Pakistan’s legal tangle

The constitutional high drama in Pakistan is gearing up for the next and, probably, the final phase. The government-judiciary tussle over the implementation of judgment scrapping immunity from prosecution is still on. Although the Supreme Court has given the government another two weeks to implement the court orders, the political dispensation appears in no mood to cede ground.

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Published: Tue 28 Sep 2010, 10:05 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:53 PM

The reason: implementation of the judgment could lead to a collapse of the government as many senior ministers and lawmakers are beneficiaries of the contentious National Reconciliation Ordinance. In fact, it’s feared even President Asif Zardari may not remain unaffected by the order. Hence the reluctance of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to bell the cat. However, he is smart enough to keep all the stakeholders guessing. The government says, and quite rightly, that the constitution grants the President immunity from prosecution. And hence cases pending, or otherwise, against the head of state cannot be taken up. The government therefore now wants the Supreme Court itself to interpret the immunity clause, and relieve it of the obligation to move against the president. Secondly, the government believes that all judicial reviews are subject to validation from the parliament, which is the supreme law-making authority. This constitutional crisscross of jurisdiction has kept the governance process on tenterhooks for almost a year, fuelling speculations and dangerous uncertainty.

As a matter of fact, the government may have no option but do the court’s bidding. Though it can always file for a review petition, in this case it is the other way round. The court has ruled on a piece of legislation as ultra virus and contrary to fundamental rights, for which ironically the government trumpets its support and blessings. Legal wizards believe that government’s consistent failure to move against the beneficiaries of the law is tantamount to contempt of court — an aspect that could lead to dismissal or overthrow of government. This is a difficult hour for the nascent Pakistani democracy for which the civil society, media, judiciary and political parties have offered immense sacrifices. Let’s hope reason prevails in the end and the legal tangle is defused constitutionally and peacefully. For Pakistan cannot afford another phase of instability — not now.

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