It was not too long ago when we were all witness to a rather bellicose executive locking horns with a judiciary that was unsuccessfully trying to hold its ground and assert its authority. Fearing resistance from the courts, the so called president had held our constitution in abeyance, ousted the senior most cadre of the judiciary and house arrested the judges and their families. Resorting to the use of controversial laws, the executive was seen mauling the constitution and bulldozing the judiciary in a desperate bid to retain power.
In stark contrast to those dark times, today we see the government of the day, humbly, almost submissively, stand before the very same judges, observing the requisite decorum of a court room and according full respect to the institution of judiciary and its esteemed representatives.
This, is the difference between dictatorship and democracy.
We are quick to condemn our politicians and often discount democracy as an ineffective mechanism of governance, but let’s give the devil its due. The hearing of the case for implementation of the NRO in the Swiss accounts cases was expected to end in a firework of clashing egos. Instead, the interplay seen between the two pillars of state during this hearing came as a relief and was a refreshing change from the past. The acquiescent and almost submissive manner in which Babar Awan pleaded the government’s case before judges of the Supreme Court and the judge’s receptiveness were all indicative of a mutual willingness not to derail the judicial process or indulge in a confrontation. Contrary to speculations of an imminent clash of institutions with severely destabilising side effects, what we so surprisingly saw was willingness from both sides to cooperate with each other and respect each other’s positions.
The single strongest factor which often leads to a display of belligerence in people is insecurity or threat. The insecurity of losing power, coupled with the permissive atmosphere of dictatorship allowed General Pervez Musharraf to recklessly take the judiciary head on without any fear of consequences. In contrast to that it seems that democracy has instilled an element of self confidence in our institutions that are not seen brandishing their powers in a threatening or provoking manner, rather are showing deference to the powers granted to themselves and each other by the constitution.
As correctly stated in the editorial of this newspaper on the 26th of May, “...our institutions have demonstrated a level of maturity and a desire to keep the system intact which is commendable. We must commend the government and judiciary for this”.
This desire for continuity and strengthening of the system, rather than its derailment is reflective of the need of the country and the hope of its countrymen. By and large, with the exception of few self- serving opportunists, the people of Pakistan would like to see democracy attain its true potential. The hopes and aspirations of the nation are to see our institutions strengthen, our governance stabilise and our system made effective. Only once this happens will true transparency and accountability begin.
One hopes that the demeanour in which the executive is conducting itself before the judiciary has set the tone for cordial, cooperative and respectful interaction between the institutions, hence bolstering the principles and values of democracy. The media, as one of the important political player must also understand that inciting a crisis by stoking differences and provoking confrontation is in no one’s interest. The country needs its media and state institutions to show maturity in demeanour and conduct, as was displayed by the executive and judiciary in this instance. This is an opportunity for introspection for all. We must look within ourselves and evaluate our role in stabilising democracy and democratic processes in the country for this is the only way of ensuring stability and securing Pakistan’s future.
Published in the Expresss Tribune, May 31st, 2010.