Rectifying the Past, Neglecting the Present

Top court endorsed what everyone knew since Bhutto’s hanging: it was a miscarriage of justice or a ‘judicial murder’ and hence an ugly blot on our justice system.

by Naveed Hussain in The Express Tribune: Nonetheless, the Supreme Court’s public mea culpa is significant because the justices have stated that they are “willing to confront our past missteps and fallibilities.” Surprisingly however, while the judiciary has corrected a historic wrong done to a former prime minister, it is repeating the same mistake by wronging another former prime minister. Imran Khan has been jailed in “flimsy cases” through marathon judicial proceedings inside the jail where top lawyers agree Khan was denied the right to a fair trial.

Khan’s party claims that the cases against its leader are politically motivated because he challenged the high and mighty and tried to upend the deeply entrenched system. While rectifying a wrong done to Bhutto 44 years ago doesn’t hold more than symbolic value, Khan is languishing in jail as what Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed said a “political prisoner.” Our judges are “confronting the past missteps,” but they should also ensure that they don’t create more “historic wrongs” for their successors to correct. The PTI says it hopes that it wouldn’t have to wait 44 years for the judiciary to correct a “historic wrong” done to its founder.

The rule of law plays a crucial function by ensuring that civil and political rights and civil liberties are safe and that the equality and dignity of all citizens are not at risk. It ensures that all persons, institutions and entities, including the state itself, are accountable to laws. For this very reason the rule of law is a fundamental principle embraced in most modern democracies. Only an independent judiciary can defend the rule of law. In Pakistan, however, the past couple of years have particularly seen brazen and blatant erosion of the rule of law, raising serious questions on the judiciary’s performance. This has been acknowledged globally. On the rule of law index of the World Justice Project for 2023, Pakistan was ranked 130th amongst 142 countries. Alarmingly, we rank only above Afghanistan in the greater South Asian region on the same index. This is a damning indictment of our judicial system.

But it doesn’t end here.

The judiciary is the bedrock of any democratic constitution. A functional judiciary must protect right of the citizen and maintain constitutional order at any cost as it is the guardian and interpreter of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, and all other laws of the state. Our judiciary, however, hasn’t fared well on this front too, especially over the past couple of years, as one political party endured the wrath of the administration with its leaders and workers summarily implicated in court cases and denied all their basic rights. And when they would receive a reprieve, the courts failed to ensure compliance with their orders. This brazen disregard for fundamental rights undermined the judicial system and eroded public trust in it. Our nascent democracy ceded the ground it had managed to wrest over the past two decades.

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