By Anas Muhammad
On 12 October 1999, General Prevez Musharraf ouster the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a non violent military coup. The reason given by Musharraf was the rampant corruption under Nawaz Sharifs regime. Although the same “corruption card” has been used previously, to disrupt the tenures of two Benazir Bhutto’s and a Nawaz Sharif’s previous government, to change the political setup before either Prime Minister starts to exert their muscle over the almighty military.
The judiciary has always been there, as a sidekick of dictators and those who disrupts democracy, to back their extra constitutional actions with a legal cover. Many judicial experts believe that the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, has stepped over of its legal limits to facilitate dictatorships by granting them with the authority of legislative powers. This crime was also committed by the current judicial setup and the current Chief Justice of Pakistan.
Recently the Supreme Court of Pakistan struck down the amnesty for politicians and bureaucrats, which The Guardian labeled as “Supreme court Chaos.” It was a Chaos indeed, blurring the line between the judiciary and the executive, and very likely causing a tussle for powers between the two pillars of the state.
Just as this Supreme Court was gaining some trust amongst the people, blinded by its newly gained fame and popularity, it started making one after another judgment that was clearly an attempt to overstep its constitutional jurisdiction. Some experts have noted that Supreme Court’s decision to intervene into governments taxation policy in the budget and fixing price ceiling for sugar were just a few examples of judiciary interfering in the executive matters.
According to an article in The Guardian:
The judgment reeked of politics, designed to unseat an unpopular president halfway through his term.
Asma Jahangir, a prominent human rights activist, has also hinted at the Supreme Court’s “encroachment” into executive business. In her recent article she stated:
The judgment goes much further. It has assumed a monitoring rather than a supervisory role over NAB cases.
Although she supports the verdict against the NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance), she seems to be skeptical of the actions the supreme court has described in its verdict.
Is it the function of the superior courts to sanctify the infamous NAB ordinance, the mechanism itself and to restructure it with people of their liking? It is true that the public has greater trust in the judiciary than in any other institution of the state, but that neither justifies encroachment on the powers of the executive or legislature nor does it assist in keeping an impartial image of the judiciary
This judicial activism is not very helpful in strengthening democracy, especially when it is very selective, and biased in some cases. For instance, the Supreme Court bypassed its norms and procedures to hear an appeal by former PM Nawaz Sharif, for a case he was convicted more than eight years ago, and acquitted him. While on the other hand only targeting President Asif Ali Zardari, and his cases, out of more than 8000 cases that were under the parameters of NRO. The New York Times also pointed at this in their article:
Of most interest to the 17-member bench, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was the question of who had authorized the return of $60 million in suspect gains by Mr. Zardari to offshore companies in his name after the government withdrew criminal proceedings against him in Switzerland last year.
As some right-wing segments of Pakistani society, media, judiciary, and army might not like President Zardari’s stance on militancy, and his closeness to the Americans, they might be tempted to repeat history by overthrowing another elected government for the sake of their politics and ideology.
While The Guardian also came to the same conclusion:
Who profits from this? Rightwing members of the senior judiciary; sections of the military and intelligence establishment who regard Mr Zardari as too pro-American and want to stop him cracking down on the Afghan Taliban; and the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif. His own previous conviction was not covered by the NRO, but he profited from Ms Bhutto’s return to Pakistan by coming home from exile himself.
Now the ball is in the politicians’ court, and it is up to them to handle the situation in a way that the establishment and some extreme right-wing players can’t take advantage and destabilize the current government or weaken President Zardari. Any mishandling can end up being catastrophic for the democracy, and ultimately the security of Pakistan.
The judiciary needs to understand this and operate in its constitutional parameters, because any harm to democracy can also lead to restriction to their own freedom, as they faced under Musharraf era. They should make sure that the corruption doesn’t become just another card to ouster another democratically elected government, but rather is used to promote transparency, and the scrutiny should not be limited to the politicians, but also the bureaucrats, judges, military, media-journalists, and highly controversial institutions like the National Accountability Bureau.
Tags: Asif Zardari, Asma Jahangir, Benazir Bhutto, Corrupt generals, Corruption, dawn newspaper, Guardian, Judiciary, NAB, Nawaz Sharif, New York Times, Pakistan Army, Pakistani Media, right wing, Supreme Court of Pakistan