In Different Courts: THE HINDU EDITORIAL

In Different Courts: THE HINDU EDITORIAL

Selective judicial activism is now seen as the dominant force against democratic representation in Pakistan

Nawaz Sharif is not giving up. The deposed former Prime Minister of Pakistan, who has been debarred (perhaps for life) from public office by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, is not just fighting back, but has been reinvigorated by the huge public response that he has been receiving in jalsas across the country, as he takes his case to the people with elections due in the next few months. While there is still some confusion whether Mr. Sharif has been barred for life or for a number of years, and the stipulated time period is under review by the Supreme Court, he continues to posit the superior judiciary against the people, particularly the voters who brought him to power in 2013. His main argument has been that his dismissal is an affront to the will of the people, and that the Supreme Court has delegitimised their democratic voice.

Recent Disqualifications

It is not only Mr. Sharif who has been removed from the Prime Minister’s Office by the Supreme Court in recent years — in 2012 so was Yousuf Raza Gilani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), who had been elected following Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, when the PPP formed the government in 2008. Moreover, following Mr. Sharif’s ouster in July 2017 and his diatribe against the judiciary, in the last few days, one Senator of his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), has also been disqualified for making statements against Supreme Court judges. And two ministers have been issued notices for contempt of court, and asked to present themselves at the Supreme Court to explain themselves, also for making statements against the Supreme Court judges. For the moment, selective judicial activism has replaced military interference and adventurism as the dominant force against democratic voice and representation on the political map of Pakistan.
With Pakistan dominated by the military for many decades, all conspiracy theories regarding changes in government, or the dismissal of Prime Ministers, naturally land on the military’s door. Hence, many retired generals and analysts stated, without offering any proof that Mr. Sharif’s dismissal by the Supreme Court was on the behestof the military, rather than a decision made independently by the court. While the military may not have been unhappy with the decision, such speculation takes away all independent agencies being exercised by a Supreme Court which has found a new life and mission over the last decade.
In the past when the military has rightly been seen as Pakistan’s main anti-democratic institution, it had always been the Supreme Court which provided constitutional cover to military regimes. Under a notion of the ‘Doctrine of Necessity’, the Supreme Court legitimised the three military takeovers — in 1958, 1977 and 1999. Each time, while the military regime differed as did its actions, the Court came to support such anti-democratic intervention, allowing ample space for military rule in Pakistan. For almost all of Pakistan’s history, the Supreme Court has been complicit in military rule in Pakistan. Some lawyers, who have analysed the role of the judiciary since 1947, have made the argument that this support has not been simply on account of military pressure, but because the judges of the superior court themselves, and independently, shared the same world view as the military and were happy to articulate their position when called upon.

Inflexion Point?

This view changed when Pakistan’s last military general-president, Pervez Musharraf, trampled on the toes of the judiciary, dismissing the Chief Justice of Pakistan in 2007. Since then, following great popular support, the judiciary had acquired considerable respect for its independence and pro-democratic position and statements, declaring on numerous occasions that it would never again support or condone a military takeover. Whether this is simply bravado or a genuine sign of independence affirming a born-again judiciary has not, as yet, been put to the test, and we will not know unless something to the effect takes place. Yet, as the possibility of a military intervention — at least in the form of a direct military takeover — recedes, one does find the revived institution of the judiciary flexing its muscles demonstrating considerable confidence and much independence.
This confidence is also being manifest by a hyperactive judiciary taking up suo motu cases largely seen to be in the public interest. Recent interventions have been made on a number of rape cases, of those regarding the disappeared, and even in cases of extra-judicial killings. While some lawyers have criticised this recent activism by the Supreme Court on account of it undermining the overall legal process and procedures and its many associated institutions, and have made the valid argument that only a few high-profile cases are selectively chosen, the first port of call for anyone with a grievance of any kind is now the Chief Justice of Pakistan himself, who is asked to intervene directly. Such activism has made the judiciary immensely popular in the public mind. In the past, it has always been the military which determined what is permissible as public discourse, always reacting to criticism against it, claiming that views against the actions of the military and criticism of it are some form of anti-nationalism, or anti-patriotic. The fact that the military has been publicly criticised — by scholars, social media participants and politicians — in recent years gives some indication of the relative denuding of power and hegemony of the military in Pakistan. The rise of the judiciary as an alternative, perhaps parallel, institution in terms of dominance needs to be seen in this light. Yet, when it comes to decisions which are clearly seen as ‘political’, there has been criticism, notably from Nawaz Sharif and members of his party, that the judiciary, like the military before it, has been partisan and selective in its treatment of democratic and political activism and points of view. Moreover, having gained such dominance, the claim is also made that it is now the judiciary which reacts with a heavy hand to criticism against its decisions, curtailing freedom of expression, suppressing voices which have differences of opinion. The people’s verdict in support of or against Nawaz Sharif is expected later this year, and if he were to win again, the Supreme Court’s decision is bound to come into conflict with the democratic choice of who the voters want as their Prime Minister.

The Musharraf Test

Public discourse now pivots around this new-found ambition of the judiciary, although it has been often suggested that it is still a junior partner of the military, and doing the latter’s bidding. The one key case on which such allegations rest is General Musharraf’s treason trial. While Prime Ministers have been debarred and dismissed, and Ministers and Senators hauled up in front of the court, an undertrial military dictator is absconding with much ease and living in luxury abroad. Failing to address this key case makes one suggest that it seems that the judiciary has been more concerned with the contempt of court, rather than the contempt of the Constitution. Perhaps the key test of how independent the judiciary really is, whether its pro-democracy credentials are substantive and how much respect and trust it truly deserves, rests on how the Musharraf case is addressed.


  1. Deposed
    • Meaning: Remove from office suddenly and forcefully.
    • Example: He had been deposed by a military coup.
    • Synonyms: overthrow, overturn
  2. Debarred
    • Meaning: Exclude or prohibit (someone) officially from doing something.
    • Example: First-round candidates were debarred from standing.
    • Synonyms: Exclude, Ban
    • Antonyms: Admit, Allow
  3. Reinvigorated
    • Meaning: Give new energy or strength to.
    • Example: We are fully committed to reinvigorating the economy of the area.
    • Synonyms: Re- energize, Strengthen
    • Antonyms: Tire
  4. Stipulated
    • Meaning: Demanded or specified, typically as part of an agreement.
    • Example: The stipulated time has elapsed.
  5. Posit
    • Meaning: Put forward as fact or as a basis for argument.
    • Example: The Confucian view posits a perfectible human nature.
    • Synonyms: Postulate, Put forward
  6. Affront
    • Meaning: An action or remark that causes outrage or offence.
    • Example: He took his sons desertion as a personal affront.
    • Synonyms: Insult, Offence
    • Antonyms: Compliment
  7. Delegitimized
    • Meaning: Withdraw legitimate status or authority from.
    • Example: The country has been delegitimized by the world community.
  8. Ouster
    • Meaning: Removal from the jurisdiction of the courts.
    • Example: He stated that there is a presumption against the ouster of the jurisdiction of courts.
    • Synonyms: Overthrow, Removal
  9. Diatribe
    • Meaning: A forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something.
    • Example: A diatribe against consumerism.
    • Synonyms: Condemnation, Criticism
  10. Contempt
    • Meaning: (Contempt of Court) The crime of refusing to obey an order made by a court; not showing respect for a court or judge
    • Example: When he was found to have lied to the House this was a contempt.
    • Synonyms: Disrespect, Disregard
    • Antonyms: Respect
  11. Activism
    • Meaning: The policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.
    • Example: Growing activism on the abortion issue.
    • Synonyms: Fanaticism, Radicalism
  12. Adventurism
    • Meaning: The willingness to take risks in business or politics; actions or attitudes regarded as reckless or potentially hazardous.
    • Example: To make such a claim is nothing but reckless adventurism.
  13. Conspiracy
    • Meaning: A secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful.
    • Example: A conspiracy to destroy the government.
    • Synonyms: Plot, Scheme
  14. On the military’s door
    • Meaning: Regard someone as responsible for something.
    • Example: The failure is laid at the door of the government.
    • Synonyms: Blame something on, Attribute something to
  15. Behest
    • Meaning: A person’s orders or command.
    • Example: They had assembled at his behest.
    • Synonyms: Instruction, Bidding
  16. Speculation
    • Meaning: The forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence.
    • Example: This is pure speculation on my part.
    • Synonyms: Conjecture, Theorizing
  17. Exercised
    • Meaning: Use or apply (a faculty, right, or process)
    • Example: Control is exercised by the Board.
    • Synonyms: Use, Employ
  18. Regimes
    • Meaning: A government, especially an authoritarian one.
    • Example: Ideological opponents of the regime
    • Synonyms: Government, Authorities
  19. Notion
    • Meaning: A conception of or belief about something.
    • Example: Children have different notions about the roles of their parents.
    • Synonyms: Idea, Belief, Concept
  20. Legitimised
    • Meaning: (Make legitimate); Conforming to the law or to rules.
    • Example: Voters legitimize the government through the election of public officials.
    • Synonyms: Validate, Legitimate, Permit
    • Antonyms: illegal, illegitimate
  21. Intervention
    • Meaning:( The action or process of intervening); take part in something so as to prevent or alter a result or course of events.
    • Example: A high degree of state intervention in the economy.
    • Synonyms: Involvement, Intercession
  22. Complicit
    • Meaning: Involved with others in an activity that is unlawful or morally wrong.
    • Example: The careers of those complicit in the cover-up were blighted.
  23. Articulate
    • Meaning: Express (an idea or feeling) fluently and coherently.
    • Example: They were unable to articulate their emotions.
    • Synonyms: Communicate, Declare
    • Antonyms: Inarticulate, Hesitant, Unintelligible
  24. Inflexion (Inflection)
    • Meaning: A change in the form of a word (typically the ending) to express a grammatical function or attribute such as tense, mood, person, number, case, and gender.
    • Example: A set of word forms differing only in respect of inflections.
    • Synonyms: Conjugation, Declension
  25. Trampled on the toes/ Tread on toes
    • Meaning: Offend someone by encroaching on their area of responsibility.
    • Example: I have no wish to tread on the toes of colleagues with local interests.
    • Synonyms: Hurt someones feelings, Give offence to
  26. Condone
    • Meaning: Approve or sanction (something), especially with reluctance.
    • Example: Those arrested were released and the exhibition was officially condoned a few weeks later.
    • Synonyms: Approve, Sanction
    • Antonyms: Condemn, Punish
  27. Bravado
    • Meaning: A bold manner or a show of boldness intended to impress or intimidate.
    • Example: He possesses none of the classic wheeler-dealers casual bravado.
    • Synonyms: Boldness, Bold manner
    • Antonyms: Modesty
  28. Recedes
    • Meaning: Go or move back or further away from a previous position.
    • Example: The floodwaters had receded.
    • Synonyms: Retreat, Go back, Move back
    • Antonyms: Advance, Approach
  29. Revived
    • Meaning: Restore to life or consciousness.
    • Example: Both men collapsed, but were revived.
    • Synonyms: Resuscitate, Bring round
    • Antonyms: Abolish
  30. Flexing its muscles
    • Meaning: to try to worry an opponent or enemy by publicly showing military, political, or financial power.
    • Example: The parade is the first sign of the new regime flexing its military muscles.
  31. Manifest
    • Meaning: Clear or obvious to the eye or mind.
    • Example: Her manifest charm and proven ability.
    • Synonyms: Obvious, Clear
    • Antonyms: Hide, Mask, Deny
  32. Port of call
    • Meaning: A place where you stop for a short time, especially on a journey.
    • Example: Indeed, whenever he visited a strange town his first port of call was always the local cemetery.
  33. Discourse
    • Meaning: Written or spoken communication or debate.
    • Example: The language of political discourse.
    • Synonyms: Discussion, Conversation
  34. Denuding
    • Meaning: Strip (something) of its covering, possessions, or assets.
    • Example: Almost overnight the Arctic was denuded of animals.
    • Synonyms: Divest, Strip, Clear, Deprive
    • Antonyms: Cover
  35. Hegemony
    • Meaning: Leadership or dominance, especially by one state or social group over others.
    • Example: Germany was united under Prussian hegemony after 1871.
    • Synonyms: Leadership, Dominance
    • Antonyms: Self-government
  36. Partisan
    • Meaning: A strong supporter of a party, cause, or person/ Prejudiced in favour of a particular cause.
    • Example: Partisans of the exiled Stuarts.
    • Synonyms: Supporter, Follower
    • Antonyms: Impartial, Unbiased
  37. Curtailing
    • Meaning: Reduce in extent or quantity; impose a restriction on.
    • Example: Civil liberties were further curtailed.
    • Synonyms: Reduce, Cut
    • Antonyms: Increase, Lengthen
  38. Pivots
    • Meaning: Depend on
    • Example: The government’s reaction pivoted on the response of the Prime Minister.
    • Synonyms: Depend, Hinge, Turn
  39. Allegations
    • Meaning: A claim or assertion that someone has done something illegal or wrong, typically one made without proof.
    • Example: He made allegations of corruption against the administration.
    • Synonyms: Claim, Assertion
  40. Treason
    • Meaning: The crime of betraying ones country, especially by attempting to kill or overthrow the sovereign or government.
    • Example: They were convicted of treason.
    • Synonyms: Treachery, Lese-majesty
    • Antonyms: Allegiance, Loyalty

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