Need for strong judiciary in Pakistan

Tasneem Noorani
Most states have three pillars on which the state stands, Pakistan has four. In addition to the parliament, the executive and the judiciary, we have the army. As a euphemism we call it the establishment.

If all these four pillars had equal weight, we could have been like a vehicle with four equal wheels and speeding ahead. But the army has had a predominant role in the affairs of the state, even when not actually in power. So our vehicle has had one tractor wheel and the remaining meant for a scooter. Resultantly, the vehicle goes in circles.

The general public’s imagination was fired when another institution, the judiciary, raised its head and challenged the army, then represented by its chief, the president. The lawyers’ movements set out not to accept the dominance of the president. The suspended chief justice, who said no to the president, became a hero overnight.

When the February elections were announced, one of the major political parties, gauging the public mood made the restoration of the judiciary the main plank of their campaign and even had its candidates take an oath to support it. The voter showed their support for the restoration of the judiciary by giving unexpected support to that party, upsetting the election game plan of the establishment.

Contrary to expectations, the Feb 18 mandate neither resulted in the ouster of the president nor in the restoration of the judiciary. This was in accordance with the past practice of the establishment, supported by our foreign masters: deciding what is good for the country, rather than going by the wisdom of the voter.

The lawyers, who have been hoping to bring at least one more institution, the judiciary, at par with the army, had been following a strategy of attrition, by having weekly strikes and processions in each town. While this kept the pressure on the government, the lawyers gave the coalition government time to sort out matters politically, through the Bhurban Accord, the London Accord and numerous other high- level meetings. They waited for the election and expected the parliament to assert itself in favour of their cause.

When nothing worked, they announced the firing of the main weapon in their arsenal, a nationwide march. The first announcement of the lawyers marching to the Army House in Rawalpindi, demanding the resignation of the president, sounded logical and doable, as it would have had the tacit support of the PPP, for it would suit them if someone else could got ride of the president for them, without them appearing to be reneging on their big deal with the powers that be, both in the country and abroad. The ouster of the president would have removed one main opponent of Iftikhar Chaudhry making a comeback. But the lawyers, for reasons best known to them, decided to take on the parliament, on the announced reason that the president is tottering in any case, so why waste time on him.

The other flaw in the stratagem of the lawyers’ movement appears to be giving Nawaz Sharif a high profile. While they needed his support for the numbers in the march, his high-profile involvement automatically led to the hardening of the stance of Zardari, in order not to give away political brownie points to his coalition partner.

The lawyers have thrown their main knockout punch, which the adversary has cleverly ducked. Because of the force behind their missed punch, the lawyers are, as of now, off balance and apparently in a bit of disarray. The government is gloating for having very cleverly removed all the containers and allowed the venom of the lawyers and members of the civil society to dissipate in thin air. But is that the right thing for the country?

The PPP government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made its first person-specific constitutional amendment (the Fifth Amendment) limiting the term of the chief justice of the High Court to three years, resulting in the premature retirement of Justice Sardar Iqbal and leading ultimately to the elevation of Justice Maulvi Mushtaq to chief justice of the Lahore High Court. His role in the judicial murder of Bhutto is well known. Can one see what course history may have taken, to the benefit of the Bhutto family, if judicial engineering was avoided then and Justice Sardar Iqbal allowed to continue as chief justice? Can we learn something from our past to our benefit now?

After the passage of the Finance Bill we will have 29 or so judges in the Supreme Court, divided into two almost equal groups, one who stood up against authority and the others who connived. Imagine the kind of squabbles we are likely to read about in our apex court in the days to come, and what respect will be left for this great and essential institution in the eyes of the public. There can be no better dispensation to ridicule and destroy this pillar of state.

Despite the valiant struggle of the last fourteen months, we seem to be headed towards a pliable judiciary. We seemed to be doomed to be riding in a vehicle with one tractor tyre and going in circles, unless the rulers realise that their own chance of survival is dependant on a strong judiciary.

Lawyers, take heart; you have only lost a battle, the war is still worth fighting for.

The writer is an analyst and a former federal secretary. Email: tasneem.noorani@
Source: The News

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