Pakistan’s political crisis may be deepening, but it comes with a valuable silver lining. In the past week, the Supreme Court has set a deadline for Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to formally approach the Swiss authorities to reopen investigations of corruption against President Asif Ali Zardari, in a move that only deepens the quagmire surrounding the country’s ruling structure.
So far, the government has repeatedly refused to take the cue from the court. Ashraf’s dilemma is a repeat of Gilani’s ordeal. The former Prime Minister’s refusal to formally approach the Swiss government eventually caused his dismissal at the hands of the Supreme Court.
But there is a far more critical bottom line for Pakistan’s future beyond just the tenure of one Prime Minister or another. The words of defiance from some ruling politicians appear to suggest that sanity has increasingly become rare while defying the court in the name of preserving what is an increasingly controversial democracy has instead become the official norm.
In spite of Pakistan’s sliding conditions, it is impossible to predict the outcome of the current round of tension between the ruling structure, led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), versus the Supreme Court. Yet, what is much easier to predict is, indeed, the prospect of a failing democracy as the government assembles all of its energies to save the top ruler.
Notwithstanding the government’s continuing refusal to approach the Swiss authorities, it is clear that the current political deadlock will only deepen as long as Pakistan remains under the watch of its present-day ruling structure.
In the meantime, the Supreme Court’s decision to intensify pressure on the ruling regime by insisting on a formal request to the Swiss authorities has opened up a potentially new and trend-setting chapter in Pakistan’s political history. Enforcing the rule of law is not only the Supreme Court’s responsibility. More vitally, steps such as forcing Ashraf to be held accountable for the matter related to the Swiss authorities also lifts the Supreme Court’s standing in a country where ordinary folks have simply lost faith in the rule of law.
Historically, Pakistan’s judicial authorities have been associated with supporting military regimes. But in the past few years, the Supreme Court - in part through the successful campaign of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in staging a comeback, following his unceremonial dismissal - has acquired a more respected position.
The Supreme Court’s decision to keep up the pressure on the ruling structure by insisting on a revisit to cases against Zardari in Switzerland must be seen within a broader context. As the court carves out a bigger slot for itself on issues central to Pakistan, many Pakistanis may rejoice in seeing the cherished goal of consolidating a half-baked democracy, within closer reach than ever before.
As for the future of Pakistan’s present-day ruling order led by Zardari’s PPP, there are far too few success stories for the mainstream population. An obvious indicator of the popular mood can well be found across Pakistan where popular lament on the government’s performance is way too widespread. But there could not have been a clearer example of the disconnect between popular sentiment and the mood of the ruling structure than Ashraf’s own controversial election as the Prime Minister.
Dubbed in parts of Pakistan’s media as “Raja Rental” for his controversial past in overseeing contracts for rental power stations to combat chronic electricity shortages, Ashraf left the cabinet in early 2011 after serving as Minister of Water and Power. His ministerial tenure hardly left much to celebrate. He frequently set deadlines to end power shortages, while subsequently failing to deliver.
Though examples like that of Ashraf clearly demonstrate the futility of expecting a largely tainted political order to be set right, there are ample grounds for a revival of faith in the Supreme Court’s ability to guide Pakistan towards a more promising future. Every step in this journey where the Supreme Court enforces the rule of law deserves to be amply celebrated, though ruling politicians may increasingly resist such moves.
n The writer is a political and economic analyst. This article has been reproduced
from the Gulf News.