2018 – A year of accountability drive and judicial activism

  • And a look ahead

The year 2018 saw much political upheaval in Pakistan. A sitting prime minister was disqualified, jailed and a new government was installed. Along with the transition in government, two things that took centre stage in the year were accountability drive and judicial activism.

Across the board or not, the accountability drive that began in 2017 strengthened in 2018 with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) being the main target. In one year, top PML-N leaders, including Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif themselves, Hanif Abbasi and Khawaja Brothers were convicted in various cases. All of these leaders are currently facing jail over their respective charges.

It’s good that the politicians who had been looting public money for years finally came under the ambit of accountability. Not only the Sharifs, inquiries were launched against leaders from other parties and business tycoons like Malik Riaz as well. The recent development in fake bank accounts case against Asif Zardari and co is shifting the tide to other parties as well.

Ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) however still remains safe from the accountability wave that has swept the two main opposition parties. With the exceptions of Babar Awan and Azam Swati, no such action was seen against the ruling party as Aleem Khan and Aleema Khan face similar trials.

Here comes another pertinent question: Why the other two institutions of the country – army and judiciary – remain indifferent to such actions? They have their own valid answer which goes unquestioned and that is of ‘self-accountability’. The judiciary has Supreme Judicial Council while the army has its own accountability mechanism, as reiterated time and again by the DG ISPR.

It’s good that we finally see the public officials being held accountable for their wrongdoings but selective accountability and witch hunting can seem to further harm the already fragile political stability in the country.

Enjoying support from army and the judiciary, Imran Khan’s is perhaps the only government where all three institutions are actually ‘on the same page’

This accountability drive wouldn’t have been possible without the Supreme Court. With the aid of NAB and FIA, the courts in Pakistan gave some key decisions in the past year, eventually leading to judicial activism by heroic Chief Justice Saqib Nisar.

CJP Nisar remained in headlines throughout the year for his judicial activism. He didn’t spare anything or anyone from taking a suo motu, from rape cases to health facilities and water issue facing the country. This led to the debate of separation of powers in the country. As Pakistan’s constitution does not have any article specifically pertaining to the principle of separation of powers, we see confusion in the functioning of various state institutions and whether their actions should be termed as interference into the work of executive or not.

The excessive use of Article 184 (3) by the top court judge is unprecedented as he even surpassed former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in using this authority. As of September 2018, the Supreme Court had concluded 70 suo motu notices but what about other cases currently pending in the supreme, higher and lower courts. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa himself acknowledged that there are 1.9 million pending cases in the country. One major service the chief justice could have done to the country would have been to reform the criminal justice system. The higher number of pending cases is a proof of how litigants face difficulties in getting themselves heard by the guarantors of justice.

Not to mention the dam fund generated by the chief justice to collect donations for the construction of Mohmand, Bhasha and Diamer Dams. The entire year saw a debate on dams and the crowd sourcing of such a mega project. Yes, water is a basic necessity and fundamental right to life of citizens would have been violated in case of water scarcity but jumping into the development domain was not the realm of the chief justice. The idea was carried forward by the PTI government who shared the responsibility of building dams for the country and rightly so. This, however, didn’t stop the chief justice from raising the cause, not only at national but at international level too. And this was how the dam rhetoric continued for the year 2018.

Enjoying support from army and the judiciary, Imran Khan’s is perhaps the only government where all three institutions are actually ‘on the same page’. This provides an opportunity as well as a challenge for the country to do necessary reforms and set it on the right path. Much has been destroyed in Pakistan up till now and fixing it would need some patience and long term policies.

With PTI in power with the slogan of change, army promising not to intervene in civilian matters and a hyper active judiciary, the coming years of Pakistan can see some political stability and better functioning on the part of executive. Being optimist is, unfortunately, the only choice we have so let’s pray the future isn’t too bleak.