The fall guy

In politics, you are someone only for as long as you serve the purpose

It seems that the only state institution working overtime is the apex court. Its almost daily observations and edicts set the agenda and determine the direction the country is taking. The government, on the other hand, seems like a helpless bystander running helter skelter to implement the Supreme Court’s orders.

In the present age where democracy is the universal mantra, a proactive and assertive judiciary is the norm. However, in Pakistan, neither the government nor the polity is used to a judiciary which behaves like a supra body rather than the first amongst equals of the state institutions.

Part of the blame lies with the PPP-led coalition, which owing to its ineptness has compounded its problems. A case in point is the apex court sending eleven legislators home for holding dual nationality.

The constitution clearly states that the dual nationality holders cannot run for public office. Inspite of this, a number of legislators from all major political paries hold dual nationality. The PPP-led coalition had more than four years to correct this anomaly by amending Article 63(C) of the Constitution that specifically bars dual nationality for legislators.

It must be conceded that the present parliament’s record in restoring the democratic and federal nature of the constitution is much better than its predecessors. Political parties represented in the parliament have shown remarkable vision in evolving a consensus on improving upon the original 1973 Constitution.

But a lot of time has been unnecessarily wasted on polemical exercises. The PML-N, reeling under the stigma of being labeled as a” friendly opposition” by its critics, has gone out of its way to attack the government rather than doing serious business. Thus in the process the parliament has relegated some of its authority to the higher judiciary.

Some of the most insidious anomalies introduced in the constitution by the late dictator General Zia-ul-Haq remain intact. A case In point is the constitutional provision that a legislator should be a pious and responsible person.

This is an arbitrary clause liable to be misused. Under this very provision the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has been directed to proceed against Interior Minister Rehman Malik, not only to disqualify him from holding office but also to institute a criminal case against him for perjury.

In this backdrop a perception has been created that the courts are running the day-to-day administration of the country, rather than the government. Gone are the days when remarks made by the members of the Bench were rarely reported.

Now they have become a subject of the ubiquitous beepers and news scrolls run by television news channels 24/7. Even decisions of the court are disclosed as “breaking news”, while the judges are still in the process of recording them.

The apex court is setting new precedents by breaking new grounds and setting new precedents. A case in point is the SC showing the door to the Attorney General Irfan Qadir in Malik Riaz contempt of court case. The legal fraternity has expressed surprise over the decision, stating that the court had set a new precedent by sacking the AG in a particular case.

The AG who is the chief law officer of the government had, interestingly enough, given a list of prosecution witnesses on the directive of the court. It included the names of the chief justice of the Supreme Court and his son Arsalan Ifthikhar. Unfortunately, the apex court has not come out in flying colors in the Arsalan Ifthikhar case involving his alleged dealings with Malik Riaz.

The biggest victory for the Supreme Court is the government agreeing to write to the Swiss authorities to withdraw the letter asking to close the alleged kickbacks cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. After a hiatus of more than two years and sacrificing one prime minister in the process, the government has finally relented.

The credit also goes to the apex court for taking a more conciliatory and flexible attitude towards the incumbent prime minister. Unlike his predecessor Yousaf Raza Gilani, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has been careful not to ruffle feathers of the members of the bench.

He has been meticulously cautious not to attack the apex court in the parliament or in the media. His demeanor in his two appearances in front of the SC Bench has been that of utter humility.

This shift in tactics could not have been possible for the prime minister without a nod from his boss and principal affectee, the president himself. To the utter surprise of many, the government’s previous stance that writing to the Swiss authorities was tantamount to trial of the grave of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto has been abandoned.

Yousaf Raza Gilani, as prime minister, while expressing his loyalty to the president had many a time asked: “Would Shahbaz Sharif write a letter against his elder brother Nawaz Sharif?” Politically speaking, he must now be feeling like he was made the “fall guy”.

Gilani, who prided himself as the man of consensus and who was elected unanimously by the parliament, must be a bitter man. Seemingly abandoned by his own party, he is hardly seen or heard.

His erstwhile colleagues who used to swear by him blame him for the inertia and poor governance that has become the hallmark of the PPP-led coalition in the past four and a half years. Even the Sharifs with whom he had such a cordial relationship abandoned him in the end. Once the apex court convicted him for contempt of court, they refused to acknowledge him as prime minister.

The manner in which Gilani’s younger son Ali Musa was virtually manhandled by the Anti Narcotics Force (ANF)s’ staff while being arrested at the gates of the Supreme Court building also demonstrates his utter isolation in the political spectrum.

The younger Gilani is wanted by the ANF for pressuring the health ministry to allocate quota of ephedrine. The case suddenly cropped up on the eve of Makhdoom Shahab being nominated to succeed Gilani. The ANF being under the influence of the military, it does not need second guessing where Gilani stands today.

Unfortunately, the tales of corruption associated with Gilani and his family members and general lack of transparency amongst the ruling elite coupled with poor governance have given the apex court the clout and the space so much resented by the rulers.

Credit must be given, however, to the government for showing patience and perseverance to put up with proactive and meddlesome courts. Nawaz Sharif as prime minister split and destroyed an assertive apex court. Other opposition parties that portray themselves as champions of an independent judiciary, when in power, are hardly expected to put up with judicial activism.

The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today

Arif Nizami

The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today. He can be contacted at [email protected]