Countdown to 3PM: The Judicial Crisis Nears its Climax. But What About the Political Crisis?

Posted on February 17, 2010
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Law & Justice, Politics
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Adil Najam

UPDATE: The Prime Minister has announced the withdrawl of the President’s judicial notifications!

Hats off to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani for political theatre of the highest caliber. And I mean that as a compliment.

On Monday he played the loyal Prime Minister defending his President, attacking the opposition, and hinting at a parliamentary reigning in of the Chief Justice. On Tuesday, following a roller coaster of a political day in Islamabad, he ‘gate crashed’ the Chief Justice’s party, leaving Iftikhar Chaudhry no option but to be as gracious a host as the Prime Minister was gracious as a guest. By the time he left, an invitation to the Chief Justice to come to the Prime Minister’s House had been delivered and accepted, and a promise of “good news” by 3PM on Wednesday was being made to the media.

Was there more behind this gesture of reconciliation from the Prime Minister? You bet. Although, I have no idea what.

Are there still more surprises that could spring up? Certainly. The only thing that can be said with certainty in Pakistan politics is that there will be surprises.

Is the immediate crisis about the Supreme Court appointment averted? Probably. At least for now.

Is the underlying political crisis and institutional clash over? Not by a long shot.

Fasten your seat belts, folks. No matter what happens at 3PM on Wednesday (or before or after that), the roller coaster of Pakistan politics will continue. And, like on any good roller coaster, there will be times when you will feel like shouting out in exhilaration, and there will be other times when you will feel like throwing up. Let us hope that Wednesday will be a case of the former!

Irrespective of whatever cynicism you might detect in the above, the truth is that I will be happy when this current judicial mess is sorted out. But I have no doubt in my mind that sorting out this particular tangle will alleviate the much deeper political crisis of which this has been just one symptom; although a most destabilizing one.

The question of how to appoint a Supreme Court Justice only demonstrates, as if a demonstration was needed, of just how abused out of shape our Constitution is. It is a question that needs to be sorted out. And I hope it will.

It is also clear that behind this proximate tussle is the deeper tension on the entire issue of the NRO and how to deal with that. That will continue to haunt not just our political imaginations but our political reality.

But even that has to be understood within the context of a larger – and potentially revolutionary – realignment of Pakistan’s political institutions: the Presidency, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Supreme Court, the Military, and the media.

What we are seeing today are the pangs of these institutions struggling to figure out the limits of their own adventurism in Pakistan’s new politics. Doing so blind-folded and prone to over-extending their hands they are bound to falter frequently and then try to regain the equilibrium. The ride becomes a rocky one – not just for them but for the rest of the country.

The current concerns are about the Judiciary and the Presidency, but they are clearly one element of a polity being reconfigured. The good news is that that the reconfiguration of the institutional equilibria at least has the potential to eventually change our politics for the good. The bad news is that institutional reconfiguration is always a slow and turbulent process, hence the caution to view this as just one more loop in a long and rickety roller-coaster. The worse news is that this can be a really dangerous roller-coaster. A few bad moves, a few bad bets by any of the players, and the whole polity can be derailed. And a derailed roller-coaster is never a pretty sight.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Right now all eyes are on 3PM Wednesday (or somewhere thereabouts). I do not really know what will happen at 3PM, or whether anything will happen at all. But whatever happens (or not), will not change the essential analysis above.

So, do begin the countdown to 3PM. But keep your seat belts fastened.

In case you are one of the few who has missed what has been happening in Pakistan in recent hours, here is an update from Dawn:

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani took on Tuesday a major initiative in what appeared to be an effort to defuse the judicial crisis. He first clarified his Monday statement about the executive order restoring judges, called PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and later attended a dinner with judges of the Supreme Court.

Observers saw the flurry of activities by the prime minister as an effort to make the judiciary realise that the government was in no mood to confront it. Mr Gilani’s initiative came against the backdrop of three days of dramatic events which began with the suspension by a special SC bench of the president’s notifications elevating LHC Chief Justice Khawaja Mohammad Sharif to the Supreme Court and appointing Justice Saqib Nisar as acting chief justice in his place. Agitation by lawyers and political activists followed. And last but not least, came the opposition’s boycott of the National Assembly proceedings.

In the evening, the prime minister surprised many when he reached the Supreme Court ‘uninvited’ to attend a reception hosted by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in honour of Justice (retd) Khalilur Rehman Ramday, who retired on Jan 12. The tug of war between the executive and the judiciary had started when the president ignored a request of the chief justice to appoint Justice Ramday as an ad hoc judge after his retirement.

The prime minister was warmly greeted by the chief justice himself. Mr Gilani later exchanged pleasantries sitting on the main dinner table. Former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Aitzaz Ahsan, was among the occupants. “Why did you take the trouble, you just have called us,” the chief justice said while welcoming and shaking hands with the prime minister. Before leaving the venue after an hour, he told impatient reporters that he was here with a good gesture and to invite the chief justice. “I have asked the chief justice to consider the Prime Minister’s House his own and come over there tomorrow (Wednesday).”

He evaded a question about the president’s notifications, but when asked whether his meeting should be considered as advent of a new era of harmony between the executive and the judiciary, the prime minister said: “You will see it by 3’O clock tomorrow.” Mr Gilani said: “I have always maintained that there is no misunderstanding between us, but when it did not work I had to come myself to prove this.” Asked if his aides were misleading him through wrong advices, he said he had already told parliament that for every mistake there was a remedy. “This is our own country and we have to work unitedly; we have differences.”

The dinner was attended by judges of the Supreme Court, Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza Khan who retired on Feb 9, Chief Election Commissioner Hamid Ali Mirza, SCBA President Qazi Mohammad Anwar and senior lawyers S.M. Zafar, Tariq Mehmood, Khalid Anwar and Iqbal Haider. The prime minister was served a sumptuous dinner, featuring mutton biryani and qorma, chicken tikka, fish and halwa.

Aitzaz Ahsan who, according to some people, paved the way by covertly acting as a mediator between the prime minister and the chief justice, praised the prime minister for coming over to the function. He said Mr Gilani had acted wisely and his initiative would help lower the “prevailing temperature”.

Before coming to the dinner, Mr Gilani called Nawaz Sharif and greeted him on the rejection by the Lahore High Court of an application seeking his disqualification for elections. The prime minister assured the PML-N chief the judges’ issue would soon be resolved amicably. The government, Mr Gilani said, was committed to honouring the Charter of Democracy. “Leaders of the two parties have made great sacrifices and they will not let these go to waste.” He also assured Mr Sharif that both the PPP and the PML-N would strive together to repeal amendments made in the Constitution by dictatorial regimes.

The government, the prime minister said, held the judiciary in high esteem and would accept decisions of courts in letter and spirit. In the morning, the prime minister in the National Assembly backtracked from his Monday’s assertion that last year’s executive order of restoring judges still needed the parliament’s approval.

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23 responses to “Countdown to 3PM: The Judicial Crisis Nears its Climax. But What About the Political Crisis?”

  1. HarOON says:

    You were right Prof. Najam, the roller coaster goes on.

    Now there is a new deadline.

  2. Bushra says:

    good analysis. Like the roller coaster metaphor. that is what it feels like.

  3. Obaid1 says:

    ’عدالتی آمریت کی طرف بڑھ رہے ہیں‘

    پاکستان میں انسانی حقوق کمیشن کی سربراہ عاصمہ جہانگیر نے کہا ہے کہ وہ ملک میں عدلیہ کی آمریت آتے دیکھ رہی ہیں جسے کے بعد لوگ سیاسی آمریت بھی بھول جائیں گے۔

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/urdu/pakistan/2010/02/100217_ asma_judges_mah.shtml

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