Existential threats and judicial activism

A few months before the recent elections, I made a point to draw the political leadership’s attention to specific problems which pose a threat to the lives of ordinary Pakistanis. I had also stressed upon the need for comprehensive debates on vital national issues such as water scarcity and the booming population in election campaigns.

Sadly, this could not happen because the leadership of the major political parties were far too busy pulling down each other’s pants for this. The exception was Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto. Under his leadership, the PPP was the first party to put forward a substantive election manifesto.

Unfortunately in days prior to elections when manifestoes should have been the need of the hour, leaders of major political parties were busy pulling down each other’s trousers. Except of course Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto who took pains to come up with a substantive election manifesto for the people and the party as PPP’s goal mission, rest of the top leaders and their parties did not offer anything that could be rated as manifesto. It was only after this that other parties presented their own hastily thrown together manifestos.

Former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was the first CJP to engage in this kind of activism. Today we are well aware that it was meant to derail Pakistani democracy, not strengthen it. His first pyrrhic decision — stopping the privatisation of the Pakistan Steel Mills — continues to cost the country billions

During the last session of the National Assembly, I had pleaded that political leaders devote their time and energy to real problems. Today our socio-economic problems continue to pile up. Meanwhile, we have yet to begin discussing three existential crises staring us in the face; population explosion, impending water famine and environmental pollution.

In 2015 I had written in one of my columns lamenting on these issues since none of the leaders ever expressed concern about water shortage or population growth. Even the repeated spells of smog in Punjab and other places did not get the attention they should have gotten. It seems that those occupying positions of responsibility are blind to these dangers.

The Panamagate scandal, which exposed the corruption of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family also opened the floodgates of what has come to be known as ‘judicial activism’. We are now in an era when superior judges have adopted the role of food inspectors, directors of weight and measures, city cleaners and whatever else they fancy. Meanwhile, actual judicial cases continue to pile up in the thousands. Let’s take a look at Asghar Khan’s petition against ISI’s distribution of cash in millions to Benazir Bhutto’s opponents like Nawaz Sharif, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Altaf Hussain, Asfandyar Wali Khan, Maulana Fazlulr Rehman, Chaudhry Shujat Husain and Chaudhry Pervez Elahi though decided in 2012 remains in the morgue of Supreme Court collecting dust. ISI gave the leaders of IJI millions to defeat Bhutto. In short, every major player — whether civilian or not-so-civilian — are trying to be what they are not.It is said that there are now millions of pending cases in the judiciary. Concluding a case routinely takes so much time that they are inherited by the heirs of the actual litigants.

Former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was the first CJP to engage in this kind of activism. Today we are well aware that it was meant to derail Pakistani democracy, not strengthen it. His first pyrrhic decision — stopping the privatisation of the Pakistan Steel Mills — continues to cost the country billions.

He successfully connected with his target audience when he set about controlling the prices of daily edibles without any regard for demand and supply. Today, his successor is engaging in more of the same. Not only does CJP Saqib Nisar want to end corruption, he is also trying to get the nation clean and filtered drinking water at a time when shortage of water itself has become a ticking bomb, threatening to explode.

The media is also playing its part, glorifying our lord by broadcasting footage of him visiting hospitals and dispensaries, taking doctors to task. He has also taken up himself the role of builders of dams. Judges are fining defaulters and the recovered money is going to funds that are being raised for building dams.

In Karachi, the CJP has decided to improve environmental control. It should be remembered that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has challenged the city’s latest census figures. Its population is around 20 million (it can only be ascertained exactly by an international census authority if allowed freedom). This has a major effect on the maintenance and upkeep of the city because of the misallocation of funds it causes. There was a time when Karachi had a very modern water management and sewerage system. Today it has none. Let’s see what the CJP can do about this.

The writer is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist

Published in Daily Times, August 8th 2018.


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