With the approach of the year 2013 the battle for protecting the country’s democratically elected leadership in Pakistan is also gaining heat. The country’s powerful judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court of Pakistan, appears to have literally taken to indicting the President of the country, Asif Ali Zardari. The recent disqualification of the country’s prime minister is a major move in this case. The problem is that it will have to run over the constitution to bring the President to the court. But can a smaller court do this, what might be called, an act of subversion?
While the President of Pakistan enjoys immunity against any kind of litigation or indictment under the country’s constitution, a report in the Daily Times on Sunday apparently already has decided a case – which at best seems to be a one-sided trial. The Lahore High Court in Punjab province (the stronghold of the political opposition to the current government), reportedly concluded that President Zardari has accepted the said court’s ruling of last year that orders the President to either quit the Presidency or his position as the co-chairman of the ruling political party – the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Since the President never responded to the court’s ruling, the court has gone on and tells the President that he must make his choice by September 5, 2012. The question is what if the President still does not respond.
For two years, the judiciary actively engaged in pressuring the head of the elected government, the Prime Minister, for writing a letter to Switzerland where Pakistan’s current President has allegedly laundered $60 million. Although the case was dropped years ago on account of lack of evidence, Pakistan’s judiciary appears to be bent on reopening this case which may likely lead to dethroning the President, though it not clear how. One point apparent in this conflict is that the judiciary wants the government to write the letter against its President and itself won’t do any such thing. The general opinion is that the judiciary knows this is something unconstitutional, so it better stay at the back and try bringing the President down by using it authority over the parliament. On the other hand, the PPP-led government is backed by most of the political parties that make the parliament of the country while one party, the opposition in the federal parliament, i.e. PML-N is standing by the judiciary in all its decisions.
As the new Prime Minister of the country has already made it clear that he is no different from his predecessor, i.e. loyal to his party and the coalition of allies, the conflict is getting more intense and deeper. Will the Supreme Court order this new premier to act against Mr. Zardari or go home? And if it does, will the government continue to keep its calm and just bring another premier, knowing that in case of openly defying the court, the latter has the option to call the military to its aid? What is clear at this moment is that both national and international opinion of the country’s judiciary is getting more negative and suspicious of its neutrality. In a recent TV talk show, well-known human rights activist Asma Jahangir called the court’s verdict about the ex prime minister a “soft coup”. And some foreign media sources even used the term “gun-slinging chief justice” while commenting on his active stance against the government. Thus, the image of the country’s justice system has got serious stains in the wake of its recent ventures seen as political stunts by its critics.