Adventures of the famous six

Published April 7, 2024
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

THE famous six — no less heroic than Enid Blyton’s Famous Fivewrite a letter which grabs newspaper headlines and becomes the subject of endless hours on ‘TV talk shows’.

When the Supreme Court takes up the letter, even more news is generated. And then the superior court judges start receiving letters with ‘toxic’ powder in them and yet another topic of discussion is born.

If you find what is written above sort of confusing because it tries to squeeze in way too much in just a few lines, welcome to Pakistan where any week or 10-day period, brings with it so much excitement, generating news stories in print, TV discussions and a buzz on (VPN-accessed) social media, that your head starts to spin. It is symptomatic of a systemic collapse.

Before many commentators, friends among them, who have monopolised the moral high ground these days accuse me of trivialising a very serious issue such as that of meddling, interference in, and intimidation of, the judiciary by the country’s security services in order to secure verdicts in line with the latter’s wishes, let me state unequivocally that nobody in their right mind would try to trivialise an issue of such import.

After all, the rule of law and the dispensation of unadulterated justice must remain the basis of any state’s claim to a democratic status for itself. When the six honourable justices of the Islamabad High Court in their letter to the Supreme Judicial Council asked for an institutional discussion on and response to their serious allegations, it was clear that the chief justice would have to tread with caution.

Our judiciary has been at the receiving end of untold pressure since the country’s inception.

Yes, he needed to tread with caution because in such a charged political environment — where what was expected of him by many liberals in the country mirrored the expectations of those who have called liberals ‘scum’ — there would be immense pressure on him. This pressure would have been compounded by so many commentators calling the IHC Six brave, courageous, intrepid, etc.

My opinion does not count or I would have humbly submitted that braver than their letter was their decision to join the judiciary and take oath as honourable justices in the hope of dispensing justice without fear or favour, despite our history and the ugly ground reality.

The truth is, our judiciary has been at the receiving end of untold pressure since the country’s inception, whether by military dictators, civilian governments or hybrid regimes as all those individuals and institutions which often publicly lament intolerance embody the worst forms of it. The judiciary would normally remain one of the few checks on their conduct but has often been found wanting.

If we were a normal state, political parties would have been in the forefront of the struggle to check excesses and denial of fundamental rights. They would be the standard bearers of the rule of law and constitutionalism. They aren’t. The reason is straightforward.

There is very little democratic ethos in our political parties, even among those who have struggled against military dictatorship in the past. Those who find themselves alienated from the establishment today and at the receiving end of its wrath are, to be honest, no different. They’d give their right arm to be back in favour with those who can pave their path back to office.

As for those parties that are in office (I deliberately refrain from using ‘power’) today, the less said the better. They have compromised on their ideologies and their principles, if they had any, in order to be the beneficiaries of the trappings of office, the razzmatazz, with little at their disposal to make a difference to the millions of poor and dispossessed in the country.

As the recent elections to the assemblies and the Upper House have demonstrated, these political parties have also willingly and happily contributed to the disenfranchisement of at least one of the deprived provinces, and in other instances, facilitated the entry into parliament of individuals representing the interests of extra-parliamentary forces.

The letters addressed to several members of the superior judiciary from the unknown Tehreek-i-Namoos Pakistan gratefully did not contain the initially feared anthrax but investigators confirmed the powder was toxic, with some claiming it was arsenic.

The obvious question that needs to be answered is whether the dispatch of letters to the judges on the heels of the letter by the IHC judges and the Supreme Court delving into the matter were a not-so-subtle warning to keep them away from diving deep into the allegation. Or was it an act of opportunism by a third party to capitalise on the existing tension?

If you ask me my honest opinion, nothing much will emerge from the investigation into the ‘toxic’ letters and our questions won’t be answered. And if some finding is indeed reached and made public, it is likely to lack credibility. I see a similar fate of the Supreme Court suo motu into the six judges’ letter.

The chief justice has hinted at a full court when the hearing resumes in three weeks, yes three weeks, but even that may not ensure progress or dramatic breakthroughs in terms of the allegations. Instead, all a full court may end up doing is to once again shine a spotlight on the differences of opinion among the honourable members of the bench.

I tend to agree with fellow columnist Arifa Noor who has suggested that perhaps one day there is realisation in the centres of power that the cost of maintaining this status quo is getting too high, the challenges too debilitating.

The IHC letter and other gestures of defiance can be likened to one or two or three cuts from among the thousand that may be needed to bring to an end what is unsustainable. We live in hope.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2024

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