Legal assaults on the body politic

Judging the State
October 6, 1995

The body politic of Pakistan carries the scars of several unconstitutional and illegal injuries inflicted by some army generals. This is common knowledge. That these assaults were condoned, legitimised and even abetted by the superior judiciary of the country is not common knowledge. We are in Paula Newberg's debt for making it common knowledge. She demonstrates that Pakistani courts have been critics and destroyers of the state, never its protectors, and in evidence she quotes their executive-oriented and army-influenced judgments. Veil by veil she peels off the fine drapery of the judges' vulpine arguments and dubious logic, exposing their eagerness to support and enthrone every dictator who chose to undermine, contravene or flout the basic law of the land.

Newberg scrutinises all important constitutional cases with scholarly care, perspicacity and understanding. The analysis is generally competent, at places penetrating, and always judicious and fair. If the state of Pakistan (along with its citizens) has suffered oppression, the superior courts have not only been accessories to the act but partners in the crime. The exercise has been very well done by the author and the book should be compulsory reading for all those interested in Pakistan's history and politics.

Therefore, it is a great pity indeed that the author and the publisher have conspired against the reader to mar the book with as many flaws as they could manage.

The author writes in long convoluted sentences, some of which require two readings to discover their purport. The style is like dense fog, and Newberg is niggardly with her definite articles.

She also makes some questionable or demonstrably false or meaningless statements. The Federal Court is called Supreme Court. The 1970 elections were "open, fair, free and without violence"; the reality rejects each adjective. The war inquiry commission's terms of reference were not "to investigate charges of army brutality in Dacca", but to examine the circumstances in which the army surrendered. The 12-line comment on the Lahore resolution is perfunctory and misleading. The "intellectual foundation of Pakistan was the two-nation conceptI"; for "intellectual" read "political". "With secession (of 1971), however, went the two-nation theory"; it did not, because Bangladesh did not merge with India. "A petition in (the) Punjab met with greater consideration and temporally, a life that extended long past the elections"; the sentence makes no sense. The "establishment prevented Bhutto from governing appropriately"; the adverb conveys no meaning.

The 323-entry bibliography is more cosmetic than relevant; only 36 items are cited in the text.

The publishers have done their bit by denying the manuscript the services of an editor or a copy-editor. In one close reading I spotted ten damaging misprints. The index is neither adequate nor analytical. There is no information on the author except her current appointment. And, since when has the Cambridge University Press adopted American orthography?

K. K. Aziz is a former professor of politics, history and Islam.

Judging the State: Courts and Constitutional Politics in Pakistan

Author - Paula R. Newberg
ISBN - 0 521 45289 9
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Price - £35.00
Pages - 284

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