The judiciary in Pakistan is currently facing significant challenges and has a troubled history. On May 15, 2023, Maulana Fazal-Ur-Rehman, President of the ruling PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement), made strong statements outside the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP), warning the judges to remain neutral. The term ‘Ladla’ is being used to refer to Imran Khan (IK), the popular political leader who poses a threat to the long-standing corrupt leadership that has plagued the country. The party in power, with Rana Sanaullah as its Interior Minister, was involved in an incident on May 09, 2023, when around a hundred Rangers violated the sanctity of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) and attempted to abduct IK, who was present for a bail hearing related to one of the two hundred cases registered against him.
Nawaz Sharif (NS) and his party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), have a contentious history with the highest court of the land. On November 30, 1997, party supporters attacked the SCP, forcing the judges to flee their courtrooms to save their lives. Later, a conspiracy was uncovered to remove the sitting Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), Justice Sajjad Ali Shah. Judge Rafiq Tarar, who led the internal revolt, was later rewarded with the position of President of Pakistan. Justice Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui was appointed as the new CJP.
The Sharif family has a history of criticizing and undermining institutions
NS was initially supported by the Zia-led establishment to counter the popularity of Bhutto’s party and the democratic gains made under the constitution. During this period, most civilian institutions were weakened, except for NESPAK (National Engineering Services of Pakistan) due to a lack of equivalent professional expertise in the country. The judicial system lost credibility with the controversial execution of Bhutto.
The Armed Forces, on the other hand, expanded their influence, while other vital organs of the state suffered. During the fourth Martial Law, several senior judges, including the CJP, refused to take an oath, resulting in their removal by the usurper. When Musharraf attempted to dismiss his own appointed CJP, the Lawyers Movement began in March 2007. It was known as the Movement for Rule of Law and was supported by civil society, leading to the weakening of the dictator’s power and ultimately his removal, along with the restoration of Iftikhar Chaudhry as CJP. The judiciary not only regained independence but also restored its credibility, sometimes even overstepping its jurisdiction.
The current state of institutional collapse in Pakistan is truly alarming
There was a time when heads of institutions would stand up for their organizations, much like the chiefs of the armed forces. In the 1965 Presidential elections, Ayub Khan wanted to hold a rally in the University grounds near Chauburgi. However, Prof Hamid Ahmed Khan, the Vice Chancellor (VC), demanded a security deposit of Rs 400,000, which was the amount spent on preparing the cricket pitch on the ground. The dictator was furious at the VC’s defiance and denied him an extension in service.
When student protests erupted after the 1965 war, the police entered the University premises without permission. In protest, Prof U. Karamat, the VC, resigned from his position. During Justice M. R. Kiani’s tenure as the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, a tear gas shell landed inside the court premises. The Inspector General (IG) of police was summoned to the court for contempt proceedings, but he was released after issuing a written apology.
In 1997, when the Supreme Court was attacked by goons affiliated with the PML-N, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was serving as the Interior Minister. No one prevented the protesters from entering the premises of the highest court in the country. After the incident, no one was held accountable except for two party leaders, Tariq Aziz and Akhtar Rasool, whose political careers were effectively ended. I had the opportunity to speak with both of them, and they revealed that they were deceived and kept in the dark until the last moment. When they led the protesters outside the court gates, a hit squad took action and stormed the building, a similar occurrence to the attack on Jinnah House on May 09, 2023. This attack caused significant turmoil in the court.
During the attack on the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on May 09, 2023, when the Rangers entered the court premises, Rana Sanaullah was the Interior Minister. When Maulana Fazal-Ur-Rehman broke through the barriers of the Red Zone to reach outside the gate of the Supreme Court, Rana Sahib did not invoke Article 245 to call in the Army to protect the judges. In 2014, during the PTI Dharna, the then Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, did call the Army for the protection of vital state institutions on Constitution Avenue.
Any form of vandalism, whether it targets army installations or courts of law, is condemnable. So far, no action has been taken against the attacks on the courts, where people seek justice. The courts are the guardians of the Constitution and uphold the rights enshrined within it. I urge the Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court to summon the DG Rangers and the Chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to address the breach of the court’s sanctity. The Chief Justice is also interested in understanding why the protesters came to the court gates to make loud speeches intended to be heard inside.
The President of the PDM and the Interior Minister should be summoned by the court to present their grievances. Instead of conducting trials on the streets or in the media, the courts can provide a better forum to resolve and address the injustices and gross violations of the rule of law that the nation is currently engulfed in. Inaction leads to anarchy, and it opens the door for individuals like Gullu Butts to take over, which can have disastrous consequences. Now that the judiciary has decided to stand with the constitution, the people of Pakistan firmly stand behind it.
The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.