HUNDREDS and thousands of people did not end up descending upon the Supreme Court. There were no refusals to accept the court’s charges against the party chief or attempts to significantly delay the hearing of the case. The final moves in the contempt of court case against MQM chief Altaf Hussain — an unconditional apology, and its immediate acceptance by the Supreme Court — were the right, least disruptive ones that could have been made. After a fair bit of bluster following the contempt of court notice, cooler heads thankfully prevailed, whether through a combination of political strategising or lower temperatures — welcome news at a time when political drama and its potential effect on elections already has the country on tenterhooks. Even better would have been to avoid the initial protests altogether; the rallies, shutdown in Karachi and public outrage of party leaders when the contempt notice was issued achieved little other than raising the general level of tension in the country.

Meanwhile, the idiosyncrasies of the Supreme Court’s application of contempt of court became a little more noticeable. Mr Hussain’s case and the acceptance of his apology were a reminder that former law minister Babar Awan’s apology has been submitted months ago but hasn’t yet been accepted, and that firebrand senator Faisal Raza Abidi has yet to be charged with the offence. And every new contempt of court charge also raises the question of how to distinguish between legitimate criticism of the Supreme Court judgments and attacks that are unwarranted or disrespectful. As contempt of court stand-offs between the current judiciary and politicians continue to crop up, it’s clear that, at the cost of their own time and energy and our peace of mind, neither camp has been able to figure out where to draw the line.

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