The tenure of the previous Chief Justice produced no shortage of controversy and criticism – the problem - an unbound and out of control judiciary - was apparent to everyone. However, beyond forceful remonstrations and angry criticisms loomed the sober and considered thought that there is a way to fix this problem. Argued in column after column and brought up in every other talk show was the idea that a “defined framework” – a set of rules that clarifies the powers of the court and sets defined limits on its scope – can bring consistency to practice of the apex court. More importantly it can prevent future Chiefs of the Supreme Court from going off the beaten path and taking matters in their own hands.
The solution was always there, as was the consensus around it. Now with new Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Asif Saeed Khosa calling for holding an “intra-institutional dialogue aimed at framing a charter of governance”, the judiciary itself is pushing for a reconsideration of its powers. The perfect opportunity is at hand, will those who cried foul have the political will to make that fail-safe a reality?
One would certainly hope so; but the response of politicians to the opportunity has been lukewarm so far. While PPP Secretary General Farhatullah Khan Babar called the CJP’s comments “very fine, laudable (and) inspiring words” he also lamented that “we have heard such great words before also but were later disappointed”.
Meanwhile, Senate chairman Raza Rabbani, when asked about the CJP’s comments, was more concerned about the inclusion of the President in process rather than the prospects the dialogue offers. PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb echoed similar thoughts.
While their hesitation is understandable in the current political climate, a true consensus can only emerge if all major political parties are on board - this will require cooperation with the government weather the opposition likes it or not. If the federal government is being criticised for its inability find common ground with the opposition to push through their legislate agenda, the opposition must shoulder the responsibility to make intra-institutional dialogue a priority too. The sword cuts both ways.
It is important that they are the one to do it. With military courts up for extension, opposition politicians under trial, and an uncertain Supreme Court, the country’s ability to dispense fair and efficient justice is in great flux. Extrajudicial killings, missing persons, the ECL; all these issues are an extension of the justice system, and flow from the dysfunction that has set in it.
This is Pakistan’s prime legislative hurdle, and the opportunity afforded by the CJP should not ignored.