A lowering of political temperature through talks and revisiting certain practices could offer a way out of the current crisis
here is a dire need today for a national dialogue for reconciliation among all stakeholders. For this, the ruling coalition and the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) must sit together for a new covenant. Indications provided by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto and PTI chairman Imran Khan that they can agree to talks for the sake of the constitution and democracy, have raised hopes.
Having sacrificed two provincial governments in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to force early elections, the PTI has been trying to compel the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold polls in the two provinces within the 90-day period prescribed by the constitution. Earlier, on the instructions of the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued on March 1 after a suo motu hearing, President Arif Alvi had set April 30 for elections to the Punjab Assembly.
After clashes between PTI supporters and the police when the latter tried to arrest Imran Khan in Lahore, polarisation in the society has increased. This can be seen everywhere and some political leaders have alleged bias on the part of certain judges. Citing resource constraints, the ECP has rescheduled the elections and announced that the general elections will be held simultaneously on October 8. The ECP had already informed the Supreme Court that the relevant institutions were not providing it the required funds, security and other support it needed for the polls. The same reasons have been recounted for postponing the polls. The chief justice of Pakistan has since constituted a five-member bench to hear the case. This has sparked off a new debate with regard to some judges’ predictablity. Till the writing of this piece (on Thursday morning), the hearing of the case was under way.
Earlier, two Supreme Court judges, Mansoor Ali Shah and Jamal Khan Mandokhel, had issued their detailed judgments in the March 1 case. Among other things, they had called for revisiting the practices that led to the impression of a “one-man show” and proposed that the country’s top court could not “be dependent on the solitary decision of one man”.
Using the dissenting note and a long standing demand by the bar councils, the National Assembly on Wednesday passed the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023 that curbs the powers of the chief justice of Pakistan to take up suo motu hearings and form benches on his own. The bill was later passed in the Senate as well.
The National Assembly on Wednesday passed a bill to curb the powers of the chief justice of Pakistan with regard to suo motu hearings and formation of benches.
On Wednesday, a three-member bench issued a verdict and asked the Supreme Court to adjourn the proceedings in the constitutional cases and suo motu notices. The bench, headed by Qazi Faez Isa, issued the order in a case of giving 20 grace marks to a Hafiz-i-Quran. Justice Isa wrote the nine-page order. Justice Shahid Waheed wrote a dissenting note. The judgment says that the constitution and the law do not allow the chief justice to constitute a special bench. It also says there are no rules for fixing suo motu cases and setting up benches for the purpose. “Hence, until such rules are framed, the hearing of important constitutional and suo motu cases should be postponed,” the judgment said.
The reported remarks of two senior judges, Qazi Faez Isa and Mansoor Ali Shah, on the subject point to a difference of opinion in the top judiciary.
It has been proposed earlier that important constitutional matters should be heard by the full court. The chief justice of Pakistan has also been asked to convene full court to upgrade the Supreme Court rules.
Meanwhile, PDM leaders must appreciate the gravity of the situation and formally invite the PTI for talks to find an amicable solution. The PTI should revisit its policy of always protesting government initiatives. PTI chairman Imran Khan has now told party stalwarts that he is ready to talk to everybody for the sake of the constitution. This is a good omen, particularly since he has never expressed such a view in the last four and a half years.
The PPP chairman, Bilawal Bhutto, while addressing the National Assembly on Wednesday, had some harsh words for Imran Khan. He also asked Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, “Why the government did not take any action against Qasim Suri, Imran Khan and Arif Alvi for taking unconstitutional steps during the no-confidence motion?”
However, he concluded with a positive gesture, “Mr Speaker, in the end, we will have to sit down with them for the sake of democracy.”
The PPP has started backdoor talks with the PTI through non-political actors. The outcome might just be a grand dialogue between the PDM and the PTI.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher