ISLAMABAD: After the collapse of the first round of dialogue that the Pak­istan Tehreek-i-Insaf began with the ruling coalition on the Supreme Co­urt’s advice, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial on Monday asked the political opponents to sit together again for talks and bring down political temperature.

“It is distressing to note the way the political forces are aggravating the confrontation as a result of which people are losing rights, institutions are being burnt, [have come] under serious threat and being challenged and ridiculed,” the chief justice regretted.

While referring to the ruling PDM’s sit-in outside the apex court building, CJP Bandial asked the political parties to contribute towards peaceful atmosphere instead. “Let the situation subside,” he remarked.

Justice Bandial made this observation at a time when PDM protesters at the exclusive entry and exit points meant for judges of the Supreme Court were demanding his immediate resignation. Judges had to use Prime Minister’s Secretariat to enter the court premises during the protest against the chief justice.

Though not intelligible fully, the shrieking sound coming through loudspeakers could be heard inside the Courtroom No 1 during the proceedings of a petition moved by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), seeking to revisit the CJP’s decision to set May 14 for Punjab Assembly elections.

Later, CJP Bandial-led three-judge bench, which also comprised Justice Ijaz-ul-Haq and Justice Munib Akhtar, postponed further proceedings till May 23, with the observation that the court would wait and see what happened in next three or four days.

The counsel for PTI, Syed Ali Zafar, earlier requested the bench to continue hearing after what he called ‘the murder of the constitution’ — a reference to the expiry of 90-day deadline for polls after the dissolution of assembly — and argued that the caretaker governments had outlived their legal term.

At the time of difficulty, one should exercise patience instead of retaliation, the CJP advised, and appealed to both parties to search for the moral ground.

When the PTI’s lawyer insisted that the constitutional provision for elections within 90-day timeframe be enforced, the CJP asked him if election result would be accepted in such a polarized society. May 14 date is sacrosanct but what happened (the acts of arson and violence by PTI protesters), one should also think about it, Justice Bandial observed while reminding the counsel that PTI got relief whenever it was on ‘high moral ground’ to emphasise how conduct was important.

Citing a decision of his predecessor Ajmal Mian, the CJP observed, “In times of war, law goes silent, but starts functioning when calmness and peace is restored”. He then remarked, “Let’s hope better situation prevails.”

CJP Bandial also referred to images of people scaling iron gates to enter Constitution Avenue and emphasised that people should be given confidence that their rights must be respected. Elections were the basis of democracy and necessary for progress and peaceful environment, but democracy functions when there was a rule of law, he observed. The chief justice noted that when the environment was charged, how the court could enforce the constitution. “Are we here to speak in the thin air only,” he wondered.

At this, Ali Zafar urged the court to order release of Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Fawad Chaudhry, who represented the PTI during the first round of talks, but regretted any question of dialogue was not on the table giving the kind of arrests being made.

When the CJP asked Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan why dialogue could not be resumed, he explained that a lot of efforts had been put in to initiate the dialogue between the PDM and the PTI. Both sides which engaged in the dialogue had very fine, balanced and sane heads, he said, adding that both sides could have come close to understanding if some more time had been given. He believed there was no need to end the dialogue. On May 3, the PTI asked the SC to ensure holding of Punjab Assembly elections on May 14 since no constitutional solution was found during the talks. Then whatever happened last week, should not have happened, the AGP regretted.

As the PTI counsel intervened to mention that the way PTI chairman was arrested from court premises made his party workers horrified, the AGP questioned how he could be so countenance with what happened after Mr Khan’s arrest.

The CJP advised both sides to carry on with the talks instead of aggravating the situation more. “Even rhetoric can be so damaging, making things worse and out of control,” he said, reiterating that the court was interested only in seeing how talks could be resumed, which was very fundamental.

“Now the ball is in the court of the government, which should engage in the dialogue,” CJP Bandial said, adding that the PTI counsel could convey the message to his party leadership.

Referring to the ECP review petition, the CJP said instead of indulging in petty arguments and debate on what constitutes a majority judgement, the government should have filed a review petition against the verdict of setting May 14 for Punjab Assembly elections.

Justice Bandial asked ECP counsel Sajeel Sharyar Swati to come prepared when the court would commence hearing. He said the ECP opened up Pandora’s Box by raising points that were not argued earlier when they had relied the entire case on the issues of fund shortage and security situation. The court also issued notices to the respondents.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2023

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