As a small child, I remember spending endless hours playing tic tac toe with my siblings. This interesting pastime consists of drawing two vertically parallel lines that cross another pair drawn horizontally, at right angles. The aim is to put crosses or circles in the boxes and half boxes made by these lines till one of the players wins by getting three crosses or circles in vertical, horizontal or oblique alignment.
It all started with the NRO case and the refusal of the Prime Minister to send the elusive letter to the Swiss authorities. This refusal by the man from Multan ended with contempt of court proceedings and conviction leading to his ouster, as a convicted individual ineligible to hold this office.
In a counter move, the Pakistan Peoples Party passed a law that nullified the contempt of court law. Responding to multiple petitions, the Supreme Court struck down this amendment, restoring the contempt proceedings against those who had the misguided notion to stand up to the court’s constitutional jurisdiction.
With the law restored to its original state, the court asked the government to implement its judgment on the letter, which was refused by the new Prime Minister, followed by an ominous statement that Parliament was supreme and proceedings or laws enacted by it could not be challenged.
All democratic systems in the world have, over a period of time, evolved checks and balances, which if absent are more than likely to turn that democratic dispensation into dictatorship. These checks and balances are implemented through a division of powers between Parliament, the Supreme Court and the Head of State.
While the Head of State can issue an Ordinance, which is implemented on promulgation, this has to be enacted by Parliament as law within a stipulated period and failure to do so makes it invalid. Similarly, any act passed by Parliament can be struck down by the Supreme Court if considered mala fide and against the interest of the state.
This triangular accountability is completed when members of the Bench can be removed from office by the Supreme Judicial Council based on a reference by the President. If any of the above institutions breaks this loop, then it is guilty of eroding the very foundation of the state.
In the current scenario, it has been conveniently forgotten that disobeying court decisions is nothing less than setting a poor precedence. This can only result in the denigration of the highest judicial court and encouragement of lawlessness and anarchy.
The present confrontation is also at the cost of the masses suffering from the power and gas crises, poor law and order situation and a debilitated economy.
Where will the current confrontation lead us is a question that is in the mind of every Pakistani. Some of my friends aver that the answer is around the corner in the form of elections. I field this viewpoint, but not without throwing a spanner in it. What happens if the Peoples Party and their coalition partners are returned to power for a second term?
This is not a frivolous thought, but one based on the fact that a vast majority of our voters exercise their right of adult franchise on the basis of ‘biradari’, feudal practices and greed. Will this return to power and the obduracy of the government to ignore the Supreme Court decision be a resumption of the crisis?
While we are all taken up with the ongoing crisis from the domestic perspective, it is important to see how the world sees the chain of events occurring in Pakistan. I got a taste of this while talking to a group of foreigners at a recent dinner. As it is with dinners in this part of the world, the table chit chat meandered to politics within the early stages of the meal.
I sat quietly imbibing the conversation and grew progressively hot under the collar, as criticism and ridicule on Pakistan’s inability to nurture institutions poured forth from the guests. Unable to take it any longer and also aware that what they were saying was mostly true, I took leave from my host on the pretext that I was feeling a little unwell and wanted to go home.
I have sat silently in gatherings, where ‘political experts’ have begun yearning for the entry of the ‘third force’ to mitigate the ongoing situation. They even speak of a constitutional appearance of this force to enforce judicial decisions, but this is an option that is fraught with danger in historical perspective. As a citizen, I am gratified that apparently this third party appears to have decided that it is best that politicians be left on their own to clean up the mess that is an outcome of corrupt power games.
And it is thus that the game of tic tac toe in the ‘land of the pure’ moves on, dragging the already fragile structure of the state from one crisis to another with utter disregard to consequences, while the people live from one miserable day to the next in homes that are dark and hearths that are cold - waiting and waiting for salvation!
n The writer is a freelance columnist.