NAB chairman verdict: Confrontation or acceptance?

SC's latest decision has many fearful of its implications for the high-stakes battle between the PPP and the PML-N.

Sanaa Ahmed March 11, 2011

It sounds stodgy when said out aloud but there’s something to be said about ‘justice should not only be done, it must be seen to be done’. The Supreme Court’s short order on Thursday shooting down the appointment of National Accountability Bureau chairman Deedar Hussain Shah may have satisfied the first but, going by PPP’s Taj Haider’s sound and fury and threats of protest marches, fell short of the second.

Legally speaking, the court’s on the straight and narrow. The NAB Ordinance says that the president is to consult the leader of the house as well as the leader of the opposition while appointing the NAB chairman. And there are many judgments of the apex court insisting that such consultations need to be meaningful. “We’re talking about the highest, independent investigative and prosecuting agency of the land here,” reasons former Supreme Court Bar Association president Muneer Malik. “So while the court has only released a short order as yet, they’re probably looking at an expansive, purposive and consensus-oriented interpretation of the word ‘consultation.” It’s the Supreme Court that has the final word on the interpretation of legal texts, argues Malik, and not “the people on the street”.

But everyone’s not quite as sanguine. Political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi is dolefully predicting a confrontation. “It looks like the court’s getting into the business of hiring and firing, which it’s not meant to, and that the chief justice is upset about Khalilur Rehman Ramday and Rehmat H Jaffri being denied extensions and is now bringing pressure to bear on the government,” he says.

Those who remember last year’s pitched battles between the SC and the government over the reopening of NAB cases against President Asif Zardari, the beleaguered former NAB chairman Naveed Ehsan, the brouhaha over acting NAB chairman Javed Qazi and the amendment-today-gone-tomorrow episode in October would tend to agree with Rizvi. But significantly, in each of the seemingly ‘political’ episodes, the government backed down. And this, say the legals, has to do with the fact that the court had the moral high ground each time.

But morality usually has little to do with realpolitik. And the apex court’s latest decision has many fearful of its implications for the high-stakes battle between the PPP and the PML-N. The accountability issue is one close to PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif’s heart, whose brother, the Punjab chief minister, made headlines earlier this week by demanding the judiciary and the Pakistan Army be included in talks regarding a roadmap for Pakistan. “PML-N’s demands regarding the role for the army and the judiciary are attempts to pressurise the government,” says Rizvi. In case the judgment triggers a full-blown confrontation between the judiciary and the executive, the PPP will find itself flying solo. “All the opposition parties will support the SC because they want to get rid of the government,” predicts Rizvi.

And with friends as unpredictable as the MQM, a dire economic situation and budget season right around the corner, the government will find itself flailing. Just as well then Attorney General Anwarul Haq is playing it safe and saying the government will wait for the detailed judgment before deciding whether it wants to move a review petition. Sometimes, it pays to be cautious too.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2011.


kashif | 10 years ago | Reply Supreme court is also playing game. This decision shows that Shahbaz Sharif idea was thrown by apex court. Match his speech with decision, you will find that there is co-relation.
Sultan Ahmed | 10 years ago | Reply In am very afraid having heard the news protest is being arranged on the court judgment delivered yesterday regarding the deedar shah appointment..
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