Mirror, mirror: Why the IHC judges’ ‘explosive’ letter will likely amount to nothing

That’s just the thing about justice in the land of the pure — like beauty, it also lies in the eyes of the beholder.
Published April 1, 2024

Pakistan is nothing if not predictable.

Take the rather damning allegations and examples about alleged interference and manipulation by intelligence agencies that six judges of the Islamabad High Court set out in a recent letter. Now, none of this really comes as a big surprise; we all know manipulation of this kind takes place, whether in the judiciary, the bureaucracy, in Parliament, in the workings of the countless law-enforcement agencies and accountability bureaus or the media.

We also know that a lot of the time, manipulation or coercion isn’t even needed as too many from the ranks of all these groups and institutions are all too eager to offer themselves up, raising their hands and jumping up and down on their chairs like overeager schoolchildren yelling “Pick me! Pick me!” to attract the attention of a schoolteacher who is, unfortunately, spoilt for choice when it comes to finding snitches.

Still, it’s interesting to see matters brought out into the open in this manner, exposed like the spy cameras fitted into the polling booths in the Senate (that happened in 2021 if you recall) and it’s even more amusing to see how the reactions follow a set pattern.

For and against

First, there are the true believers — righteous and somewhat annoying souls who genuinely want an end to such shenanigans and who actually believe in the whole spiel about institutions doing the job they’re actually supposed to and staying within their mandates for the greater good of the country. All that jazz.

Then there’s the opposition — in this case, the PTI and its supporters, who, being the (current) targets of the day have welcomed this ‘charge sheet’ as vindication of their stance that their party is being singled out and victimised. They will, of course, stand with justice and the Justices and will (probably) take the matter to the streets and shout it from the rooftops, as should be expected from the opposition of the day.

Such manipulation, they maintain, will be the death of justice, freedom and democracy, which is of course what they are fighting for. There must be an investigation and the culprits must be dragged before the people.

Of course, little mention is made here that the letter starts with the case of Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui whose dismissal in 2018 by the Supreme Judicial Council was recently deemed ‘wrongful’ and took place — as noted in the letter — “after [Siddiqui] had publicly alleged that operatives of the Inter-Services Intelligence led by Major General Faiz Hameed (italics my own) were determining the constitution of benches at the IHC and interfering with proceedings of the Accountability Court Islamabad”. Naturally, the part about the IHC judges supporting Siddiqui’s demand of an investigation into this sordid affair is being conveniently ignored.

That brings us to the ruling parties, who are shocked — simply shocked I tell you! — at how such manipulation could ever take place, unprecedented and unbearable as it is, and are holding many meetings and setting up a committee to — once and for all, promise! — get to the bottom of this.

Now, while they aren’t exactly outright saying that this is a conspiracy against them, their supporters in the mainstream and social media are very much setting up countless straw men to do just that: “look at which party is supporting the judges and you’ll see whose behest this letter was written on!”; “Why was the letter released now, just when the government was settling in?”; “Why were the alleged videos only shown to other judges and how do we know they aren’t AI-generated?”; “Why don’t they also talk about how much the judiciary interferes with the executive?”; “Why use Helvetica when Times New Roman is a perfectly good font?”.

Okay, I admit I invented that last one but the rest are genuine, if paraphrased, and like most straw men, show evidence of a serious lack of any brains at all.

Roles reversed

What’s really cute, of course, is that in 2019, the situation was quite the opposite. In July of that year, Maryam Nawaz Sharif held a press conference in which she played a video of the now deceased Justice Muhammad Arshad Malik, the accountability court judge who had sentenced her father, Mian Nawaz Sharif, to seven years imprisonment in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills case. In that video, Judge Malik could be seen apparently confessing to a PML-N loyalist that he had been ‘pressured and blackmailed’ into giving that verdict.

Malik was later dismissed from service and the PML-N had hailed the video as proof that the cases against its leaders had been manipulated and as vindication of their stance that their party was being singled out and victimised. The PTI and its supporters at the time conveniently focused not on the content and implications of the video, but more on how the video had been recorded and released: “This is illegal!”; “This is blackmail”; “Why is the video not in 4k resolution?” Again, I admit I added the last one but the others are more or less genuine, if paraphrased.

That’s just the thing about justice in the land of the pure — like beauty, it also lies in the eyes of the beholder. Take the example of poor old Asad Toor — he’s a hero and a shining beacon of courageous journalism when he gets beaten for going after people you don’t like and who oppose your interests, but is a criminal and a purveyor of lies when he gets thrown into jail on trumped up charges for going after people you do like and who support your interests.

This would be amusing if it wasn’t so sad and so sadly dishonest, but it also brings us closer, perhaps, to the core of Pakistan’s political divides — we hate each other so much because we are mirror images of each other; in the end, it is our reflections that we cannot stand.

Header image created with AI