No saviours

Published October 22, 2022
The writer is a lawyer based in Karachi
The writer is a lawyer based in Karachi

PAKISTAN is going through a rough patch; unfortunately, it almost always is. With its economy in tatters, high unemployment, paralysing polarisation, crippling inflation, rising terrorism, and an overall sense of little to no security, how can anyone not feel despondent?

And although Pakistan has found itself in this position more often than it would like to admit, something is different this time. Unlike before, the sense of doom and gloom seems to have eclipsed all traditional beacons of hope. Taking a page from Ms Arifa Noor’s brilliant article on these pages (‘Our quiet desperation’), it is safe to say that there are no longer any saviours.

And why is that? Well, when the judiciary is seen as political, parliament inconsequential, and the establishment and political parties opportunistic, no salvation can lie in larger-than-life leaders or institutions.

Take the judiciary, for example. The principle of stare decisis, or precedence, appears to have given way to the doctrine of political expediency, and whether or not the Supreme Court would like to acknowledge it, its rulings are looked at less from the prism of judicial propriety and more from the perspective of political proclivity. Bench compositions are increasingly seen as indicators of outcomes, as is the identity of approaching parties and the political environment in which decisions are given.

Unfortunately, we shall continue to wait till the situation deteriorates to such an extent that we can wait no longer. Such is our existence.

If specific cases are given to specific judges, specific perceptions are bound to arise, and coupled with amusing yet elaborate jurisprudence to distinguish contradictory holdings on the basis of a ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ application of the mind, the judiciary’s sense of credibility is bound to take a hit.

This is perhaps why the doctrine of political questions was created in the first place. If a problem entails a question which is best left to parliament, or is inherently political in nature, the judiciary would be better served in holding its hand. If it is perceived by observers to be ‘reinventing’ the Constitution, reinterpreting it in a way it was never envisioned or ‘fixing’ laws to ensure balance, it might as well arrogate to itself the power to legislate. And in doing so, it becomes as political a creature as parliament itself.

Add to this mix internal wrangling, perceptions of a ‘great divide’, the alleged side-lining of those not like-minded, abrupt changes in benches, and accusations in regard to the intent and motivations of members of the JCP, and you have a judiciary which very few might take seriously.

In fact, wouldn’t it be unfair to expect people to believe in justice from those who seem unable to obtain it themselves? After all, former justice Shaukat Siddiqui has been knocking on the doors of the judiciary since 2018, justice Waqar Ahmad Seth died before his pleas could be heard, Justice Qazi Faez Isa has perhaps written enough letters to the chief justice to prepare and successfully publish a distinguished booklet of grievances, and Justice Ahmed Ali Sheikh of the Sindh High Court is still awaiting justifiable reasons for not being considered for appointment to the Supreme Court.

Read: Pakistan badly needs a rudder

Parliament’s performance, unfortunately, is not much better. In fact, it paints a sorry picture. This is a parliament which sought to hold a no-confidence motion against a siting prime minister, only to be unlawfully dissolved by that very same PM in the most blatant dereliction of duty. This is a parliament which legislates to make judges accountable and is then compelled to pass the 19th Amendment, essentially making them even less accountable than before. This is a parliament which passes laws to hold corrupt politicians to account, only to later amend those laws citing them to be politically motivated. And if it mistakenly, by some stroke of luck, gets something right and passes much-needed remedial amendments in politically motivated laws, it is admonished by other institutions for not doing it correctly, or for doing it at all. All in all, it is an institution which is yet to appreciate its own role in the constitutional framework of Pakistan.

The establishment and the political parties are unfortunately no less a disappointment. The establishment has the knack of getting involved in all and sundry, resolving nothing, and complicating everything. It is allegedly involved in surveillance, political engineering, blackmailing and the installation and removal of sitting PMs.

It’s a busybody, unless of course you start talking about terrorism, in which case, we find it somewhat mute. As most of us know, terrorism is on the uptick in all the ‘cleared’ areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Massive rallies and protests are being undertaken by citizens to voice their resistance to the re-Talibanisation of the areas. Action is demanded, but still awaited. Unfortunately, we shall continue to wait till the situation deteriorates to such an extent that we can wait no longer. Such is our existence.

Political parties, on the other hand, whether in government or in opposition, appear to be playing a game in which only they know the rules. In fact, I doubt even they’d know. Changing rhetoric or stances is easier than changing an oil filter in one’s car, and specialisation and expertise are as abundant as gas is in winters. They sell their loyalties and yet call themselves democrats, yearn for democracy but can’t stand it in their own parties, and want the freedom to express themselves but can’t tolerate the same for others. They don’t represent a dichotomy in politics, but rather the paradox of it. They are us, and we are them, and unfortunately, we are all clueless.

Pakistan is reeling. It needs its judiciary, establishment, and politicians to look beyond their noses and to the future. It does not need drama, but rather stability. It does not need shortcuts, but rather consistency. It does not need in-fighting, but rather unity. And if our esteemed leaders and institutions cannot give us this, then one cannot help but feel despondent. Despondent because there are indeed no saviours in Pakistan. Only accomplices.

The writer is a lawyer based in Karachi
basil.nabi@gmail.com Twitter: @basilnabi

Published in Dawn, October 22th, 2022

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