Taking sides is comfortable. It implies finished business, one’s position secured, the other viewpoint rubbished. One is as young as one’s faith, as old as one’s doubts. We all look for certainty: it’s a compulsion.
The Supreme Court has done well to send home a prime minister who wilfully disobeyed the order of the Court. Case closed. The SC has, as is its wont now, overreached. The PPP government has acted gracefully and bowed to the verdict. This act has strengthened democracy. Case closed.
These are secure positions. One nestles comfortably in front of one’s fireplace on a cold winter night, shutting the cold out. The surroundings are cosy and known, secure from the treacherous unknown that lies outside.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with this approach. We all like to put our own spin on things and create a known world. We develop habits, stick to them, get addicted and hate to see our world crumble. But sometimes situations are more complex than how we would like to see them. The current clash between an intransigent executive and an overreaching judiciary falls into that category. Unless one is a partisan, it is not easy to create a linear, coherent discourse here.
Yousaf Raza Gilani should not have been convicted for contemning the Court and disqualified. The SC/Opposition partisan will not like this statement and will point to how corrupt the PPP government is, how ineffective Gilani was, how much money he allegedly made and so on. But that misses the point. The SC was not dealing with Gilani’s inefficiencies of which he was fraught with. Instead, the SC sentenced him for not writing a letter, an issue on which jurists remain divided.
On the other hand, the government did not cover itself in glory by constantly frustrating the judiciary and trapping it through delaying and diversionary tactics. The PPP partisan would point to the Court’s bias against the party and the president, Asif Ali Zardari, its penchant for overreaching through suo motu notices, its inordinate ambition to encroach upon the domains of the executive and the legislature. That misses the point again.
The Court was dealing, correctly, with the issue in view of its judgement on the NRO. It asked the government repeatedly to present its (government’s) case clearly. But clarity was not part of the government’s strategy. The president shielded himself through a prime minister who was ultimately expendable and forced the Court to play the PPP’s hand.
Politically, this was a smart strategy. Smarter still is the move to finally, after having thoroughly frustrated the Court, to accept its decision. The government can now say that it respects the law. But the non-partisan knows that this respect is part of the government’s strategy to discredit the Court. In the middle of all this, the letter itself, whether or not it can be written, is largely forgotten.
It is now clear that the executive and the judiciary are out of joint and at loggerheads. This is what has generated the current tussle between the political and legal sovereigns. For the non-partisan it is difficult to take sides in this conflict. Neither the government nor the SC, in their functioning, can be graded well.
The SC has overreached in this and many other cases; it has taken it upon itself to enter the choppy waters of public policymaking; while it claims to cleanse the Augean stables, its own reputation has been tainted, not just through the alleged dealings of the CJP’s son with an unsavoury real estate tycoon, but also through rumours about the dubious assets of some other honourable judges. It has failed in its duty to help the executive reform the judiciary at the lower levels, which is where justice must be seen to be done and quickly for the commons.
As for the government, while it takes credit for surviving a full term, it is likely to go down in the country’s history as the most dysfunctional government ever, at least in terms of governance. Its apathy to public policy and the public has become legendary and can be measured only in contrast to its ability to run rings around the opposition and its own allies. Exhibit: its choice of new premier, a man tainted and nicknamed ‘Raja Rental’.
This is the fractured ground in which one has to base one’s analysis. The partisans, as I have noted, have the luxury of entrenched positions. The non-partisan, for the most part, are despondent. The general sense is that the system is not working. And, in many ways, it is not. The problem then is to see if one can identify some positive strands in all this. I must confess to a degree of optimism at the macro level despite the great confusion that currently reigns.
While our branches of government may be locked in conflict, the current phase of instability should eventually lead to a balance of sorts, so long as the game is played in and through the constitutional framework. No one is playing for balance wittingly but it will come, by and by. People are expressing themselves through various means. This cacophony, at least as far as the urban centres are concerned, must translate into an electoral exercise at some point. It would be interesting to see the numbers. On the ground, even some degree of violence (rioting, for instance) should help instill among the rulers, whoever they might be, a sense of enlightened self-interest.
It is almost impossible in human affairs to identify the path to a grand equilibrium: too many things interact in unpredictable ways and the paradox always strikes. Even so, if our governments were to take some interest in public policy and make intelligent decisions, a big if I admit, that would go a long way towards creating stability. Many of the reforms identified for Pakistan are eminently doable. What our extractive elites now need to consider is whether they can still afford to do nothing, because the cost of inaction is steadily increasing.
Published in The Express Tribune, 25th, 2012.
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