Another dubious judgment has been added to the annals of Pakistan’s grim judicial history. Defenders of the Supreme Court, the few that there are, will argue on narrow technical and legal grounds in defence of the court’s validation of the Sharif brothers’ disqualification from electoral politics.
But this would be thoroughly misleading. The grounds for the Sharifs’ disqualification were laid by a dictator and no one with an iota of common sense could accept that Pervez Musharraf was trying to uphold the rule of law or some elevated principle of justice by shutting the Sharif brothers out of electoral politics.
Musharraf is now gone from the national scene, a discredited ruler who shredded the constitution and caused much institutional damage, and with him so should have gone his attempts to rejig national politics on the basis of personal preferences and dislikes.
The fact is, the Sharifs’ disqualification was always rooted in politics, and once the electorate was given a say, it delivered an unambiguous rejection of any attempt to shut the Sharifs out of electoral politics. Last February, the PML-N led by the Sharif brothers was catapulted to the position of the second-largest party in the National Assembly and the largest party in the Punjab Assembly.
This despite having the electoral deck stacked against them and having virtually no time to regroup a party that had been decimated. It was by any measure a stunning rebuke to those trying to queer the pitch against the PML-N and its undisputed leaders. Myopic political agendas, dressed up as legal reasons, had kept the Sharif’s out of politics for years. By reversing that reality, the superior judiciary would actually have begun to separate politics from the law after a long spell in which the two had been deliberately and disastrously conflated.
There is no doubt that the collision course the PPP and PML-N increasingly appeared to be on in recent weeks was not of the judiciary’s making. Both parties have chosen political confrontation at the expense of governance and addressing the grave problems that face the state. At the time of last year’s election three main issues threatened to engulf the state: militancy; a severe economic downturn; and a crisis of governance headlined by constitutional imbalances and judicial turmoil.
A year later, few would argue that the politicians have acted responsibly in tackling those crises. Yet, if Pakistan is ever to escape the morass of a dysfunctional polity, those issues must be resolved in the political realm. The judiciary has done a disservice to the people by injecting itself into a patently political issue in a way that will only worsen short-term instability and do nothing for long-term betterment.