A Judiciary Gone Awry

“Free Judiciary = PPP Hanged”. So read one of the signs held in the background of the Beygairat Brigade’s “Aalu Anday” video. Though cloaked in an upbeat tempo, it was nonetheless a chilling reminder about the 1979 Supreme Court decision to hang Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. It was a reminder that our courts are not insulated from the chaos of our political realm.

Discerning eyes in our country are alarmed at the demonstrably political direction the Supreme Court has taken on Memogate. The sordid saga has confounded all sentient people. Our able and adroit Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, resigned amid allegations he crafted a memo to Admiral Mike Mullen delivered via Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz. The memo asks the US government for help as the civilian government feared a military coup after the Abbottabad raid in May that killed Osama bin Laden. This tale of intrigue comes to us from Mansoor Ijaz himself, in an op-ed in the Financial Times. Ambassador Haqqani has strongly rejected these allegations, and stated the furor surrounding the letter was being exploited by the opponents of democracy in Pakistan. He offered to resign in order to put an end to the controversy, and vows to challenge these claims in court.

And that is where we are now. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the petitions regarding the memo. Thus far, the Court’s decisions have been very disappointing and one-sided. The Court has barred Husain Haqqani from leaving the country for the duration of the investigation it will carry out. A lead petitioner for that ruling was Nawaz Sharif, leader of the PML-N, the major opposition party to the PPP and its governing coalition. Remarking on the speed with which the Court heard and ruled in favor of Sharif’s petition, the writer Nadeem Paracha tweeted “CJP or CJP-N?” It would be funny if this weren’t scary.

There are absolutely no grounds for putting Ambassador Haqqani on the Exit Control List. He has acted in the most dignified, respectable manner from the onset of this manufactured crisis. It is all entirely based on hearsay – a fantasist’s words that cannot be substantiated, at that. If the Court wishes to intervene, it must do so fairly.

Barring Ambassador from leaving the country flies in the face of fairness, especially since the decision was taken without any consultation or testimony from Ambassador Haqqani himself. He has granted multiple interviews to various media outlets, each time affirming his love and loyalty to Pakistan, and his desire to return home to deal with this controversy. Leading Pakistani lawyer, rights acivist and first ever female President of the Supreme Court Bar Association Asma Jehangir was so outraged by the sheer bias and politicking of the court, that she has committed to representing Ambassador Haqqani in this case.

Ms. Jehangir filed a petition with the court to remove Ambassdor Haqqani from the ECL (Exit Control List), arguing that the court’s decision seemed to be highly influenced by the outrageous media, and appeared strongly politically biased. She emphasized the ECL Ordinance of 1981, which stated only the federal government could place individuals on the ECL, and as Nawaz Sharif had not filed any such petition to the government. Therefore, the court bypassed a procedure required by the law.

“Continued control over the investigation exercised by the court is prejudicial to the accused and detrimental to the fairness of the procedure apart from being without jurisdiction. The court cannot assume the role of the investigator,” the application further added.

The Supreme Court rejected the application, saying that a review petition should have been filed instead. One wonders how the Court, so interested in intricacies, could have been the same Court that didn’t know about the 1981 ordinance. “We will file an appeal against the rejection of the application before exploring the option of filing a review petition,” said the tireless Asma Jehangir to reporters outside the Court’s steps.

She also demanded to know why the Court failed to take into account Ambassador Haqqani’s repeated statements expressing his desire to cooperate and clear his name? He is working with the Parliamentary committee to investigate the details of the memo, and his wish to clear his name is evident to all. Why then, Ms. Jehangir asks, did PML-N move to take their petition to bar the Ambassador from travel all the way to the Supreme Court? It is pure politics, and it is shameful that the Court has allowed itself to be manipulated this way.

If we are to be a sustained democracy, it must come with a clear understanding of separation of powers. While we do have clearly laid out roles, it seems our institutions lack an understanding of just what exactly, their responsibilities are. The Supreme Court should not need reminding of laws, and should instead be the force in our country that upholds them. It has a hallowed role in our country’s democracy, but it is not a political one. It must be fair, listen to all parties, and rule justly. And most importantly, it should not need reminding that one is innocent until proven guilty – not the other way around.

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