Rein in the rabble-rousers, please
At the end of the first day of the Supreme Court hearing for the contempt notice issued to the prime minister, there was both relief and concern. Relief, because the panic over whether the contempt notice could be the harbinger of the prime minister’s exit from his post, subsided as the issue seemed to be proceeding along legal grounds. However the issue of concern that stared us in the face as our Dunya News team spent hours on the Supreme Court premises covering the high priority story for millions of Pakistanis, was one of the violation of the sanctity of the Supreme Court.
And ending of this violation, is in the hands of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, who is also the administrative head of the Supreme Court.
In the clear view of dozens of television cameras and even more journalists, contrasting with the inside calm of the court room proceedings was the stormy and aggressive sloganeering, taking place at the main door of the Supreme Court building. To our surprise, a partisan position was adopted and projected by some lawyers who began with raising pro-CJP slogans. Some lawyers responded with pro-PPP slogans. And then the crowd of pro-CJP lawyers began to expand as more lawyers walking in from the main gate and some agitated one from a side entrance, joined in. Intermittent chants of “Chief teray jaan-nisaar bay shumaar bay-shumaar”, “Hakumat kaa jo yar hai ghadaar hai, ghadaar hai.” were hurled , in louder and more aggressive tones.
Office bearers of the Islamabad bar council led this crowd of lawyers. They have earlier sent out emails and text messages urging the lawyers to come to the SC premises in support of the CJP. The following text message was sent to the Islamabad Bar members, “Respectable Members of Islamabad Bar, come forward and reach Hon’ble Supreme Court of Pakistan on 19.1.2012 at 9AM to show your commitment for the Rule of Law and respect to the Hon’ble Superior Judiciary of Pakistan. Syed Javed Akbar Advocate, President Islamabad Bar…)”. In many cases where the judges did not appear in their court room, the court staff informed inquiring lawyers that only important matters will be heard after 12 since the lawyers were protesting outside the SC. So the gathering on the premises was not merely accidental.
This rallying for the CJP has not only been a consequence of the habit sown in 2007 but indeed of the power play that has since ensued and in which the Supreme Court appears to be a player. However no less may have the government’s approach of dealing with the Supreme Court via Babar Awan sahib’s attacking and aggressive, no less disrespectful, tactics contributed to this lawyers’ politicking for the CJP. The Supreme Court sits in the middle of Pakistan’s politics with the government considering it biased against it while the opposition considers him the man who has a medicinal role for an ailing Pakistan.
While we all await the Supreme Court hearings, there is an important and related issue on which the Honourable Chief Justice should in his own wisdom and his commitment to upholding the dignity of the Supreme Court, pass an immediate order.
Irrespective of which political party or which judge such a gathering supports, it undermines the institutional dignity of the Supreme Court. The CJP surely wants to rise above all divides. He derives his mandate to facilitate the upholding of justice from the constitution, and not from sloganeering lawyers or even from political parties threatening long marches and tsunami marches.
This is not the Pakistan of 2007 in which the populist muscle became imperative because of the military ruler’s violation of the constitution and of the Supreme Court. In today’s Pakistan, the Supreme Court’s intrinsic authority and muscle, which is derived from the constitution itself, must be banked upon.
Now the incumbents too, including the chief executive, have switched to a more respectful and constitutionally mandated-attitude towards the Court. In the days ahead, while there will be intense legal battling within the Court rooms, can we request the Honourable CJP to kindly ban, with immediate effect, all gatherings and sloganeering by lawyers, to send a message to the Pakistanis of his own neutrality and credibility. The constitution and not his jaanisaars should be the source of the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s strength.
The writer is the host of Policy Matters and Director Current Affairs Dunya News. She is also a Fellow of the Asia Centre at the Harvard University.