If any proof were needed that the PPP is on a collision course with the superior judiciary, much was furnished in the last few weeks in the shape of the new contempt law and the move to do away with the bar on dual-nationality holders contesting elections in Pakistan. The Supreme Court, on its part, gave the government some breathing room by granting Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf two weeks to inform the court if he would write the Swiss letter or not. Two weeks later, July 25 hangs on the prime minister’s – and the country’s – head like D-day, and it is more and more likely that another chief executive will have to be unceremoniously shown the door for failing to follow court orders and obey the law. Whether democracy can withstand the ousting of another PM is a question the PPP doesn’t seem to have factored into its calculations. Meanwhile, speculations abound about the ‘dark forces’ of extra-constitutionalism waiting in the wings to seize the day and of democracy itself being under threat. Fortunately, though, the one force that is willing to put its weight behind the democratic order, the constitution and the rule of law is the judiciary. On Thursday last week, Chief Justice Iftikhar sent a much-needed message and warned that were parliament to come under attack, the judges would be the first to rise to its defence, and no judge would take oath under an unconstitutional setup. He reminded that the ideas and aspirations behind the lawyer’s movement had not died and every person would have to fulfil his or her responsibility to protect the constitution if circumstances so demanded.
The chief justice’s message that the court will never accept any extra-constitutional measure in the country could not have been more opportune. However, as we have said time and again, it is not for the courts to constantly defend against such challenges; the political forces must not create circumstances that unleash panic, fear and instability and leave the door open for interventions. As things stand, what many call judicial activism or interventionism is the actions of a frustrated court trying to fill in the vacuum created by a government that doesn’t seem to care about doing the right thing, at the right time. The fact of the matter is that in a democracy, no single institution can dictate the contract between state and society. As the CJ reminded us, Pakistan’s constitutional arrangement also imagines all organs of the state working in tandem, in a spirit of complementarity. All must set their own houses in order and do what the law demands of them. For the executive, this is governance. For the judiciary, it is securing the fundamental rights of the people and fixing Pakistan’s damaged judicial system. For the army, it is protecting the country’s frontiers and leaving politics well alone. So far, it seems that the government has all but reneged on its duty to the social and political contract.