Judges to the fore




Saturday 13th May, 2023

A robust judiciary is the only hope a nation is left with, in situations where other branches of government become dysfunctional or fail. It also stands as a bulwark against anarchy and tyranny when democratic governance finds itself in crisis. Pakistan is lucky that its Supreme Court has acted swiftly to bring order out of chaos by releasing former Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose arrest and detention, on 09 May, sparked waves of countrywide violence.

Sadly, arrest, in this part of the world, has become a means of public humiliation or pillory that politicians and military juntas adopt in settling scores with their political opponents. We have witnessed many such arrests in this country as well during the past several decades; some prominent politicians out of power and their cronies are handcuffed and taken away in full view of the media and the public. Charges against them, however, are seldom proved because they are not properly prosecuted, and political deals are cut between them and their rivals in power; they walk free when their political parties make a comeback.

In the case of former PM Khan, it is doubtful whether there was any need for him to be arrested, much less detained. It is being claimed in some quarters that the Pakistani military was behind his arrest, and some members of the legal fraternity have said there was a conspiracy to assassinate him. He was arrested on charges of corruption, but in comparison to what the Sri Lankan politicians have done, allegations against him pale into insignificance; one of the main charges against him is that he sold gifts foreign leaders sent him while he was the PM. His lawyers have dismissed the indictment against him as baseless and politically-motivated.

Pakistan is also in the throes of a severe economic crisis, and badly in need of political stability to rebuild its battered economy. The arrest of former PM Khan and the resultant violence could not have come at a worse time for that country. It defies comprehension why the opponents of Imran ever had him arrested and detained, for they could not have been unaware that such a course of action would invariably lead to a conflagration and make economic recovery even more uphill. Many countries have already issued adverse travel advisories, preventing their citizens from visiting Pakistan, and socio-political upheavals are bound to take their toll on foreign investment and economic stability. The deepening political crisis is likely to impact Pakistan’s efforts to secure an IMF bailout. One can only hope that Imran’s release will have a calming effect on the irate masses, and all will be quiet on the political front soon so that Pakistan will be able to intensify its focus on managing its economic crisis by enlisting IMF help.

The manner in which the Supreme Court of Pakistan has acted in handling Khan’s arrest and dousing the flames of political violence is worthy of emulation. The Indian Supreme Court is also to be commended; it has recently delivered a stunning gavel blow to the powerful BJP government; it has recognised the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi party’s power to make laws and wield control over public officials seconded to the Delhi government departments. In its path-breaking judgement, the SC has declared that public officials are ‘politically-neutral professionals’ who serve the people and not political parties. This is how intrepid judiciaries act when the powers that be commit excesses, violate the people’s rights and endanger democracy and good governance.

In this country, too, there have been instances where the Supreme Court stood up to powerful governments courageously and defended the rights of the public; this time around, its jurisdiction has been invoked to safeguard the people’s franchise, which the incumbent government has violated by sabotaging local government elections. The people are keeping their fingers crossed.