The headlines are alarming. To outsiders, it must look like the country is on the brink of collapse. And why? Because the CJ does not like the President’s judicial appointments. With the nation suffering daily attack from jihadi militants, the price of essentials rising due to inflation, the continued struggle to stabilize our fragile democratic system which is also under daily attack from would-be dictators and their peons — why is there even an argument about whether one good judge or another should be appointed? Is it worth sacrificing the country for the CJ to satisfy his ego? Enough.
Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain sees this problem clearly, and describes the danger of putting ego before country in his column in today’s Daily Times.
Does it really matter to an ordinary Pakistani who becomes the next judge of any of our superior courts? What difference is it really going to make in the life of the common man as to which judge is elevated from which court to which court? As is my wont, while stuck in traffic at one of the ‘anti-terrorist’ road blocks, I put the big question about the latest confrontation between the two major branches of government to my driver. Frankly, he had not the foggiest idea what I was talking about.
Here I must admit that even though I am reasonably well informed myself, even I have no idea what this brouhaha is all about. Are all members of the lower courts not honourable and decent judges that are well qualified to be elevated to the apex court? If indeed they are, then why these conniptions and if they are not then why do they continue to serve in the superior courts in their present positions?
Obviously, this controversy about judicial appointments is not a matter that concerns real, every day Pakistanis who are concerned more about working and feeding their families, keeping themselves safe from radical militant bombers and petty street criminals, and wondering whether or not the power will go out again at an inconvenient time.
But there is more to the story here, because while this petty game of ego takes up all the conversations in drawing rooms, it does present an actual danger to the stability of the government. And there we must ask ourselves, do we have a democratic government? Or do we have a dictatorship of the Chief Justice?
I am and have always been a supporter of a strong and independent judiciary. And as such hope that this latest confrontation is resolved before ‘bad things’ start happening. As it is, important matters are before the superior courts that need urgent resolution. I understand that the right to appoint judges is a serious matter and in the past usurpers of the presidency have used this power to bend the legal system to justify their unconstitutional actions. But are we not sort of over that period?
The republic it seems is no longer being run by some general who has appointed himself president. We have an elected parliament and head of government, a vibrant — though at times seemingly fractious — democratic system in place and a president who has been elected as prescribed by the Constitution. So what is all this angst about? Are members of our honourable courts overreacting to their own past subservience to the presidency, or is it all the fault of the president who is trying to prove that he is indeed still a powerful president?
There is still time, though, for the CJ to change course and act to put the good of the country before his own ego. Actually, he can have both. Consider if the CJ relents and announces that he is putting the good of the country before his own wishes. Will that not then make him something of a national hero? So let him be satisfied that he is saving democracy and also getting the attention he needs. After all, while there is a clear danger to this game of ‘chicken,’ what can possibly be the danger of allowing the President’s appointments? It will not threaten the court, it will not threaten democracy. In fact, if the CJ had not said anything, nobody would even notice.
Here I wish to make a rather obvious point. Pakistan has a ‘young’ and inexperienced democratic system in place that is still trying to find its ‘sea legs’. The fact that it is young and inexperienced is partially the responsibility of our superior judiciary that in the past sided consistently with undemocratic forces.
It would then seem to an inexperienced neophyte like me that the Supreme Court of Pakistan at this point in time would be more inclined to shelter and protect the ‘tender shoots’ of democracy rather than undermine a democratically elected government, however inefficient and immature it might seem to be. For if this government is made to seem totally ineffectual then it will also make it completely incapable of governing the country.
Please, Chief Justice, we pray that you put the good of the country first. Your nation needs it.