What if martial law does come?
“Supreme Court will not validate any extra-constitutional step.”
“No political party will lend support to a martial law regime.”
“The media will oppose strongly a military takeover.”
“The people will come on the street against martial law.”
“The international community is now against military takeover.”
If the words uttered against martial law during the past four years were building blocks, the present government should be safe in an impregnable fortress, with walls bigger and stronger than the China Wall. Well, the fortress may well turn out to be a house of cards in the end.
We shall not discuss here merits and demerits of martial law because that is a subject for a book, not a short article. We shall only see what may happen if the unthinkable does occur.
Will the Supreme Court validate it? The Supreme Court issued many orders (55 according to lawyer Akram Shaikh) that the present government did not comply with. Many persons in PPP have ridiculed, even vilified, the court many times but nobody has been punished so far. The judgment on NRO was given more than two years ago but the government refused to implement it. Even the Memo scandal, that was taken up with great fanfare, has been left hanging in the air. Humiliating some government officials is not the same as compelling a defiant government to enforce court orders. Can we expect this court to stand up to military rulers?
What may happen If the judges do not sign meekly the PCO, the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) may withdraw the executive order that the Prime Minister had issued to restore the sacked judges as being unconstitutional. (An executive order begins with the words, “By virtue of the authority conferred upon me by Article so-and-so of the Constitution, I hereby order as follows.” No such words appeared in the said executive order because the Constitution provides for appointment and removal of judges but there is no provision to restore judges that are sacked while the Constitution is under suspension. (Such judges could be restored only if the army chief suspended the Constitution, even for a few hours!)
If most or even all judges do resign, the CMLA may fill the vacancies in the Supreme Court by promoting senior most judges of High Courts and vacancies in High Courts by promoting the District Judges. No lateral entry by appointment of lawyers as judges.
CMLA may also take some drastic steps:
a) He may double or even triple the number of judges in apex courts (about 100 at present) and also in lower courts (about 2000). That will make it possible to clear all pending cases within a short period and not delay any new cases.
b) He may remove the age limit for retirement, allowing all judges to continue as long as they are fit mentally and physically.
c) He may make the pension of all judges equal to the last pay drawn, saving them from seeking jobs or favors from the government after retirement.
d) He may order new recruitment in future to be only at the lowest level through the normal procedure.
These measures will ensure more independence of judiciary than even Imran Khan can imagine. Will the judges mind validating the martial law under such a situation?
Will any party resist martial law openly? Unlikely, if the past behavior is any indication. What is more likely is that politicians will run away from the country, if they can, hibernate in their homes or, as a last resort, retire from politics, at least for the time being. If CMLA wants, many from various parties will rush to support him, wagging their tails.
What may happen CMLA may decide to clean up politics in the real sense.
a) He may put in jail all Members of National and Provincial Assemblies, present and past, until they bring home all assets held abroad, declare all assets held here, declare in detail the source of funds for their purchase and pay full due taxes on all assets, with penalties.
b) The parents, spouses, sons, daughters, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law of MNAs and MPAs may also have to go through the same mill.
c) CMLA may ban all political parties, registered or unregistered, and allow only three new ones with no resemblance to the names of the present ones. No party will be registered unless it has genuine members in all districts equal to one percent of the population of a district. The member lists will have national identity card numbers of members, with complete addresses. The Election Commission will arrange direct election of party officials at all levels: district, provincial and central. No official will hold an office for more than two terms.
Will media oppose martial law? The freedom of media is for the owners, not their employees. Journalists and anchors may hop from newspaper to newspaper or channel to channel but they cannot survive long if they do not follow the policy of the owners. It is a universal dictum. The New York Times and The Washington Post could publish secret Pentagon Papers in 1970s only because the owners decided to defy the Nixon government. During the Emergency in India in 1970s, just two out of thousands of newspapers stood up to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In our own country, the champions of freedom of the Press have been invariably owners of newspapers (e.g., Hameed Nizami), not their employees. If Mir Shakil decides that it is in his business interest to go with the CMLA, you will not hear from the self-styled brave and the bold working for his Jang-Geo Group.
What may happen In addition to television, CMLA may bring all other media also under PEMRA (newspapers, Internet, film) and appoint a stern disciplinarian as its Chairman.
The new Chairman may target a vulnerable television channel, record its programs that violate various terms of its license and prepare a strong case that may lead to cancellation of its license. Others will get a signal and behave properly. The same may happen with the paper media. The owners of all media will leash their journalists and anchors.
Will people come on the street? True views of an average person on the present rulers are not published or broadcast. How can we expect the ordinary people to hit the streets, when they did not come out for years despite great hardship caused them by the ruling elite? Keeping in view the economic conditions and prices just four years ago, expect distribution of sweets rather than burning of tires on the roads.
What may happen CMLA may take some urgent steps to bring relief to the people:
a) order full utilization of generation capacity and clearance of circular debt to end load-shedding of electricity immediately,
b) order full supply of gas to domestic consumers and CNG vehicles,
c) waive all taxes and levies on petrol, diesel, kerosene oil and other oil products to reduce their prices drastically,
d) waive all taxes and levies on electricity to reduce cost.
He may take some other steps to make the immediate relief permanent:
a) renegotiate agreements with IPPs to delete blatantly unfair terms,
b) allow distributing companies to buy electricity directly from the power producers at lowest possible rates, abolishing PEPCO and NEPRA,
c) meet full financial and operational requirements of Dr Mubarak Samarmand for his Thar coal project,
d) ask WAPDA to start construction of Kalabagh Dam without fanfare (while anti-Dam politicians are too busy trying to save their skin),
e) start wind energy project that can produce electricity at one or two rupees per unit by local manufacturing of wind turbines (according to Dr Attaur Rahman),
f) appoint new heads of public sector units (Railway, PIA, Steel Mill, OGDC, etc.), to bring the losses to negligible level within a year,
g) revise the budget to eliminate wasteful expenses and fancy projects to get funds for public needs.
Will the international community tolerate martial law? When was the last time the international community refused to cooperate with the military rulers? It did not welcome the takeover by Pervez Musharraf but only for a few months. The reason was not any love for the elected government but because the US plan for an interim government was preempted. Karl Inderfurth, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, issued a very strong statement. However, the attitude changed soon and after 9/11Musharraf became a close buddy of President Bush.
Imran Khan stated in August 1999 that Nawaz Sharif government would go in October. Justice Sajjad Ali Shah called a relative from the US in the same month, to “expect some good news soon.” The Chief Justice Irshad Hasan Khan had fixed a case against Nawaz Sharif in the third week of October. The Prime Minister was to be convicted of misuse of power and disqualified to remain in office. Sajjad was to be the President and Imran to be the Prime Minister for two years before elections. By trying to replace Musharraf in a clumsy (and illegal) move, Nawaz brought the roof on him and also upset the US plan to oust him.
Otherwise, the US never hated military regimes. A general will help in smooth withdrawal from Afghanistan. If it needs the support of Pakistan for its operations against Iran this or next year, it may also prefer a general at the helm of affairs.
Under such circumstances, with no real resistance likely from any quarter, why is martial law not coming? Better ask those who cannot make up their mind to impose it.