Around this time in 2013, the country was abuzz with hope and excitement, for it was for the first time in the country’s political history that a civilian elected government was completing its legitimate tenure, which was to be followed by another round of democracy. Five years down the line, while we are approaching another general election, there’s a mix sense of dejection, loss, and uncertainty in Pakistan. Furthermore, there is an irrefutable situation around us that reinforces this sense, for while we see a civilian government exists in name, it’s hardly living in the face of an overassertive judiciary and a swaying praetorian establishment.
We know that although over 1.8 million cases are pending in our judicial courts, our Chief Justice (CJ) has taken upon himself a larger-than-life agenda of reforming governance in Pakistan, especially in Punjab. If media reports are to be believed, there are over 38,000 pending cases in the Supreme Court alone; some have been pending for over three decades. Many politicians — chiefly those from among the PML-N — and numerous analysts believe the CJ ought to put his judicial house in order rather than wasting his precious time and energy in setting the standards of chicken feed or running around from government hospital to private colleges riding a populist streak.
Over the last one year, CJ SaqibNisar has taken so many suomotu cases or entertained so many public interest litigation cases in addition to his inspections of public services utilities, that the executive arm of the government has become almost crippled. For instance, last month, the Supreme Court rejected a plea from the federal government to increase the Hajj quota under a government scheme. The plea was rejected, despite the fact that the increase in quota would have allowed more people to perform the rite, at a far lower price than the fleecing price private Hajj operators charge. If a federal government can’t be allowed to take such mundane executive decisions, it gives credence to the voices that the judiciary has assumed the power of a super government.
In a similar case, related to the appointment of Vice Chancellors (VC) in public universities in Lahore, the CJ made three VCs resign — though he had targeted four. The fourth one was Ms Qureshi, a women’s university VC. When she resisted from tendering her resignation, the CJ ordered her suspension over the fact that Federal Minister AhsanIqbal had been her father’s student decades ago. He also ordered that an inquiry committee be constituted against her research work.
Meanwhile we also see that the print and electronic media are being forced to practice self-censorship by our security establishment. While obviously local media isn’t allowed to do so, but foreign media has reported Pakistan’s security establishment has forced newspapers from carrying opinion pieces and news stories critical of its role in civil and political affairs. The country’s most popular news TV channel Geo was recently pulled off cable in most parts of the country. All of this failed to capture the judiciary’s attention, and therefore Geo was forced to negotiate with the powerful security establishment to get back itself back on air. The whole episode proves regulatory organisations like PEMRA are redundant at best and subservient to an invisible government at worst.
In this backdrop, the extrajudicial murder of a Pakhtun youth in Karachi and nonstop violations of human rights in FATA resulted in the creation of the PakhtunTahafuz Movement (PTM) — an organic, grassroots civil rights movement. While PTM only wanted the basic human rights of the people of FATA and other militancy affected regions protected, instead of listening to their grievances the PTM was promptly dubbed a treacherous foreign funded organisation. One wonders where our generous judiciary and its suomotu notices were when these people’s rights were being trampled. Meanwhile, the civilian government also remains toothless in the face of these praetorian acts.
There is no doubt that we are effectively under two martial laws at the same time. One by the judiciary and the other by our security establishment. While the military establishment has almost monopolised the discourse and policies on defence, national security and foreign affairs — the judiciary has encroached itself into the executive branch of the state as it is busy dictating to the public service delivery sectors such as health, education, railways, Hajj and are even giving guidelines on the size of marriage halls.
Whether we will see another electoral transition of government or not, if we continue like this we will be a state which is wrestling with itself at the expense of its stability, peace and prosperity. If this happens it will be the people who suffer.