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Superior Courts Must Put An End To The Culture Of Authoritarianism In Pakistan

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We are witnessing creeping and increasing authoritarianism in Pakistan and the rule of law is being abused to consolidate it. Superior courts are the only ray of hope left. They must check this slide towards authoritarianism, writes Foqia Sadiq Khan.

There is a new strategy in works to cement Pakistan’s slide towards authoritarianism and it is to ‘abuse’ rule of law to achieve political ends. We see signs of it everywhere for the past few years and it is getting intensified with every passing day.

In the social science literature on dispensation of justice, it is well documented that litigants use tactics of ‘delay’ to frustrate the other party/parties and they use these ‘delayed’ legal proceedings to achieve their out-of-court objectives. For the past few years, we are seeing misuse of the architecture of the rule of law in our national politics. This is the new strategy being used particularly since 2016 to stifle opposition and dissent by hook or crook.

In the latest case, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) issued a ‘seditious’ charge notice to anchor Shahzeb Khanzada as he raised questions in his programme regarding investigation into the current National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman Justice (retired) Javed Iqbal’s alleged video scandal.

Such high-handedness is ridiculous and taken out of page of the theatre of the absurd. A TV host raises issues regarding the impartiality of a national institution given the prevalent perception that NAB is indulging in a witch-hunt on the pretext of accountability. And the TV anchor is sent a ‘sedition’ notice by the regulator. How could criticising lack of progress to hold a private individual accountable be called sedition? It is as if a wave of magical realism has hit our land of the pure!

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The Shahzeb Khanzada case is not unique despite being the most absurd! Academic Ammar Ali Jan and his colleagues have been booked for another sedition case back in November 2019 for organising Students Solidarity March. Members of Awami Workers Party and Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) were also booked for sedition for participating in a protest in Islamabad some months ago and were only released due to intervention of the Islamabad High Court.

Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, owner of the Jang Group is behind the bars for the past many months in a 34 years old case without any charges being framed by NAB against him. No court has approved his bail so far. People of conscience around the world have called it a case to suppress the freedom of press in Pakistan. Once again, rule of the law is being used to stifle dissent.

Justice Qazi Faez Isa has been dragged through the mud using the ‘rule of law’ in the now quashed presidential reference. Justice Isa considers it a vengeance due to his bold judgment in the Faizabad sit-in case. Ordeal for Justice Isa’s family is still far from over.

Scores of prominent politicians of the opposition have been arrested and suffered incarceration due to the witch-hunt of the NAB and in many cases charges were not framed for a long time and they were deprived of their liberty by violating their fundamental constitutional right.

If it were not for one-sided accountability, we should have been seen substantial progress on the PTI foreign funding case. Despite the fact that vacancies have been filled in the Election Commission of Pakistan, we have not seen much progress in this case over the years. This shows that the dice is loaded against the opposition only.

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Peshawar BRT took many more years and much more inflated budget. We have not seen those responsible being held accountable. There are alleged irregularities in the PTI one billion trees tsunami campaign. No one has been held accountable so far. A sitting minister’s case of dual nationality is in front of legal forums, nothing has happened so far. The sugar industry scam report is out, no arrests of PTI members or allies have been made so far.

The courts of the country have passed a strong judgment against military dictator Musharraf, but he has not been brought to justice. There are alleged corruption cases against the brother of ex-army chief General (retired) Kayani and no one has been effectively held accountable over the past many years.

It seems the rule of law is only being used against the opposition parties and the media. Those associated with the establishment and PTI are being protected from any effective accountability. It is a clear travesty of justice.

We are witnessing creeping and increasing authoritarianism in Pakistan and the rule of law is being abused to consolidate it. Superior courts are the only ray of hope left. They must check this slide towards authoritarianism and stop the powers-that-be from using the rule of law as a tool to achieve their political objectives and to quash opposition and dissent in the country.

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1 Comment

  1. Atof July 23, 2020

    The superior courts are part of the problem. They are easily coerced, are now found of populist decisions and often give administrative and economic decisions which they have no expertise for. The loss caused to Pakistan by its courts and judicial system is way more than the damage by establishment or the politicians.

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