By Khaled Ahmed
‘Expansion of judicial power is welcome, but one must not forget that there is also such a thing as judicial excess‘
On 30 February 2012, the Supreme Court (SC) has allowed former Pakistani ambassador to US Husain Haqqani to travel abroad after an important witness in the ‘memo’ case finally refused to present himself at the judicial commission set up by the Court. This is the first sign of gradual erosion of the charges that were finally to target President Zardari as the originator of ‘treason’ against the Pakistan Army through an American businessman, Mansoor Ijaz.
Analysts believe the Court has been let down by the other parties interested in crucifying the PPP leader and sending the PPP government packing before its term. Nawaz Sharif may have stitched up a deal with Zardari over the timing of next general election; and the Army may have been appeased through Zardari’s sacrifice of Husain Haqqani as burnt offering to the generals. At the time of writing, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan was defending Prime Minister Gilani against a charge of contempt and persuading the honourable Court to relent and be satisfied with a belated letter to the Swiss authorities.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan is hearing two cases – and a third one is coming up later in the month – that threaten to expose it to lack of judicial restraint. At home, internecine politics and the besiegement of the ruling party give it the ballast with which it can keep going if it wants. But the lawyers’ movement – which deluded it into feeling that it was backed by ‘the nation’ rather than the Constitution – is split at the top, the vanguard of its leaders now skeptical of its steamrollering activism. Internationally too it is now facing isolation.
On January 25, 2012, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) expressed its concern over the convening of the inquiry commission for the memo affair, saying ‘there are legitimate concerns‘ that, by neglecting the rights of the ex-ambassador Husain Haqqani, the Court ‘may have overstepped its constitutional authority and that this action could undermine the ongoing Parliamentary inquiry‘. The ICJ supported the ousted Supreme Court and consistently accepted its activism in a national environment of extreme dereliction and corruption in state institutions topped by the incumbent executive.
Sitting inside Pakistan and bristling over country’s eroding sovereignty, it is easy to be isolationist and ignore the ICJ warning. Those among the top lawyers – Asma Jahangir, Munir A Malik, Ali Ahmad Kurd, Aitzaz Ahsan – who have decided to caution judicial restraint after a bout of activism so intense it looked like revenge, are being cursed by the mainly conservative and bucolic (mufassil) lawyers’ community as well as the media clearly bent on getting rid of a largely dysfunctional PPP government.
The ‘national consensus’ is chiding the Supreme Court to review just anything under the sun as the forum of last resort. There is no forum higher than the Supreme Court if you feel aggrieved. Except that the Court takes an objective view of its authority and a realistic view of the fallibilities of a third world state cut to pieces by terrorism. It is more difficult to convict a known terrorist in Pakistan than the sitting prime minister.