The Judge, the General, and Pakistan’s Evolving Balance of Power
Image Credit: imtiaz333 (Flickr)

The Judge, the General, and Pakistan’s Evolving Balance of Power


The tenuous nature of Pakistan’s democratic transition was put on display this Monday when the country’s army chief and Supreme Court chief justice appeared to warn one another to not transgress their constitutionally-defined roles.

Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani decried what he claimed were attempts to create divisions between the Pakistani military and its people. And he said that no individual or institution has a monopoly on deciding what is in Pakistan’s national interest. Later that day, the Supreme Court released the text of a speech given by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in which he declared that the days of a military-dominated conception of national security are over.

An overt clash between the army and the Supreme Court is unlikely. Kayani is extremely cautious and has behaved with more restraint than his predecessors, who were far more intrusive in the political process. And though Chaudhry heads the most activist court in Pakistan’s history, he has been markedly less confrontational with the military since coming back into office in 2009, as compared to years before.

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What we are witnessing is an indelicate — and, at times, unwieldy — process in which Pakistan’s elites are delineating the distribution of power and the rules of the game. This process is taking fold in multiple fora, both public and private, formal and informal, in parliamentary committees and via the television airwaves.

Kayani is seeking to establish red lines for the activist Supreme Court, which flexed its muscles this year when it disqualified a sitting prime minister from office. In multiple addresses this year, Kayani has warned of a clash of institutions, alluding to the conflict between the executive and the judiciary. Now, the army chief is concerned about whether the high court is setting its sights on the military. The Supreme Court ordered an investigation into whether former Chief of Army Staff. Gen. Aslam Beg and former Inter-Services Intelligence Director-General Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani manipulated elections in the early 1990s.

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