Published in Dawn

In his farewell address to the Lahore High Court bar in 1960, Justice Munir found himself acting as his own defence lawyer. In the dock was his legacy, and what an unwinnable case it was.

There were three charges, each of them his own judgments. The first was Tamizuddin, when my Lord helped sack the Constituent Assembly, Jinnah’s greatest hope.

The second was his Reference opinion, which sprinkled the governor-general’s actions with holy water, crying necessity. There was none, except that Ghulam Muhammad was a born intriguer, given to sickness and rage.

Finally, my Lord went for broke and gave us Dosso, seeing fit to bin the Constitution of ’56, and embrace martial law.

As anyone can tell, these aren’t the actions of a man sworn to protect and defend the Constitution. They are palace coups, fuelled by any theory in reach: ‘necessity’ in 1954; ‘successful revolution’ in 1958.

That my Lord was making it up as he went along was clear from his last speech. Turning to his do-or-die moment – Tamizuddin – well, what else could he have done? Had he decided otherwise, ‘I am quite sure that there would have been chaos in the country and a revolution would have been formally enacted, possibly by bloodshed.’

But such a decision only sped up the ‘revolution’ when it came, led by Ayub – which my Lord blessed at once. Brute strength is its own excuse.

Hence, also, history’s verdict: given the promise that greeted Pakistan’s birth, Munir wrecked it more than any other man in that first decade.

Fast-forward 63 years later, and history finds itself at the Lahore High Court again. The case last week wasn’t complicated: with the Punjab Assembly now dissolved, the Constitution says elections ‘shall be held within a period of ninety days after the dissolution’. It also says the governor appoints a date for the polls. Such is the plain text; no rocket science is required.

And yet the ECP, whose sole reason for existing is to hold elections, shrugs. Punjab’s governor sighs over the ‘economic and security situation’; Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s points to ‘law and order.’

These reasons are ridiculous: the ‘08 and ‘13 polls were held amid far worse security. Hiding behind the economy is as weak: our year-long freefall should be answer enough to KO’ing governments and delaying elections – the cure to poison isn’t more poison.

Plus, our governors had no such hang-ups swearing in caretaker cabinets; it’s hard to argue half an article applies to you, just not the other half.

With fears of a constitutional violation running high, it took Justice Jawad Hassan’s excellent judgment to lay them to rest in Punjab. Citing the Supreme Court, it directed the ECP ‘to immediately announce the date of election’ within ninety days, after consultation with the governor.

That’s also the correct stance; the state’s amnesiacs can read this paper from five years ago: ‘President Mamnoon Hussain on Saturday approved a summary sent by the Election Commission of Pakistan recommending that the general elections be held on July 25, 2018…’

But no one’s reading anything: the 90-day deadline is still unstuck. Sensing trouble, a Supreme Court bench has referred the matter to the Chief Justice, noting ‘a real and eminent danger’ of violating an ‘unambiguous constitutional command.’

Unambiguous is right: if anything is borne out by the past year, it’s that the Constitution isn’t a weapon of convenience. It is a sacred text.

Consider: when the VoNC was playing out in March, to joyous weeping from the left, this writer said that while such a vote was legal, legalese had aided undemocratic intrigues in the past; it was best that governments serve out full terms. (We know now only disaster ensued.)

Conversely, it was the PTI ministry that violated the Constitution in April, after Speaker Suri walled off the vote. When Chief Justice Bandial delivered a tremendous judgment restoring the assembly, all the hot air came from the right.

Then in July, those critics became converts, when the same judges voided Speaker Mazari’s equally lawless ruling in the Punjab Assembly. Naturally, April’s Constitution fanboys now forgot the Constitution.

And on it goes. Yet our commentariat owes more to the current moment than silence: postponing the democratic process can only ever end in grief.

As for the latest slew of alleged leaks of judges, the Constitution is again the answer. The right to privacy and dignity is unrestricted; the Supreme Court held as much in Benazir, and their own wiretapping illegal. More recently, a petition filed by Salman Sufi in the Lahore High Court seeks to re-centre this vital compact.

All said, elections must be held, and within 90 days. In his verdict, Justice Jawad quoted Warren Burger, that ‘…delay will drain even a just judgment of its value.’

We yet hope.

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