On July 25, after giving Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf a two-week breather in the NRO implementation case and asking the government to find a way out of the impasse between the executive and the judiciary, Justice Khosa told the government: “Now the whole country will not be looking towards us. Don’t disappoint them.” So, with August 8 finally upon us, there is no avoiding this question: Will the government disappoint us yet again? If a recent statement by endangered prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf is to be believed, then the answer is ‘no.’ But if we look at the last four and a half years of the government flouting court orders and carrying on with its wayward ways with impunity, the answer can only be a resounding ‘yes.’ Speaking to senior journalists at an iftar dinner on Monday, the PM categorically said that a confrontation with the judiciary wasn’t an option for the government and that he was hopeful a middle path would be found. Referring to his impending appearance before the Supreme Court for the NRO implementation case today, the prime minister said: “I have always maintained that disappointment is a sin.” Will he disappoint us again?
In the last few months, the (mis)deeds of two prime ministers – Gilani and now Ashraf after him – have brought the judiciary, parliament and the executive in direct confrontation on more than one occasion. Equally, at several junctures, the court has given the government the chance to step back from its active policy of disobedience and avoid pursuing a course that could threaten to disrupt the nascent democracy this country is trying so hard to erect. To date, the PPP has not relented – and much damage has been done. But as we face August 8, the choice before the PPP is clear. Will it use disruptive options such as refusing to accept court orders yet again and delaying the case further? Or will it take the morally upright decision and decide to stand for rule of law and democracy rather than a few individuals, whether President Zardari or PM Ashraf? Will it finally do what it should have done years ago: obey the courts, respect the law and write the Swiss letter?
The NRO implementation and the Gilani contempt cases have starkly highlighted that Pakistan is still light years away from internalising and abiding by the law. So, this August 8, we hope that the PPP will attempt to rewrite its own history as well as the history of this country by doing what the law demands. We also hope that it will give up its hollow claim that the judges’ dogged pursuit of the NRO case could undermine democracy and create an opportunity for outside intervention. Today, the largest impediment to military adventurism in Pakistan is a ruling by a 17-member bench of the Supreme Court stating that the Constitution allows absolutely no room for the army in politics. And while within its own limited realm, the court has done what it could to build a bulwark against the derailment of democracy, the PPP regime on the other hand has done precious little to strengthen civilian control of the military. It’s complaints, then, that the court may be inviting trouble, ring extremely hollow. If there is anyone inviting trouble, it is the government. Indeed, on July 25, amid widespread conjecture that the curtain would fall on yet another prime minister, the court made clear that it was ultimately up to the government to ensure that the standoff did not escalate to an untenable level and to find a solution to the “false tension” between the two institutions. Will the government rise to the challenge? Our fingers are crossed but our hearts are heavy.