Judiciary must not be maligned

By: Raza Rumi

In the ongoing battle between the Supreme Court and the ruling PMLN, the former has banned former PMLN Senator Nehal Hashmi from holding public office for five years while awarding him a token custodial sentence and monetary fine.

The charges against him include the disparaging comments made last May in which he essentially questioned the judiciary’s integrity. Not to mention his threats to “take to task” those investigating the former PM and his family over corruption. And it seems that State Minister for Interior Affairs Talal Chaudhry could be next in the judicial firing line given that the SC has slapped him with a contempt of court notice for similarly fiery speeches against the judiciary. This is the price of loyalty to be paid by all the King’s men.

Though this doesn’t seem to be a sacrifice that bothers Nawaz. After all, the latter is showing no signs of slowing down in his mission to antagonise the SC. Indeed, just yesterday did he accused the judiciary of being an enemy of democracy for having always aided military dictatorships; throughout Pakistan’s history. He also referred to the higher judiciary as “PCO judges”, something that got Talal Chaudhry into trouble with the courts. And then there is continued feigning of ignorance about why the judges sent the PMLN chief packing.

Meanwhile, we hope that now the SC has set Nawaz’s counsel a date on which it must present arguments — pertaining to the determination of the disqualification period — the end of this sorry tale is nigh. In short, it’s imperative that that the apex court come to a final decision by then. As it is,the deposed PM has wasted enough time in this tedious game of cat-and-mouse.

For despite all his protestations, supremacy of the judiciary is as intrinsic to the democratic process as the popular vote itself; if not more so. Meaning that this prolonged politics of agitation against the SC will not end well for the country. After all, according to Pakistan’s laws the judiciary will always reign supreme in the face of mob rule; regardless of how large the latter might be. And the PMLN chief would do well to keep in mind that were it not for the courts — there would exist no authority to uphold the sanctity of Parliament and ensure that the office of PM is respected. This is something that Nawaz was well aware of when he sought to have Gen (rtd) Pervez Musharraf tried for treason.

Thus if Nawaz isn’t careful, the court of public opinion — the only ‘jurisdiction’ that he insists on recognising — may soon turn against him. For there is much merit to be found in the old adage about not being able to fool all of the people all of the time. And the truth is that the PMLN chief’s taking on the SC isn’t in the national interest. It’s only in his own.

While we strongly uphold the idea that the judiciary must not be maligned, we also hope that the superior courts will ensure that their drive against ‘contemptors’ will be even-handed. We hope that Khadim Rizvi’s rant against the apex court and the person of Chief Justice would receive similar attention and treatment. And, above all, the pending trial of Gen Musharraf must be expedited to address the allegations of ‘selective justice.’