Best not to look a gift horse in the mouth in beleaguered Pakistan
Recently, there has been some negative commentary across media, especially social media, on the good deeds done by two upright gentlemen: the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the Chief of the Army Staff.
This is most unbecoming. In fact, it’s downright gratuitous.
But first a word about the good deeds. The honorable CJP, who is generally tasked with delivering justice, decided to travel among the masses to see how the government of the day was performing its functions. Since Lahore is generally touted as a model city by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who also performs the functions, ex-officio, of the city’s mayor, the CJP decided to visit one of its biggest hospitals. He was accompanied by two other honorable judges.
Now we can all agree that there’s no better place to see how the masses are faring and, by extension, how the government is performing than to visit a public hospital or a public school.
But as good deeds go, this one too has been criticized. The honorable CJP made the rounds of the hospital, saw the unwashed and the semi-washed being treated rather shabbily and, to put it in officialese, “directed the relevant authorities to make sure [the] highest quality of healthcare was provided to all.”
He also noted that the hospital did not provide clean drinking water and ordered the hospital administration to install a water filtration plant, a most logical instruction, if you ask me.
For good measure, the CJP also spoke to the patients to see if they were being treated well.
It stretches incredulity to criticize such good deeds by asking annoying questions. For instance, the nitpickers asked if the Constitution—or other lesser laws—permitted the CJP to undertake such visits and pass instructions to do this or that.
This is what I call surface reading of good deeds. The Constitution is not a book of municipal actions, nor does it lay down in detail specific actions. In other words, it does not say under Article X, Clause Y that the Chief Justice of Pakistan shall undertake, every three months, a visit of a hospital to see how the place is being run. That would be silly.
Instead, it’s the spirit that counts. For example, Art. 190 talks about action in aid of the Supreme Court. The nature of such action is to be determined by the SC.
And who sits atop the court’s pyramid? Yes, the CJP. And if he desires that there’s need for him to do what ancient, benevolent Sultans routinely did (we are told they used to go among the masses incognito), he must overtly do so.
In any case, given the inefficiency of our governments, there must be some sort of oversight, and what better than to have the CJP perform that function?
Also, this action must be read or seen in conjunction with the CJP’s now-famous ‘baba’ speech, which, unfortunately, was also misinterpreted by the detractors who missed the ‘baba’ point by the whole nine yards and then some more.
Yes, I have read about the arguments of what the literature calls ‘judicial restraintists’, a school opposed to ‘judicial activists’ for rather silly reasons. I also believe that the CJP wouldn’t need to get out of the SC building if the governments were actually performing.
But that’s not happening and the ‘baba’, i.e., the honorable judges of the Supreme Court must intervene, where and when necessary, to get things done. This is no time for fine debates of the sort the detractors indulge in and by which device they seek to sully our minds and thoughts.
A good deed is its own law or, if you will, Constitution. The rest is irrelevant. In fact, now that the CJP has established a precedent, perhaps the honorable court should institutionalize it by setting up a two-member committee specifically entrusted with the function of undertaking such visits and passing instruction, on the spot, to ‘relevant authorities’ to make amends.
The minor issue of where and how hospitals and schools and other places thus visited will find the money to do as directed can be placed before the finance ministry which, given its expertise, should be able to come up with a solution.
Meanwhile, a somewhat similar episode has drawn the ire of social media: the Army chief’s visit to his hometown, Gakhar Mandi. While he was there to see family and friends, the spirit of doing good, the hallmark of the oath he has taken to defend this country’s various frontiers, took over. This is how the visit was reported:
“He announced construction of a sports stadium along the government elementary training institute at a cost of Rs. 175 million. He ordered immediate removal of cattle market along the boundary walls of government degree colleges for boys and girls as students of both institutes had protested against it.
“The Army chief also announced changing the entire sewerage of the town, and construction of boundary wall of the graveyard.”
Once again, the detractors sprang into action, questioning the legality of such orders. Some went to the extent of wondering whether the Army chief was preparing to contest local government elections from his hometown. Others raised the annoying question of who will pay for all this work: the GHQ or the Punjab government.
Again, these questions eschew the spirit behind the good deeds, focusing instead on details and specifics. As noted above, the Army chief is responsible, along with the men he commands, for the safety and security of this country.
Now, this is a job whose boundaries can either be arbitrarily shrunk (which is what some spoilsports do) to the essential duties that are generally attributed to military professionalism or expanded (which is how I’d like to see it) to include deeds that mayn’t necessarily fall within the ambit of professional obligations but which are, nonetheless, vital for the masses to keep faith in the Army’s ability to multi-task and deliver where the civilians eminently fail.
In any case, what good can the Army chief do for the entire country if he can’t even get a few good things done for Gakhar Mandi? And all because he is not in the local government or critics cannot figure out where the money will come from?
It’s time for us to get rid of our narrow definitions of what certain institutions can or cannot do, just because we fail (or worse, refuse) to see such acts in their broader, benevolent spirit. So help me Darwin.
Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider