November 05 was, indeed, a historic day for Pakistan. On a single day, the heads of the two most powerful institutions of the country spoke about their respective roles and how they viewed the constitution, and what their reservation and expectations are in regard to the behaviour of major national entities and actors. Was it sheer coincidence - these two high-voltage articulations?First, let us see Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s significant statements: “We are critically looking at the mistakes made in the past and set the course for the future…….While constructive criticism is well understood, conspiracy theories based on rumours, which create doubts about the intent, are unacceptable…….Any effort that draws a wedge between the people and the armed forces of Pakistan undermines the large interest…….Any effort to create a distinction between the leaders and the led of the armed forces is not tolerated…….Let us not prejudge anyone (no one is guilty unless proven) be it civilian or a military person and extend it to undermine respective institutions…….Working within the well defined bounds of the constitution is the right way forward…….Trying to assume more than one’s due role will set us back…….All systems in Pakistan appear to be in a haste to achieve something, which can have both positive and negative implications…….The ultimate national interest should emerge only through consensus…….Are we promoting the role of law and the constitution?.......Are we strengthening or weakening the institutions?.......No individual or institution has the monopoly to decide what is right or wrong in defining the ultimate national interest.”What impelled General Kayani to come up with these strident pronouncements?Answer: The Supreme Court verdict in Asghar Khan’s case, the fact that as many as nine senior military officers, including two retired Generals and seven retired Lieutenants, and Major Generals, are in the dock with no-holds-barred jabs aired in the media as also the internal stresses within the military ranks - all this together weighing heavily on the Army Chief, who, by and large, had shown considerable restraint in his relations with the civilian government.While it is manifest that over the years the army has been violating the constitution by forcibly taking over the control of the country, one has to remember that for around half of the past six-and-a-half decades, it has ruled and enjoyed supreme power. Even today, the civilian government has largely let them direct defence and foreign affairs. Having tasted unbridled authority, the military mindset fed on the perception of politicians as incompetent and corrupt is not prepared to be denigrated, pulled up and hauled over the coals for illegal and undesirable acts of omission and commission.A proactive and assertive higher judiciary, and an increasingly resurgent and noisy media, has, of late, been unsparing in highlighting the excesses, aberrations and misdoings of both civilian and military administrations and officials. The Supreme Court, in particular, is working hard to take up the cases of violation of fundamental human rights and has taken to task many who have been found to be involved in corruption and misuse of authority. The Chief Justice of Pakistan, in particular, has been most vocal in highlighting the supremacy of the constitution and majesty of law. In his speech on November 05, while addressing senior civilian officials, he made the telling remark that the “judiciary has been trying to rewrite the constitutional and political history of the country.” He recognised the efforts the media was making to inform and educate people on national affairs. Said the Chief Justice: “We have a vibrant media playing an affective role of whistleblower and watchdog of public interest.”A day later, Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, while hearing the Abbottabad operation case, made the observation (primarily meant for the Army Chief and, in particular, with regard to Kayani’s remark that no one “has the monopoly to decide what is right or wrong in defining the ultimate national interest”) that no one should remain under any delusion, as authority to render final decision rests with the apex court.It is, indeed, a testing time for the army. General Kayani has earned respect because of the restraint exercised by him by keeping himself and the army away from politics. No doubt, presently, he is under intense pressure from various quarters - retired generals facing enquires, and also because of the strain of fighting a war and the institution’s internal grievances. The military certainly merits appreciation and support for safeguarding national defence. The challenge it faces today calls for patience and understanding. It has to introspect and ruthlessly review its constitutional role and undertake an exercise to persuade itself to change its mindset. Thanks to the Supreme Court, the media and the civil society, Pakistan today is undergoing a change for the better, seeking to set the direction right that, hopefully, would lead to a paradigm shift - moving forwards a better Pakistan, a democratic Pakistan, a country where there is rule of law and respect for human rights for all citizens, irrespective of creed, colour and class. General Kayani, indeed, can play a historic, perhaps a heroic, role to mould the mind of the military, which agrees to confine its role to the tasks assigned to it by the constitution.The Supreme Court judgement is also highly significant for explicitly stating the constitutional position and role of the President of Pakistan. In the light of a survey of constitutions of a number of countries following the parliamentary system, the judgement authoritatively lays down the status and limitations of the office of the President of Pakistan. Here are a few words of the judgement on the issue: “A President of Pakistan before entering upon office, in the oath of his office, solemnly swears that he…….will not allow his personal interest influence his official conduct or his official decisions, and that he will do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill will. Thus, as the constitutional Head of State, the incumbent of such a high office is obliged to perform his functions and duties neutrally and impartially.“It is pertinent to refer to the observations of Justice Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui in Mohammad Nawaz Sharif’s case: ‘No doubt, the President as the symbol of the unity of the federation occupies a neutral position in the constitution…….but it is equally important that in order to protect and preserve the dignity of this high office and this neutral image under the constitution, The President must keep aloof from all political imbroglio. If the President is unable to ward off the temptation of to keep away from political game or he starts siding with one or the other political element of the Assembly he is likely to lose his image as the neutral arbiter in national affairs and as a symbol of unity of federation under the constitution’.” There is a lot of food for thought in the 141-page Supreme Court judgment. It should, indeed, be compulsory reading for generals, politicians, journalists and the civil society at large. 

nThe writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.Email: pacade@brain.net.pk