More than five years ago, when this country was reeling in the aftermath of Musharraf’s regime, the messianic figure of the Chief Justice appeared as the harbinger of a new revolution. For the first time in our history, the judiciary appeared to have challenged the country’s powerful military establishment; a prospect that led to most of us joining the revolutionary brigade with all the hopes of a new dawn.
But true to the warnings of some veteran political observers of the time, this revolution was also eventually betrayed, leaving one wondering whether it was even a revolution at all in the first place. The signs of approaching failure started appearing at an early stage when the top leadership of the so-called Lawyers’ Movement started dissociating themselves, and in some instances criticising, the actions of the superior judiciary. Some political parties and human rights organizations followed suit. While the Supreme Court continued to lose support from various quarters, any remaining support it did attract for its judicial hyper activity and controversial administrative interventions seemed to hinge on the unpopularity of the previous government. As the vocal political opposition and sensationalist media carried on whipping this dead horse, the honourable judges never felt the need for introspection. Recently however, the targeting of the massively popular Imran Khan on the premise of contempt appears to have signalled an end to this particular show. Imran Khan and his zealous supporters have rolled up their sleeves, and although an end to this episode is not yet in sight, the role of the Supreme Court as an agent of revolution is clearly over.
Without going into the details of the repercussions of the Supreme Court’s judicial precedents, it is fair to say that it has fallen far short of expectations. The judiciary is still among the top five most corrupt institutions in Pakistan, and the common man remains afraid of any sort of dealing with the courts. On the other hand, many dubious and potentially dangerous precedents of interfering with the executive have been set. The charges of selective justice, nepotism and bias can also not be ignored. But what has come up as the most decisive factor in ruining our hopes in the judiciary is the issue of contempt of court – the way it has been played up is unprecedented in history.
The lessons of this failed ‘revolution’ are all too explicit. Populism is dangerous; a judiciary is supposed to adhere to the dictates of law, not be swept up by public sentiment. If judicial activism is an important practice, so is judicial restraint. Selective justice is no justice. In a democracy, freedom of speech, including the freedom to criticize the judiciary, should be upheld at all costs. All political institutions are meant to work in mutual coordination, and so the true revolution lies in the respective development of the institutions, not in one institution’s superimposition over the others.
(Editorial Issue 11)
I feel appropriate commenting the verse of Faiz Ahmad Faiz —————Hum Saada Hi Aissay Thay Kee Youn Bhi Pazeerai / Jiss Waqqt Khizaan Aae Samjhay Kay Bhar Aae