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Editorial | Maligning The Judiciary Is Counterproductive

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Outgoing Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa has offered a dignified denunciation of all those who have heaped scorn upon the highest judicial office in the country for the most petty and immediate political expediency. He has described as “malicious” the ongoing campaign against himself and the rest of the higher judiciary. And that is just what it is.

The message is very clear. First, that judgements must flow in one direction alone – never in the other. And second, that there are power centres who can interpret the national interest better than the constitutionally-mandated guardians of the law. Failure to comply with this, the judiciary is being told, will result in a no-holds-barred offensive from all directions.

From the moment of that famous “no” to a dictator from a Chief Justice in 2007, all the way to that very former strongman’s conviction by a special court in 2019, one thing is clear. The powers-that-be in Pakistan have consistently underestimated the resolve of the judiciary to maintain its functional independence as an institution. In fact, this is a mistake made across the board. Various stakeholders in Pakistani politics think that they can obtain favourable judgments from the judiciary for their momentary tussles. They forget that the independence and assertiveness of that institution means that the pendulum can and will swing the other way before they are ready for it.

Over the past decade or so, much has been made of the judiciary’s tendency for “activism”. But it has not been emphasized enough that such activism is enabled – even made necessary at times – by the fact that political tussles are being fought on the battlefield of law. Be they political or non-political forces, the stakeholders in Pakistan must understand that their failure to allow a functioning democracy is to blame for judicial intervention in political matters.

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Rather than critical self-reflection – especially on the part of all those who are supporting a man convicted under the manifestly clear Article 6 of the Constitution of Pakistan – we are seeing a destructive campaign of maligning the judiciary. In the medium- to long-term, it is likely to steel the resolve of the institution so targeted, individuals and their proclivities notwithstanding. Those who think that a paradigm shift will take place in the judiciary with the arrival or departure of individuals are, quite simply, mistaken.

We often hear of “the prevailing mood” in this or that powerful institution. Those who wish to understand the institutional mood as far as the judiciary is concerned would do well to ponder upon the poem by Fahmida Riaz. “Faiz Kehtey”, that Justice Khosa aptly recited for the conclusion of his farewell speech.

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