of Balochistan campus, while directing the security personnel deployed there to take ‘necessary’ action if required. Another example of institutional high-handedness ahead of the march came from Punjab University where an MPhil student was declared persona non grata on allegations of participating in violent activities on campus. The student, Husnain Jamil Faridi, had organised on March 20 a protest inside the campus against the shortage of buses. Four more students were also rusticated for reportedly taking part in the protest.
In fact, many incidents in the recent past, such as the murder of Mashal Khan in Mardan and the blackmailing of students by the administration of the University of Balochistan, have only proved that the absence of effective student representation has paved the way for ill-intentioned elements to prevail in university campuses, disrupting academic and administrative affairs and ruining the futures of thousands. The fact that students have to take to the streets to raise a voice for their rights and to air their grievances is in itself a testament to this fact. It is to be hoped that this march will lead to serious debate on the pivotal issue of students’ representation and the revival of unions, that is, like it or not, the only way to rid campuses of unhealthy outside influence, while also making them more efficient in resolving students’ problems.


Junaid Hafeez case

IN a society where the efforts of the high and mighty to seek top-level adjudication of their disputes gets much publicity, it is a relief that occasionally a plea by a common Pakistani trying to get the attention of the guardians of justice finds its way into the public debate. An example is the appeal attributed to the parents of a man who has been behind bars for six years as an undertrial in a blasphemy case. The appeal to the chief justice of Pakistan is brief, yet reflective of how such a sensitive matter and those linked to it can get stuck in the system. It speaks of all kinds of problems, the refusal to hear the case being a prime challenge. It alleges that delaying tactics have been used to deny justice to Junaid Hafeez, who was a lecturer of the Bahauddin Zakariya University when arrested in 2013. There is mention in the letter about how the prosecution had moved five “absurd” applications to prolong the trial. That the case is pending even three months after the last witness — a police officer — had testified is indeed a point that needs to be looked into.
The parents of Junaid Hafeez say the blasphemy case against him is false. And as they solicit the support of Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa to end their long ordeal there is little else they can bank upon after this. This is certainly a controversial area but there are certain factors that need to be taken into account. The resolve of the judiciary, the ‘equal before the law’ stance of the prime minister and the willingness of the public at large to get to the bottom of pending cases in accordance with the law create room for all to assert their basic right to justice and a fair trial. Let all legal cases be taken to their logical conclusion without undue delay. All rules but most importantly the rule of law must extend to everyone without exception.


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