But does it appear to be the same?
This is Pakistan’s season of justice. And whatever else one may say about the ongoing cat and mouse encounters between the Supreme Court and the PPP, it certainly provides for entertaining television. What passes as analysis on twenty five TV channels (no less), the press conferences, Sheikh Rasheed (for comedy), and the frank speeches by the PM – isn’t it amazing that more than three decades later, everybody, without exception, is still a Zulfikar Ali Bhutto wannabe? – and what not.
In terms of their views on the above judicial battles, people can be classified into three (broad) groups. One: those who feel the SC, despite its good intentions, appears to be involved in judicial activism, even if not openly taking sides. They are hoping that the activism stops soon. They may be in a minority but they have good memories. Two: those, who believe that the SC is following not only the letter, but also the spirit of the law. Needless to say, they are rooting for the SC. Three: those who are cheering for the SC despite knowing that the SC is involved in judicial activism. They feel that the ends justify the means, and what really matters is that the SC has its heart in the right place.
The third group acknowledges that while the court is allowing itself to be perceived as a biased party, what other option does it have? What other option does the country have? How else, in other words, will we be rid of Zardari and Co? People are looking up to the new Supreme Court as the only institution that has the intent as well as the power to save the country at this critical juncture. So, while it is a little disconcerting that cases against certain institutions and people can’t be heard (usually can’t even be accepted to be heard), we should be thankful for whichever crook gets unlucky enough to get caught in the judicial grip.
The second group maintains that while the legislature makes laws, it’s the SC’s job to interpret those laws; therefore, saying that the SC interpreted the law incorrectly is a non sequitur. The SC may appear selective in the dispensation of justice but then that is so because it addresses the petitions presented to it. “Why don’t you move the SC against people you believe are above the law?”, they ask. As for the proactive nature of SC, the SC’s response was only fair and measured considering the political gamesmanship from the government.
The first group argues that being politicians, Zardari and Gilani would always play politics, as would Sharif and Altaf bhai. That is their job. They point out that the people who are always outraged about one immorality or the other on the part of politicians don’t know what democracy is all about. The judicial system is not there to completely eliminate immorality (which is impossible), but is a framework that endeavours to ensure the rule of law in a consistent manner. Politicians will never be consistent; the courts must be, on account of being the organs of justice. The politicians may have been less than perfectly mannered but the courts should be (and are) higher than playing one-upmanship with them.
If the courts become biased, or are perceived as such, then there is no bigger tyranny conceivable because now it is being done in the name of justice. We have seen the ends-justify-means theory at work way too many times in the past, and the results have always been far from desirable. On each occasion, we had been told it was a critical juncture in the life of this country. People moved the courts but nothing doing. The judges often acted as extensions of the top military leadership in those days.
Thankfully it doesn’t happen now. Although there are perceptions that certain institutions are still above the law, most people believe that the judges don’t take dictation from the GHQ anymore. There is absolutely no doubt in the world that Justice Iftikhar is a man of rare courage. I am sure his wisdom matches his courage, if anything; and same goes for the other honourable judges of the SC. I would, therefore, implore the honourable judges to exercise even more restraint than they have been doing. Some people are hoping that the Supreme Court, using some sort of a doctrine-of-necessity arrangement, may postpone the Senate elections if the present government is still there come March. It will be a devastating blow to the reputation of the SC if that happens.
Coming back to the positives of this crisis (in addition to great television): The PM has improved his speaking skills considerably – he is still no Roosevelt, mind you. The going down fighting attitude of this government despite so many crises is also promising, because if it was even a few years ago, the military men would have taken over long ago. Who says evolution is a myth?
The writer is a member of the band Beygairat Brigade that has recently released the single Aaloo Anday.