THE Supreme Court’s verdict on the Faizabad dharna, delivered on Wednesday, is a searing indictment of state institutions and oversight authorities who have time and again failed the people of this country, either by exceeding their mandate or by abdicating their duty.
It was a judgement uncompromising in its insistence that people’s fundamental rights as guaranteed by the Constitution must always be paramount; that authority is a sacred trust which must be exercised transparently; that no one is above the law.
Indeed, it is precisely what needs to be said at a time when democracy in many ways seems to be fraying in this country.
The Faizabad dharna took place in November 2017, and its repercussions continue to linger. For 20 days, life in Islamabad and Rawalpindi was paralysed as TLP protesters blocked the interchange between the two cities, inciting hatred, resorting to violence and urging insurrection against the sitting government. The entire country was transfixed by the chaos playing out on their television screens.
But, as the apex court has implicitly recognised in its judgement, the Faizabad dharna did not take place in isolation.
This shameful episode was an event foretold, incubating since long in the many distortions of democratic principles.
It was the culmination of years of political engineering, manipulation of public opinion and the use of force to crush peaceful protests even as blatantly illegal, violent hate-mongers met no consequences.
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The ongoing suppression of the media, denounced in the verdict as “unconstitutional and illegal”, is part of the same playbook.
Underlying these time-tested machinations is a deep-seated contempt for the people, an indifference to their legitimate expectations of security and progress.
“When institutions stay within their designated constitutional boundaries and there is an effective system of check and balance, citizens stay safe and the state prospers. The trouble starts with self-proclaimed saviours,” reads the judgement.
The political class also has much to answer for. While successive governments have repeatedly kowtowed to anti-democratic forces in the hopes of weathering the inter-institutional power imbalance, opposition politicians have colluded with such elements to destabilise and bring down elected governments.
By these short-sighted and self-serving tactics, they have ceded control over their right to freely exercise the mandate to rule the country if voted into government by the people.
Thus, when confronted with tricky, quasi-manufactured crises such as the TLP protest, they are unsure how to respond, losing further credibility in the process.
Towards the end, the judgement reminds us that Pakistan was achieved by “men and women of integrity, sincerity and good manners” and quotes the Quaid as saying he visualised Pakistan “to be based on the fundamental principles of democracy, not bureaucracy or autocracy or dictatorship”.
In essence, the highest court in the land has told us, resoundingly and memorably, that this country belongs to all of us.
Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2019