When the Supreme Court was hearing the case of Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo’s assembly’s dissolution by Ziaul Haq, the Court agreed with the fact that the assembly was dissolved unconstitutionally. Yet, the Court thought as the election schedule had been announced; hence notwithstanding the illegality of the dissolution the assembly should not be restored. Nasim Hasan Shah giving reasons observed, “…because justice should be done, in such a manner that the heavens should not fall”. This points to two things; firstly, that the slightly clichéd phrase “Fiat justitia, ruat coelum” (Let justice be done though the heavens fall) in different forms has remained a favourite of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Secondly, the Court has retained its exquisite sense of timing. The Court ordered the arrest of the prime minister (PM) at a time when Islamabad was held hostage by a demagogue. My Lord also repeated his commitment to doing justice even “though the heaven fall”. My Lord, the Chief Justice of Pakistan has never made any secret of his fondness of breaking news television. The bulk of the suo-motu cases come from news headlines. Hence, it is unlikely that he was unaware of the presence of His grace in the Blue Area. In any event, the Long March was physically close enough to My Lord so as to make him notice.
Timing, they say, is everything. Let us be clear, My Lord is entitled to pass the order at any time he deems fit. It could just be a coincidence. However, given our history there are very poor betting odds for that. In all likelihood there are two possible explanations. The first is cynical that God forbid it was pre-planned, a conspiracy to undermine democracy. The second is hardly more generous, that My Lords just do not care. For the moment, let us keep the abysmal performance of the present federal and provincial governments aside. With the utmost of deference, it is obvious that My Lords are not great admirers of this democratic government. One can live with that. More disturbing is the thought that My Lords do not particularly like democracy. The cynic might say that there is some evidence of that. The tone and patience of the Court shows a marked difference in dealing with the ‘bloody civilians’ when compared to ‘the gentleman officers’. The civilian rulers are not to be trusted; they are incompetent, corrupt, power hungry, etc. Though it may be substantially true, it does sound discomfortingly familiar, does it not.
One prime minister was sent home by the Court, another one might be on his way to prison. The Court arguably is vested with the power to order both. However, it would have been more convincing had a similar line be adopted with the IG FC in the Balochistan proceedings, who consistently flouted Court directions to appear in Court. No arrests ordered in the ‘missing persons’ case. Similarly the ‘Sipah-e-Salaar’ has always been referred to with ‘respect’, even when he refused to appear before the Memo Commission, etc. The Asghar Khan case was a welcome yet brief change of pace. The suo-motu notices of the speeches and press conferences of the politicians would have had more weight had the same robust, muscular and fearless approach been adopted to some other public speeches, for example leaders of banned outfits addressing public gatherings openly inciting people to violence (This in no way absolves the federal and provincial governments of their failures).
Far be it from me to attribute any ill-intent to the Court; they really believe themselves to be our saviours and are well meaning for the most part. At some level, it is befitting that the order to arrest the PM was announced in the middle of the Shaykhul Islam’s rally and gave it new fire. In spite of different coloured gowns, My Lord and His grace have a few things in common. They both claim to represent the people of Pakistan. Both of them cite long marches (albeit different ones) to substantiate their claim. They also share a disdain of the electoral process to quantify the level of support. They both have nothing but contempt for the ‘crooks’ in parliament (Although, His grace might have had some change of heart recently). Curiously both feel the need to repeat often their resolve to be the first line of defense against ‘undemocratic’ attacks; the test is still to come. They both have the desire to be popular and at the centre stage. At the risk of generalising, both of them have a similar constituency or support base, largely disgruntled urban middle class (with genuine grievances and looking for hope). Hence suo motu for CNG but not for the Hazara killings in Quetta, Babar Awan but not Malik Ishaq, Katrina Kaif advertisement but not SSP spokespersons on primetime, prime minister but not other higher-ups, etc, etc.
In any event, the heavens did not fall, at least not yet. One needs to tip one’s hat to Mr Imran Khan, Mian Nawaz Sharif and all the democratic forces in Pakistan for their refusal to become part of any intrigue. Bravo sirs. This is maturity and progress. Yet along with this small dose of optimism comes terrifying news. A Supreme Court bench has admitted a petition over alleged blasphemy against the courageous ambassador, Ms Sherry Rehman, and has directed the police, “to take action in accordance with law”. This does not necessarily mean the registration of a criminal case, although the standard practice suggests a case is normally registered. Legal technicalities aside, this is serious and reckless. Ms Rehman is one of the best that we have got. My Lords are expected to know the implications of even entertaining a ridiculous petition like this, the implications of even an allegation. Hate and venom should not be given space in the Supreme Court. The Court is not under obligation to admit all petitions for hearing and not every nut job has to be indulged. My Lords, if and when heavens fall, they will destroy everything and everyone underneath; everyone.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 20th, 2013.
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