Keeping pace with the new court | Pakistan Today

Keeping pace with the new court

  • How’s the ruling party going to do?

The newly appointed Chief Justice of Pakistan has been known as a man of action and as someone who doesn’t shy away from taking tough decisions even at the face of outright pressures. The outgoing Chief Justice of Pakistan, Saqib Nisar, has left a legacy of judicial activism which at times was not constrained to institutional bounds. However, one can argue that the activism which the outgoing chief justice was found of exercising became necessary due to the inability of civil institutions to act. While we may not see a court of Nisar’s image under Justice Asif Khosa, some of the actions which are likely to happen in 2019 consist of the following.

Justice Khosa is going to remain the chief justice of the Supreme Court for about a year. That means he has around one year to actually implement his vision for the court and the wider footprint of the institution beyond the court. We are going to see a lot action in the court. However, the action is going to be considerably different than Justice Nisar’s court. The focus on the court is going to shift from where it has been for the past three years. There will be no visits to schools, hospitals, lower courts or demands to put money into the dam funds. Moreover, there won’t be any public statements to the media or statements which give away feel of what is going to come next.

All work is going to be done inside the courtrooms quietly but the issues that are going to be taken up by the court may shake various power centers. It’s understood that forces in power in Pakistan have been very happy with the court of Justice Nisar. His focus on accountability and the fight against corrupt politicians was something which fit into the agenda of the ruling party and the demand of various other institutions. For instance, the PPP and the PML-N’s fortunes under Justice Nisar took a deep nosedive as they became the sole focus of his project accountability vision. The last two years of the Supreme Court’s focus on the ‘political lot should be held accountable’ has taken down the political careers of many. While many call the Court’s action controversial and premeditated, it cannot be denied that last thirty years of PPP and PML-N’s politics have not only destroyed the institutionalisation of democratic politics but have also endorsed and fostered a patronage based politics which cares for the corrupt and isolates the democratic voices and practices. It’s unsure if it had to change the way Nisar’s court thought it should change but it happened and the main driving force behind the action was the court’s own vision and purpose. It has been argued that the court was influenced by lobbyist from the outside. While that may have been the case, it all made sense because corruption and authoritarian political styles under the guise of democracy could not and should not have continued.

The government needs to set up an in-house institute to keep an eye on the team which is serving on behalf of the PTI or reject names and actions domestically and globally

That’s what Justice Khosa also felt: he was one of the Justices who wrote down the ‘Sharif Mafia’ narrative. For good or bad, he shares the same dislike for the political lot that has been chopping the country’s core for years. The loot and plunders that have happened under the eye of the Sharifs and Zardaris may not find respite in Justice Khosa’s court.

That said, what will remain interesting to watch is this: is Justice Khosa’s court going to give space to the government of Imran Khan who also houses figures that may face the wrath of the court’s fight against corruption. It will be interesting to watch how the PTI government reads into the early days of Justice Khosa’s court and alters some of its governance trajectories. As of now, we see a government which is still trying to find its footing in the corridors of power. Khan’s cabinet is quick to react to political opposition’s comments that cannot even be considered opposition to a true extent. What further demands Khan’s attention is his focus in terms of who is truly serving his vision and who is using the name of his vision to serve his or her own interests. The government needs to set up an in-house institute to keep an eye on the team which is serving on behalf of the PTI or reject names and actions domestically and globally that use the name of the government with or without a mandate.

A recent example which should have been handed swiftly was the case of Hameed Kidwai who declared himself a special envoy of the PM Khan and signed agreements with Pakistani origin Sikh community based in the UK. While the involved person has been exposed, the government can do more to apprehend such cases.The new court is going to be swift and the actions are going to be rapid. Whoever keeps up with the pace of the court will have the better of 2019.

Umair Jamal

Umair Jamal is a graduate of the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University. He is a research fellow with the Centre for Governance and Policy. He regularly writes for various media outlets. He can be contacted on Twitter: @UJAmaLs.