Sunday, April 30, 2017

A coup on the judiciary

Pakistan is no stranger to military coups - since Partition from India in 1947, the country has been under martial rule for over half of its existence, with the all-powerful Army exercising not just direct executive control, but also being pervasive in all aspects of life, so much so that even the official censor, which is a purely civilian institution, has representation from it! In most, if not all, cases, the Army's takeover was welcomed by a majority, because of their aura of being above petty politics. And yet, the country has continued to be in an unending state of turmoil, routinely being labeled a failed state.

However, things did appear to change under President Zardari, with the passage of the 19th Amendment. However, for anybody who knows the history of Pakistan, something had to give. Cue to the deadly killings of schoolchildren at APS Peshawar, and the country created the institution of military courts to try civilians accused of terrorism. In a unique experiment, for a short period of time, the army would be welcomed in to replace the judiciary, with the army chief himself signing death warrants. Since then, Pakistan has dramatically increased the number of executions thanks to the much-reduced standard of evidence. For all of the Indian judiciary's problems, at least the entire nation has not passed a no-confidence vote against it!

But what was supposed to be a temporary measure to meet an extreme situation has not become the new normal. This month, the National Assembly saw demands for a group of university students who lynched a fellow student to stand trial in a military court. What is purely a civilian affair, without any connection to terrorism whatsoever, is seeing demands for the military to step in. It seems, after decades of executive dictatorship, a new brand of military control of the judiciary is evolving in Pakistan. 

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