IT’S that time of year again. For the more conspiracy-minded Pakistanis, enough has happened in the last few days to get them wondering if a new front has opened up in the land that lurches from one real or perceived clash of institutions to another. Through a slew of cases, the judiciary charges or accuses serving and retired army generals of everything from picking up people in Balochistan and rigging the 1990 election to mismanagement and corruption at the NLC, Pakistan Railways and Fauji Foundation. The chief justice announces that “missiles and tanks” will not keep Pakistan secure, and a few days later issues another public defence of accountability and the constitution. A petition questioning the army chief’s extension is revived, and the Rawalpindi bar passes a hard hitting statement against the COAS. Meanwhile, Gen Kayani publicly asks institutions to stay within their domains and the lawyer filing the petition against extension gets beaten up by unidentified thugs.
That is enough to lead to wild speculation and rumour-mongering in Pakistan, but it is also enough to raise the need — yet again, sadly — to urge all parties involved to take a deep breath and a step back. The government and the judiciary seem to be getting along better, especially since they reached an understanding on the Swiss letter, even though the Supreme Court continues to intervene in some areas where the executive should have the last word. And while the government has from time to time tried to challenge the military, it has largely accepted the limits of how far it can go on that front and has worked out ways to keep itself in power, if not fully in control. But now a judge-versus-general tussle could be brewing, and it has the potential to create instability just as Pakistan is six months away from the finish line of on-time elections.
This is not to say that corruption charges against the military should not be investigated to the fullest extent. The revival of the petition against Gen Kayani’s extension is also perfectly legitimate. The timing of the move is arguably suspicious, since the petition has been rejected before, but on its merits the case is a strong one. What is needlessly provocative, though, are public speeches asserting the judiciary’s superiority and tacit encouragement to lawyers’ associations to jump into the fray. The same goes for the khakis: public pronouncements and a blatant physical attack on a perceived troublemaker will achieve nothing more than raising tensions. Both these institutions have plenty of work to do to address the real challenges the country is facing. Can they afford these petty distractions?