Democracy’s untouchables

Published: November 24, 2019
PM Imran Khan. PHOTO: PID

PM Imran Khan. PHOTO: PID

PM Imran Khan. PHOTO: PID The writer is a member faculty of contemporary studies at NDU Islamabad and can be reached at

Regret, sorrow and remorse are truly the words that describe the mood of the majority of the people of this country. Such a condition is not a result of a lack of empathy or understanding of the pain and anguish of a certain patient but only because the images flashing around the social media hardly presented him as a man suffering.

This may just not be it, the other thing that mattered the most was the judicial verdict which allowed him to leave followed by the “restore public trust in judiciary” request by the Prime Minister to the “guardians of our justice system”.

This event didn’t end here as the very next day the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan asked (read: warned) the Prime Minister not to “taunt the judiciary”, duly reminding him that “it was the government that permitted Nawaz Sharif to leave the country, the court only decided on the modalities of the departure”.

My fault is not that I am a citizen of Pakistan, my fault is that I lived in the 90s and witnessed exactly a similar kind of “unfamiliar familiarity” between the executive and the judiciary that ultimately boiled down to the “storming of the Supreme Court” and “dismissals of the governments”.

Sadly, it is our great political misfortune that in succeeding political years very little has changed. Even the word “change” has been twisted and turned and its meaning made to sound dubious by the “beneficiaries of the status quo”. The word “change” by them has been successfully attributed to a lack of efficiency and effectiveness and may be given the meaning of failure.

The message for the people is clear — don’t look forward to change, keep rotting in the same political culture and environment of “the winner takes all”, “might is right”.

Justice and accountability is for you, for us is the “ruling crown that we must wear” because we are the political elite. “Our complaints will be heard by the dispensers of justice even on the weekends” and for you justice means never to “challenge us” for it is by knocking at our “political doors” that you may get the political patronage and with the political party’s mark on your “worried and wrinkled forehead” you may even seek and get justice because you will become one of us.

All this sounds like a modern day advertisement of our Supreme Court referred “Sicilian Mafia” but while the Sicilian Mafia was “a lose association of criminal groups under an organisational structure and a criminal code of conduct”, ours is politically very sophisticated.

It’s classy — whereas the poor don’t even get to eat two proper meals in a day, this aristocratic class which is never at fault and denies every wrongdoing is dressed up in designer suits, long coats and felt hats.

They even get to wear, live and eat differently than the other prisoners when imprisoned and the walls of their prison cells are so weak that they cannot keep them there and they are set free regardless of their committed crimes.

Can we, the people of Pakistan, shy away from these “uncomfortable truths”? Or like the word change, the word “challenge” has also lost its meaning for us? Can we also stand up against our misfortunes, challenge them and expect relief and justice? Justice means giving “each person” what he or she deserves. Is each person given what he or she deserves in this country? It is actually unaffordable to most. When people differ and differ substantially on what could have been given, what should never have been given and what has been given, then the questions of lack of justice and fairness inevitably arise.

It is not these people who commit contempt. The “committers of contempt” are the untouchables that are able to circumvent justice even under the most unfavourable political “time and space”.

Criticism is bottom-up committed by people who feel assaulted, rejected and hurt. The “contempt committers” treat people like us with disdain as worthless “nobody’s”. They lose both our trust as well as our respect. Trust because it is related to betrayal and when we vote them in to power it is with faith in them that they will serve us and not their selfishness for which they are not only accused but charged and convicted.

Yet while our convictions with us stay in Pakistan, their convictions fly along with them to Britain and reside in the very Avenfield Apartments, for “ill getting” which they were in the first place convicted. If this is not treating us and our intelligence with contempt and disdain then what else is?

If once justice is done can it be allowed to be politically bargained? Isn’t this injustice? An injustice can only be tolerable if it results in the “undoing of the greater injustice”. When justice only serves the interests of the stronger it only reconfirms their might and the belief that “might is right”. Plato (427-347 BC), the Greek philosopher, turned towards the question of justice after witnessing the unjust trial of his teacher Socrates.

It was actually not only the justice system but Plato was generally dissatisfied by the existing degenerating conditions in Athens. It was the Athenian democracy that disappointed him most as it was on the verge of ruin and he actually considered it more responsible for the death of Socrates.

A morally bankrupt and unaccountable democracy is also a reason of our great misfortunes. If it was any other country the cases of foreign funding by political parties wouldn’t have rested on the back burners of the stove of justice for years.

The unfairness in the system is that no one tries to find why nothing in this country gets decided and concluded in time? How can this disconnect be removed from our system? Was democracy not designed to do this? It looks as if it is designed to block and not facilitate political and judicial reforms. In a country like Pakistan, a just and egalitarian society would mean a death kneel for the corrupt democracy and that is not something that doesn’t suit the untouchables in our democracy.

The public must remain confident about the administration of justice and that confidence can only come when not the judges but their judgments speak for themselves.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2019.

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