While hearing the Asghar Khan petition about the alleged disbursement of funds by the ISI to the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) to influence the 1990 general elections on Monday, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry emphatically maintained that the army’s sole role, as defined by the constitution, was to defend the frontiers of the country. It was not its business to meddle in politics to bring anyone into power. It had to keep aloof from politics, leaving the conduct of elections to the civil authorities in which the people would elect representatives of their choice with their vote. A three-member bench headed by Justice Chaudhry and including Justice  Jawwad S. Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain is hearing the case these days. Although the Chief Justice appreciated the role of President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in general, he was unhappy at his involvement in manipulating the electoral process. He added that the President was the symbol of the federation; a neutral person not supposed to represent the interests of a particular group and, therefore, he wanted to know how President Ishaq got involved in politics. As commonly believed, the ISI had, at the instance of President Ishaq, hurriedly patched together the IJI out of diverse political groups and financed it heavily to prevent the PPP’s Benazir Bhutto coming to power. Hence Justice Chaudhry’s observation reflecting the judiciary’s determination to ensure that in future institutions stayed within the ambit of their constitutional powers, ‘no IJI would be formed again and only that would be done which is allowed by the constitution.’

Looking back at Pakistan’s history, one would rue the day when no one, not even the Supreme Court, stood up against the Generals’ penchant for holding the reins of power and in going along with them subverted the Founding Fathers’ dream of making the country a model of democracy. The army’s frequent forays into politics in a span of just 65 years frustrated the noble design. And every time, democratic process resumed, the threatening shadows of the armed forces inhibited the growth of democracy. The army acted as the puppeteer of politics and politicians, in general, afraid that they might be thrown out of power kept quietly pursuing the policies dictated by the top brass. Thus, we see politicians remaining engaged in the unedifying game of self-preservation; the sufferers were, in the main, the people. The consequences are poignantly reflected in the current political mess in the country.

We should all lend full support to the cause of democracy growing and flourishing in Pakistan in line with the traditions set by the advanced democratic countries of the world. The tendency of any institution to interfere and take on the role of another institution must be curbed at all costs. Only then the fruits of democracy would become visible in the form of progress and prosperity of the public at large.